A drug ring that brought dangerous methamphetamine into the area, often disguised as the club drug Ecstasy, used innocuous suburban locations like the Mall at Robinson as rendezvous points, federal officials revealed Friday.
A drug crew allegedly led by Neil Thomas, 29, of North Fayette, which was the subject of a 14-person indictment returned early this month, was trying to create a new market for meth by claiming it was Ecstasy, said Michael Christman, FBI supervisory special agent, at a news conference.
Ecstasy "really is a club drug" sold to college-age partiers, said Mr. Christman. But when the young people took what the drug ring was selling as Ecstasy, "they wondered why they were up for days."
"It was tested at 90 percent purity as methamphetamine" with Ecstasy rounding out the mix, said Mr. Christman. "Their desire is to create a market here for methamphetamine."
Mr. Christman said the investigation leading to the indictment started around a year ago. It revealed that a crew based in the airport area was bringing methamphetamine from Cleveland, and heroin and marijuana from New York City into Pittsburgh.
The methamphetamine appeared to originate from the Sinaloa area of Mexico, he said.
"They weren't a conventional street gang," Mr. Christman said.
A 96-page affidavit filed in the case and unsealed Friday describes Mr. Thomas pulling up next to a co-conspirator at the Robinson mall parking lot, leaning into a vehicle for five seconds, leaving, and then immediately sending a text -- intercepted through a wire tap -- confirming "It's in there."
"It," in that case, was heroin, according to the affidavit.
The affidavit also indicated that on another date Mr. Thomas summoned another co-conspirator to the Robinson mall "because Thomas had just dropped his kids off at Giggles and Smiles" there. The wiretap caught Mr. Thomas saying that he couldn't sign his kids right back out of the supervised drop-off play center for children. So the two met in the parking lot near a hair salon where, according to the affidavit, the co-conspirator gave Mr. Thomas a heroin sample.
Mr. Thomas soon left the mall with a woman and his two children, according to the affidavit.
Mr. Thomas faces charges of conspiracy to possess and distribute 500 grams of methamphetamine and 100 grams of heroin, plus possession of a firearm in furtherance of drug trafficking. He has pleaded not guilty. His defense attorney, Charles M. Schwartz, said he had not yet reviewed all of the voluminous evidence and wasn't in a position to comment.
"The drug methamphetamine has such a devastating and addictive effect," said Mr. Christman.
"It's coming in high potency, and it's a great risk to people," said U.S. attorney David Hickton, whose office is prosecuting the case.
Rich Lord: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1542 or Twitter @richelord. First Published January 17, 2014 6:23 PM