12 charged with running major marijuana ring

Police say group operated in Beaver, Allegheny counties

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For the last five years, John Duzicky and James Gleason have been dues-paying members of the Sewickley Heights Manor Homes Association, leading quiet lives in the upscale Aleppo housing development with manicured lawns and tennis courts.

At the same time, they played leading roles in a drug ring that smuggled thousands of pounds of Mexican marijuana from Arizona to Allegheny and Beaver counties, bringing more than $2 million worth of the drug here between 2007 and 2009, according to a grand jury presentment.

State Attorney General Tom Corbett yesterday announced that Mr. Duzicky, Mr. Gleason, and 10 other men face charges of conspiracy, drug possession and possession with intent to deliver.

"The drug organization dismantled today represents just one of thousands of criminal enterprises across the country involved in the illegal trafficking of narcotics across the border form Mexico," Mr. Corbett said during a news conference at the Sewickley police station, with 30 pounds of marijuana on a table in front of him.

Mr. Duzicky, 37, is being held at a prison in Arizona, as are Larry and Richard Catlin, brothers who routinely carried marijuana from the southwest to Pennsylvania in trucks with secret compartments, Mr. Corbett said.

According to the attorney general, Mr. Duzicky was the leader of the drug ring, and he had been smuggling pot from Arizona, where he also has a home, since 1990.

He apparently bought "bulk quantities" of the drug from a Mexican supplier, and often had it delivered to Infamous Choppers, his motorcycle shop in Ohio Township.

Kirk O'Neill, 39, Mr. Duzicky's business partner at the shop, is accused of distributing the marijuana after it was repackaged.

Mr. Gleason is accused of storing money for the drug ring at a Sewickley Heights Manor home on Rockledge Drive, where he and his wife lived with five pugs and a Boston terrier, according to a neighbor. He would keep between $20,000 and $400,000 in a large safe in his garage, the presentment said.

Law enforcement agents searched the home Feb. 19, several months after Mr. Gleason told a confidential informant about a large shipment from Arizona. Mr. Gleason then agreed to cooperate with officials and testify before the statewide grand jury, the presentment said. He told officials he had known Mr. Duzicky for 20 years.

"I'm stunned. He was a great neighbor," Lisa Seymour, 51, who lives next to Mr. Duzicky's Timber Lane home, said when she learned of the arrest.

The investigation, dubbed "Operation Infamous Choppers," started in the fall of 2007, when informants began making drug purchases at sites in Allegheny and Beaver counties.

Over the next two years, investigators seized 220 pounds of marijuana, about $635,000 in cash, two kilograms of cocaine, two handguns and two shotguns. More than a dozen local, state and federal agencies were involved.

Those facing charges in the case include William Loftus Jr. of Aliquippa; Frank Berardelli, 51, of Rochester; Thomas Palsa, 41, of Aliquippa; Richard Jula, 45, of Crescent; Alan Stevens, 39, of Aliquippa; Jackie Carroll, 21, of Ambridge; and David Ellison, 38, of Aliquippa.

Mr. Duzicky and the Catlin brothers, both in their 50s, will be extradited to Pennsylvania. The attorney general's office will prosecute the case in Beaver County.

Mr. Corbett said the drug ring was "substantial" in size, although there are many similar ones across the state. The investigation is continuing.

"Someone's going to try to take their place," he said.

Jerome L. Sherman can be reached at jsherman@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1183.


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