Drug ring leader may head to trial
SHAMOKIN - The alleged ring leader of an international drug trafficking organization - who faces up to 150 years in state prison - plans to seek an attorney and possibly take his case to trial after waiving his right to a hearing Tuesday afternoon before Magisterial District Judge John Gembic III.
Juan Carlos Alvarez, 28, of Hazleton, told the judge, "I'd like to see the evidence they have against me before entering any guilty plea. I don't really want to go to trial, but I'll see what happens."
Alvarez is charged with nine counts of possession with intent to deliver cocaine and heroin, nine counts of delivery of cocaine and heroin, three counts of criminal use of a communication facility and two counts of criminal conspiracy.
He told Gembic he hopes to have some of the charges withdrawn against him now that the case has been sent to Northumberland County Court of Common Pleas in Sunbury.
In addition to the charges filed against him by the state Attorney General's office and local police, Alvarez was indicted in federal court on drug trafficking offenses.
He was recommitted to Lackawanna County Prison in Scranton in lieu of $200,000 cash bail on the state and local charges and remains under $8 million bail on the federal offenses.
Alvarez waived his right to legal counsel for the hearing, but said he plans to seek a public defender in county court. The defendant also is trying to secure a federal attorney to contest those offenses.
When Gembic asked him if he had the money to post bail, Alvarez replied, "No. I wouldn't be sitting here if I did. I'd be on vacation somewhere if I had that kind of money."
Senior Deputy Attorney General Pat Leonard, who is prosecuting the cases against 16 defendants charged in the Sept. 19 drug raid, opposed Alvarez's request to reduce bail, which was denied by Gembic.
Alvarez, a native of the Dominican Republic, was ordered by Gembic to appear for a pre-trial conference Jan. 6 at Northumberland County Courthouse.
Also waiving their rights to hearings were co-defendants Kinda Yost, 25, of 32 N. Anthracite St., Shamokin; Amber Zwolinski, 26, of 1238 Pulaski Ave.; Kevineric Eltringham, 30, of 1327 W. Mulberry St., Coal Township, and Kyle Fabian, 22, of 272 Bottle Drive, Paxinos.
Yost is charged with four counts of possession with intent to deliver heroin, three counts of delivery of heroin, two counts of criminal conspiracy and one count of perjury.
Zwolinski faces two counts each of possession with intent to deliver heroin, delivery of heroin and criminal use of a communication facility.
Eltringham is charged with two counts of criminal conspiracy, one count of possession with intent to deliver heroin and one count of perjury.
Fabian faces one count each of possession with intent to deliver heroin, delivery of heroin, criminal conspiracy and criminal use of a communication facility.
Yost and Zwolinski had their $75,000 and $50,000 cash bail, respectively, reduced by Gembic to unsecured supervised bail and were later released from Northumberland County Prison.
Eltringham also had his bail reduced from $50,000 cash to unsecured supervised bail, but was recommitted to the county jail on detainers involving probation violations.
Yost, Zwolinski and Eltringham were ordered to appear for plea court Dec. 2 at Northumberland County Courthouse, where they can plead guilty or no contest, or seek a trial by pleading not guilty.
Fabian, who was already free on unsecured supervised bail, was ordered to appear for a pre-trial conference Jan. 6 in Northumberland County Court.
All the defendants were ordered to avoid contact with any witnesses in the case.
Attorney Michael Rudinski of Williamsport represented Yost. Northumberland County Public Defender Melissa Norton served as Zwolinski's lawyer. Eltringham was represented by county special conflicts counsel Susan Schwartz and Northumberland County Chief Public Defender Edward Greco served as Fabian's attorney.
Authorities reported the drug trafficking organization involving heroin and cocaine stretched from the Dominican Republic to Luzerne and Northumberland counties.
Based on the testimony of two statewide grand juries, Alvarez has been supplying local users and dealers with bulk quantities of heroin and cocaine since at least 2008. Testimony states Alvarez supplied Pennsylvania associates weekly, sending kilos of cocaine and heroin, according to the Attorney General's office.
Agents with the Attorney General's Bureau of Narcotics Investigation unit estimated the organization was responsible for distributing at least $2 million worth of cocaine and heroin in Pennsylvania since 2012, when the investigation began.
Authorities said Alvarez has associates who met with cocaine and heroin suppliers in the Dominican Republic and acted as "drug mules," being paid $10,000 to swallow balloons filled with large quantities of cocaine and heroin. The associates flew into New York City before traveling throughout Northeastern and Central Pennsylvania.
The ring was brought down after agents and local police used confidential informants to make undercover purchases of cocaine and heroin.