March 31, 2005
AG Corbett & Centre County DA Gricar announce breakup of $1.5 million heroin & cocaine organization
STATE COLLEGE - Attorney General Tom Corbett and Centre County District Attorney Ray Gricar today announced that agents from the Attorney General's Bureau of Narcotics Investigation (BNI), along with officers from the Centre County Drug Task Force and Pennsylvania state troopers, were in the process of arresting as many as nine suspected heroin and cocaine dealers operating in Centre County.
Corbett identified the alleged leader of the drug organization as Taji "Verbal" Lee, 24, originally from Newark, New Jersey. Lee is currently being held in the Centre County Jail on related drug charges.
"This is the largest heroin operation that we have ever seen in Centre County," Corbett said, "feeding a drug trade that stretched throughout the region and allegedly resulted in at least one deadly overdose."
Evidence and testimony about alleged drug trafficking and drug sales was presented to a statewide investigating grand jury, which recommended that Corbett file criminal charges.
Corbett said narcotics investigators began probing Lee's activities in 2003. At that time, agents had begun getting reports of heroin, crack cocaine and powder cocaine being distributed in Centre County by an individual known as "Verbal," who was reportedly transporting large quantities of heroin and cocaine from New Jersey to Centre County.
As the investigation proceeded, Corbett said undercover agents were able to make controlled purchases of heroin and cocaine from various members of the organization. Based on that information, along with evidence presented to a grand jury, investigators were able to identify the alleged leader of the organization as Taji "Verbal" Lee.
The grand jury found that Lee sold heroin and cocaine to undercover officers and confidential informants on at least four occasions between November 2004 and January 2005.
On Jan. 11, 2005, Lee was arrested by officers from the Centre County Drug Task Force shortly after he allegedly arranged to deliver 348 bags of heroin to an undercover agent.
Corbett said that the grand jury also recommended that Lee be charged in connection with a fatal heroin overdose which occurred in State College. The grand jury found that Lee was the source of heroin involved in the Jan. 28, 2004 death of Boyd Francis.
Lee allegedly delivered 30 packets of heroin to Francis the evening before Francis died. In addition, the grand jury found that Lee instructed associates to destroy the remaining heroin used to supply Francis, after police seized several packets of heroin while investigating the fatal overdose.
Along with the criminal charges against Lee, the grand jury also recommended that eight Centre County residents be charged with assisting Lee in the sale, delivery and distribution of heroin in Centre County. They include: Bradley Arzner, Michelle Sopp, Nicholas Oswald, Trista Shope and Joseph McLaughlin, all of State College; Jena Reeves and Kenyon Ebeling, of Boalsburg; and Shauna Foss, of Centre Hall.
"We believe this organization is responsible for bringing as much as one million dollars worth of heroin and a half-million dollars worth of cocaine into Centre County over the past two years," Corbett said. "Today's arrests shut off that drug pipeline."
Corbett thanked the officers and participating police departments in the Centre County Drug Task Force, Penn State University Police Services, the Pennsylvania State Police, Centre County District Attorney Gricar and the agents and attorneys from his Bureau of Narcotics Investigation for their extensive work in this investigation.
All of the defendants are scheduled to be preliminarily arraigned before State College Magisterial District Judge Bradley P. Lunsford. The case will be prosecuted in Centre County by Senior Deputy Attorney General Michael T. Madeira, of Corbett's Drug Strike Force Section.
The following is a list of the defendants and the charges filed against them:
- Taji "Verbal" Lee, 24, Newark, New Jersey (currently in the Centre County Prison), is charged with nine counts of possession with intent to deliver, one count of conspiracy, one count of money laundering, four counts of criminal use of a communication facility and one count of drug delivery resulting in death.
- Bradley Arzner, 25, 911 H, West Aaron Dr., State College, in charged with seven counts of possession with intent to deliver, one count of conspiracy, one count of money laundering and one count of criminal use of a communication facility.
- Kenyon Ebeling, 36, 795 Ashworth Lane, Boalsburg, is charged with six counts of possession with intent to deliver, one count of conspiracy, one count of money laundering and one count of criminal use of a communication facility.
- Shauna Foss, 25, 118 N. Pennsylvania Ave., Centre Hall, is charged with two counts of possession with intent to deliver, one count conspiracy and one count of criminal use of a communication facility.
- Michelle Sopp, 20, 1400 Martin Street, #3092, State College, is charged with one count of drug delivery, one count of conspiracy and one count of criminal use of a communication facility.
- Jena Reeves, 54, 908 Kay Street, Boalsburg, is charged with one count of drug delivery and one count of conspiracy.
- Nicholas Oswald, 25, 3130 Sheffield Dr., State College, is charged with two counts of possession with intent to deliver and one count of conspiracy.
- Trista Shope, 24, 664 Southgate Dr., State College, is charged with one count of possession with intent to deliver and one count of conspiracy.
- Joseph McLaughlin, 36, 1632 Birchcourt St., State College, is charged with two counts of possession with intent to deliver and one count of conspiracy.
(A person charged with a crime is presumed innocent until proven guilty)