Monongahela police officer charged with drugs, threats
September 5, 2009 4:00 AM
Monongahela Police Chief Brian Tempest, left, talks to the media yesterday, with District Attorney Steven Toprani behind him at the entrance to the Washington County Courthouse.
By Janice Crompton Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Washington County District Attorney Steven Toprani said that a Monongahela police officer arrested yesterday on drug and corruption charges represents a culture of corruption he has been wrestling with since he took office 20 months ago.
Monongahela patrolman George M. Langan thwarted the efforts of a Washington County drug task force by tipping off drug dealers and also operated as a drug dealer, Mr. Topriani said. He also threatened some people who authorities say purchased drugs from him.
He described the patrolman as "rogue" officer who was "an important figure in Monongahela's cocaine trade."
Mr. Langan's arrest brings to five the number of local police officers charged with corruption and related crimes under Mr. Toprani's brief regime.
"I view the allegations and arrest with a profound sense of sadness," said Mr. Toprani, who lives in neighboring Carroll. "My commitment to stamp out corruption remains firm."
Mr. Toprani's comments came during a news conference in front of the county courthouse yesterday, just hours after Officer Langan, 45, was arrested and lodged in the county jail on $500,000 bond.
Officer Langan, a 16-year veteran of the Monongahela police, was called into the police department about two hours into his shift yesterday morning and told to remove his gun and belt for a random drug test.
He was taken into custody and charged with 11 counts of violating the drug act, and 23 counts of public corruption, including official oppression, evidence tampering and criminal conspiracy.
His arrest stemmed from an indictment handed down Thursday from a new countywide grand jury empaneled earlier this year by Mr. Toprani.
The indictment capped a four-month investigation into corruption and drug dealing in the Mon Valley, and there could be more arrests, Mr. Toprani said.
He said Officer Langan was targeted by the grand jury after members of the drug task force became suspicious of possible police corruption in the Monongahela area.
The task force, made up of several dozen police officers from throughout the county, acts in secret to investigate and eliminate the local drug trade.
Detective Ronald J. Levi of the drug task force said doubts were raised recently when his team coordinated several undercover purchases of the narcotic painkiller oxycontin from a group of drug dealers in the Mon Valley.
Local police were notified shortly before a final buy and coordinating raid were planned, Detective Levi said, but it became obvious that the dealers had been tipped off and the plan went awry.
"We suspected something was up," he said.
The group didn't have far to look, as Mr. Langan -- called "G-Money" by friends -- had been under investigation for at least the last 10 years by the state attorney general's office, the state police, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Mr. Toprani said.
The details of those investigations are unclear for now, but Monongahela police Chief Brian Tempest said during his 20-odd years as a local patrolman, he suspected Mr. Langan of wrongdoing and forwarded his concerns to then-chief Dennis Mendicino.
"I feel this has been going on for 10 years," said Chief Tempest, who was appointed chief in January 2008, when new Mayor Robert Kepics was elected. Ex-chief Mendicino, who still works on the force of 18 officers, was demoted to sergeant.
Chief Tempest said there were rumors for years that members of the police force were corrupt, and said he's glad to finally be able to address them.
"It's a sad day for law enforcement," he said. "I feel sad. He was my friend."
Although details will remain sketchy until the grand jury indictment is unsealed during a preliminary hearing scheduled for Wednesday, the criminal complaint filed yesterday alleges Mr. Langan was in possession of cocaine on or about June 15 and June 17, when an undercover operation was launched.
During the same time period, he is accused of delivering cocaine to Sgt. Mendicino's ex-wife, Lori Mendicino, and to Mike Tatar, Nick Simon and Wendy Biagini -- who he has since been accused of threatening.
In April, police said Mr. Langan tipped off Mr. Tatar, Millie Schiffer and Kurt Neff to pending arrests and search warrants.
Mr. Langan's actions rose to the level of racketeering, the complaint alleges, and put the lives of other law enforcement officials in "grave danger."
Mr. Toprani said the investigation wouldn't have been possible without the grand jury, "a very effective tool," which hears confidential testimony and has the power to compel cooperation.
He said it's possible that more charges will be forthcoming, and that Mr. Langan wasn't acting alone.
"This is certainly a difficult day for law enforcement, but it's a necessary one," he said.