Pittsburgh police make 32 arrests in undercover Downtown drug sting

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A three-month undercover drug investigation in Downtown Pittsburgh netted 32 arrests this month, including two men who were selling pills in the waiting area of the Allegheny County public defender's office, Pittsburgh police said today.

Zone 2 Lt. Jason Lando said police were getting complaints from businesses and people about daily open-air drug deals in the early morning in and around the Smithfield Street McDonald's, which prompted "Operation: Revolving Door" in January.

"If you ever sit down there in the morning and just see, it's the same people in and out, day after day hanging out at the same business," Lt. Lando said.

Police offer details about drug investigation

Police held a news conference to provide details on a three-month undercover drug investigation that netted 31 arrests. (Video by Kalea Hall; 4/12/2013)

Undercover officers bought pills, heroin, crack cocaine and marijuana in and around the McDonald's and at other places Downtown, including a bus stop on Smithfield in front of Burlington Coat Factory, Nathan's Famous hot dog shop on Wood Street, and another McDonald's on Wood.

Police said two more people have been charged but not yet arrested.

Zone 2 officers started the round-up April 5, with help from each of city's five police zones, Port Authority police and the Allegheny County Adult Probation office.

"Once people started getting arrested there was a bit of a panic among the drug dealers," Lt. Lando said. "I think for a while things are going to slow down, but eventually it's going to pick up again if we don't stay on top of it."

During the investigation one undercover officer was led through Downtown to the public defender's office waiting area in the County Office Building by a man he met at the McDonald's.

That man, Jason Rutherford, 35, of Brighton Heights, said that was a safe place for an exchange because "no one would assume that would be a location for a drug deal," Lt. Lando said.

There, Mr. Rutherford met with Matthew Stewart, 21, of Reserve, in the hallway, police said. The undercover officer gave Mr. Rutherford $20 and Mr. Rutherford returned with five greenish-colored alprazolam pills, a generic drug used to treat anxiety, wrapped in a napkin.

"I don't believe this is a widespread, ongoing problem," Lt. Lando said of the public defender's office area, noting there have been no complaints before or since then.

Most of those arrested are charged with possession of a controlled substance, intent to deliver a controlled substance and delivery of a controlled substance.

Mr. Stewart, who Lt. Lando said was at the County Office Building that day for a meeting with his public defender, and Mr. Rutherford, are also charged with conspiracy.

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Molly Born: mborn@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1944 and on Twitter: @borntolede. First Published April 12, 2013 4:30 AM


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