About eight months ago Pittston Township police confirmed for me that they had confiscated about 50 pounds of marijuana from a nationally branded warehouse in a local industrial park.
An alert news source of mine who was listening to a police scanner heard the call and let me know about the dope.
A nice township police officer even stopped by WILK News radio to confirm the find and tell me that the investigation was continuing.
The war on drugs continued and I slept soundly that night knowing that township police were on the job.
I also figured that this was as good a time as any to do something I’ve wanted to do for decades – track the confiscation and disposal of drugs by police who are frontline public servants with great responsibility to uphold the public trust.
And fifty pounds of weed is a great test of the public trust.
So I waited. And about a month ago I called the new Pittston Twp. police chief and asked about the marijuana. Yes, he said, he remembered hearing about the case and the confiscated “52 pounds” of marijuana even though he was not on the job when the bust went down. And, yes, the chief said, he would have the investigating officer call me to bring me up to date on the case and the marijuana.
The officer never called.
So I called the chief and left a message.
The chief never returned my call.
We originally had a nice conversation. He said he was a retired trooper with the state police and we talked about raising standards in police work and other niceties about an often grueling and deadly job.
I thought it very odd that he didn’t return my call – or the three subsequent calls and messages I left for him with a dispatcher and on his voicemail.
In my last message I informed the chief that I would have to take my inquiry to a higher level.
Still, no response.
What was going on?
Did police still possess an intact “52” pounds of marijuana? Why was it so difficult to tell me that they had the drugs and that I could stop by and see the bale? Why create questions in an already mysterious situation? Was something awry?
Maybe somebody in the Pittston Twp. government told the chief not to speak with me, I thought. I have not had the best relationship with former township police chief and current supervisor Steve Rinaldi, who once told me he had acted as a personal concealed weapons permit reference for a reputed Mafia don because “he’s my friend.”
But the new chief came highly recommended. A longtime law enforcement source told me he was a good cop and a one-time solid boxer..
OK, so why cut off my good faith inquiries? Satisfactorily answering my questions would only make the department look good - assuming everything was on the up and up with the weed, that is./
I’ve heard in the past week or so that the chief requested a Luzerne County court order that is required to destroy the marijuana. But when I called the county courthouse recently nobody could find the order.
An attorney with whom I spoke said township officers could hold onto the “evidence” as long as the case is an open case, which I understand the case to be. To the best of my knowledge nobody has been charged in the case and nobody knows who sent the dope or who was supposed to pick it up.
But if the case is open and township police have held on to the marijuana for eight months, why request a court order to destroy it about the same time I started asking questions?
No newspaper story appeared about the big haul, either. Local cops love to spread illegal drugs across a table and pose in their best paramilitary gear with the evidence like they’re international drug agents whose lives should be portrayed on the big screen rather than local cops stuck in a musty police station in hard coal country.
What’s going on here?
I thought about calling the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. The DEA keeps an office in Scranton. But I don’t trust the DEA. A Wilkes-Barre local cop assigned to the local DEA office wrote a letter trying to influence a federal judge to go easy on an admitted criminal former cop buddy who pleaded guilty to public corruption charges.
DEA “standards” leave a lot to be desired.
So I plan to call Luzerne County District Attorney Stephanie Salavantis. I’ll also email her this column and ask if I need to file a complaint in order to find out where 52 pounds of marijuana worth almost $100,000 happens to be.
I want proof, too. I’m sorry to say that it’s no longer good enough to take police at any level at their word. The public trust in Northeastern Pennsylvania has all but destroyed and restoration efforts are not going well.
Show me the marijuana.
Let me photograph it, weigh it and get confirmation that it is in fact marijuana and not oregano.
Then please explain why I had to jump through hoops in order to simply tell good, law-abiding citizens in our community that they can trust the Pittston Twp. cops.