Kathleen G. Kane - Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General - Protecting Pennsylvanians

August 25, 2006

Attorney General Corbett announces arrests in "Operation Pen Pals;" four charged in cocaine ring operated from inside state prison

UNIONTOWN - Attorney General Tom Corbett, along with the Pennsylvania State Police and the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, today announced the filing of criminal charges against four suspected members of a Fayette County cocaine distribution ring orchestrated by an inmate at the State Correctional Institution at Fayette (SCI-Fayette).

Corbett said today's arrests are the result of a six-month long investigation, known as "Operation Pen Pals."  The probe began in February 2006 after Department of Corrections security officers at SCI-Fayette forwarded information to the Pennsylvania State Police concerning an inmate allegedly using prison telephones to coordinate an outside drug operation.  

Evidence and testimony was presented to a statewide investigating grand jury, which recommended the criminal charges being filed today.

Operation Pen PalsCorbett identified the alleged kingpins of the organization as Donta Thomas, 29,
45 Steel St., Republic, Fayette County (currently serving a state prison sentence on unrelated drug charges), and his uncle, William Earley, 59, 145 Spring St., Coal Center, Washington County.

Also charged are Carson Thomas, 22, 6 Wall St., Republic and Arthur Gregory, 35, 106 Edgewood Drive, New Stanton, Westmoreland County, both cousins of Donta Thomas.

"This is a perfect example of how cooperation between law enforcement agencies can quickly dismantle a criminal enterprise," Corbett said.  "Working together, State Troopers, Corrections officials and prosecutors from the Office of Attorney General have been able to piece together the information we needed to shut down this drug organization."

Corbett said that between January 2006 and July 2006 prison officials intercepted a series of telephone calls from SCI-Fayette involving Donta Thomas and his uncle, William Earley. The grand jury found that during these calls, Thomas and Earley discussed ongoing drug trafficking activities in Fayette.

The grand jury found that Earley agreed to work with Carson Thomas to coordinate drug trafficking.  In addition, Donta Thomas allegedly made arrangements for Carson Thomas to meet with Earley's drug sources in Philadelphia.

Additionally, Corbett said that authorities intercepted numerous phone calls between Donta Thomas and his cousin, Carson.  According to the grand jury, during these calls Donta tutored Carson on the methods of buying and selling drugs, including how to negotiate prices, how to travel to Philadelphia without attracting the attention of law enforcement and how to accumulate money to bankroll future drug purchases.

The grand jury found that during some of the calls, Donta Thomas specifically instructed Carson Thomas to contact drug sources in Philadelphia, arrange drug pick-ups and to coordinate with other individuals to drive him to meet drug sources.

Corbett said the grand jury also found that Donta and Carson Thomas had several conversations about trips to Philadelphia to pick up cocaine.  The two also discussed profits being generated by drug sales and during some of those conversations Donta Thomas allegedly provided instructions about distributing drug profits, directing Carson to deliver money to other individuals in order to pay bills, make car payments and pay other expenses.

On July 11, 2006 Carson Thomas and Arthur Gregory were stopped by Pennsylvania State Troopers as they drove west on the Pennsylvania Turnpike through Somerset County.

Corbett said that a search warrant was obtained for the vehicle based on information from telephone conversations between Donta and Carson Thomas concerning a planned trip to Philadelphia to purchase drugs.  During that search, troopers seized five kilos of cocaine, with a street-value of $500,000, along with 129 stamp bags of heroin, with a street-value of $1,500, hidden inside a gym bag in the trunk of the car.

According to the grand jury, a search of William Earley's residence on July 19, 2006 resulted in the seizure of one-quarter ounce of crack cocaine, with a street-value of $500.

Corbett said the criminal charges were filed today before Boswell, Somerset County, Magisterial District Judge Susan Mankamyer. 

Corbett said jurisdiction for the case has been assigned to Somerset County by the supervising judge of the grand jury.  It will be prosecuted by Deputy Attorney General Tomm A. Mutschler of the Attorney General's Drug Strike Force Section.

Corbett thanked the Pennsylvania State Police and Pennsylvania Department of Corrections for their assistance with this investigation.

Below is a list of the defendants and the charges filed against them:

Donta Tyrone Thomas, 29, 45 Steel St., Republic, Fayette County (currently incarcerated at SCI-Albion), is charged with three counts of possession with intent to deliver/delivery, three counts of criminal conspiracy, two counts of participating in a corrupt organization and one count of criminal use of a communications facility.

William Earley, 59, 145 Spring St., Coal Center, is charged with four counts of possession with intent to deliver/delivery, two counts of drug possession, four counts of criminal conspiracy, two counts of participating in a corrupt organization and one count of criminal use of a communications facility.

Carson Jarome Thomas, 22, 6 Wall St., Republic, is charged with three counts of possession with intent to deliver/delivery, three counts of criminal conspiracy, two counts of participating in a corrupt organization and one count of criminal use of a communications facility.

Arthur Lamont Gregory, 35, 106 Edgewood Drive, New Stanton, is charged with three counts of possession with intent to deliver/delivery, three counts of criminal conspiracy, two counts of participating in a corrupt organization and one count of criminal use of a communications facility.

(A person charged with a crime is presumed innocent until proven guilty.)

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