D.C. police officer faces Pittsburgh hearing in drug ring case

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A District of Columbia police officer charged with laundering money for a California-to-Pittsburgh cocaine ring under indictment since 2009 is free on bond pending a preliminary hearing next week before a federal magistrate here.

Jared Weinberg made a brief initial appearance today in federal court in Pittsburgh following his arrest Monday at his precinct in Washington, D.C., where he has been a police officer for a little more than a year.

He is charged with conspiracy to commit money-laundering for the ring, believed to have sold as much as four tons of cocaine between 2000 and 2009.

Officer Weinberg is accused of laundering drug proceeds for Damon Lewis Collins, identified as a California drug supplier for a trafficking organization run by Robert Russell Spence of Coraopolis.

Mr. Spence and Mr. Collins are among some two dozen alleged members of the ring under indictment here since 2009.

A separate indictment handed up in 2012 has charged six others with money-laundering, including Officer Weinberg's father, Howard Weinberg.

Several ring members have pleaded guilty, including Montel Staples, the former athletic director and basketball coach at now-closed Duquesne High School.

Prosecutors said Mr. Staples was a go-between who passed cocaine money to his brother, Tywan Staples, of Oakland, Calif., from Mr. Spence.

An affidavit prepared by the Criminal Investigation Division of the IRS says Officer Weinberg and his father rented apartments in and around Baltimore for Mr. Collins to use in the cocaine business.

The IRS estimated Mr. Collins laundered more than $2 million by structuring cash deposits into his own bank accounts and the bank accounts of 13 other people, including Officer Weinberg.

Structuring is a technique used by drug organizations to conceal the source of funds and evade currency transaction reports.

The case began in 2008 when one of the accused ring members, Ruben Mitchell of Stockton, Calif., brought a bag onto a flight from Oakland to Pittsburgh that was too big to fit into the overhead compartment.

The plane stopped over in Las Vegas, where the bag ended up on a carousel while the flight continued on to Pittsburgh with Mr. Mitchell.

When no one claimed the bag in Las Vegas, officials opened it, found 19 kilos of cocaine and called the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration in Pittsburgh to watch Mr. Mitchell when he arrived.

At the airport, drug agents watched Mr. Mitchell as he frantically looked for his bag.

DEA began building its case and arrested him in Idaho in 2009. Prosecutors said the ring had initially mailed coke from California to Pittsburgh, but as the operation grew larger, members started using couriers on flights.

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Torsten Ove: tove@post-gazette.com or 412-231-0132. First Published May 10, 2013 9:15 AM


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