Picarella waives drug charges to court
MOUNT CARMEL - A state deputy attorney general was ready to call about a dozen witnesses to testify Monday morning against a man accused of selling drugs in eastern Northumberland County, but their testimony wasn't needed; the defendant waived his right to a preliminary hearing.
After consulting with his attorney for several minutes, Charles "Chuck" T. Picarella Jr., 33, of 869 W. Valley Ave., Apt. 2, Elysburg, agreed to send his case to the Court of Common Pleas, where he will appear for plea court June 3. At his next legal proceeding, Picarella could plead guilty or no contest, or seek a trial by pleading not guilty.
Deputy Attorney General Patrick Leonard of State College was prepared to call approximately 12 witnesses, including inmates, co-defendants and police. But no testimony was required once Picarella waived the charges to county court before Magisterial District Judge Hugh Jones.
Picarella, who was represented by Attorney Stephen Becker of Lewisburg, was charged earlier this month by Ralpho Township Patrolman Christopher Grow and Agent David Jordan of the attorney general's office with nine felony counts of possession with intent to deliver a controlled substance, one felony count each of illegal possession of a firearm and criminal use of a communication facility, and one count of possession of drug paraphernalia involving incidents in the Shamokin, Mount Carmel and Elysburg areas over a 2 1/2-year period.
Police allege he sold or possessed more than 5 1/2 ounces of cocaine and more than 1 1/2 ounces of heroin, some of which he allegedly sold while working at a family business.
Picarella told Jones he understood the ramifications of forfeiting his right to a preliminary hearing and sending the case to county court.
The defendant, Becker and Leonard declined comment after the hearing.
Picarella, who had his arms and legs shackled, spoke briefly to his parents after the hearing before being transported to Snyder County Prison to await his next court appearance. Although his alleged crimes were committed in Northumberland County, Picarella is being housed in Snyder County Jail in lieu of $100,000 cash bail because various witnesses in the case are incarcerated in Northumberland County Prison.
Picarella was in SCI-Mahanoy on a parole violation prior to his most recent arrest.
The investigation includes eyewitness testimony from various sources, some described in court papers as witnesses and others as conspirators. The state attorney general's office would not comment on whether or not the witnesses or conspirators were cooperating confidential informants or if charges were pending against others involved in the investigation.
Picarella was arrested Oct. 4, 2012, after a parole agent allegedly found 20.7 grams of cocaine, various prescription pills and drug packaging paraphernalia inside a car at his home. Police also confiscated a .32-caliber handgun possessed by Picarella on Sept. 3, 2012, at a property on North Anthracite Street in Shamokin. The handgun was traded to Picarella by another man for heroin. Picarella has a prior felony conviction and is not permitted to possess a firearm, authorities say.
Unidentified witnesses say they purchased cocaine and heroin from Picarella between April 2010 and Oct. 4, 2012, at various intervals. He's said to have purchased heroin from a source in Wilkes-Barre during 2012 and sold to more than 10 customers in and around the Shamokin area. The buys were allegedly set up through telephone calls and text messages, witnesses said, and some sales came through people allegedly working for him.
Another instance alleged by an eyewitness was Picarella's purchase of $1,800 in cocaine in September 2012 at a convenience store in Lavelle.
Drugs were allegedly stored in properties he owned in Shamokin and Mount Carmel, including a Shamokin garage "controlled by conspirators."
Police say unnamed conspirators went to his Mount Carmel property and retrieved various amounts of heroin after his arrest.
Evidence was presented to the 33rd Statewide Investigating Grand Jury in Harrisburg from November 2012 through February 2013 by police and civilian witnesses, prompting the grand jury to recommend drug-related charges be filed against Picarella.
Witnesses testified that smaller heroin purchases were made from Picarella at a family business, where he would place packets of heroin inside boxes containing cannoli or cheesecake.