Local cops are employing laws inspired by global events in a war much closer to home.
First, they shot the dog--a pit bull that came charging at them. Then they found their man in a garage behind the house, opening a 1-pound package of high-grade crystal meth worth $106,000 on the street.
Inside the house on Torresdale Avenue in the Northeast they found an amazing stash of weapons. "The way he had them lined up," says undercover narcotics cop Anthony Parrotti, "he could have just moved from room to room grabbing rifles and shotguns. They were loaded and ready."
If the suspect had been in the house, the cops may have been outgunned. "It would have been a firefight," says Sgt. Stephen McCusker. "There were more of us, but his stuff would've gone through walls and vests and everything."
Parrotti found the explosives. At that point the cops evacuated the house and called for the bomb squad, which discovered the makings of one bomb and another already assembled.
Parrotti and McCusker say 42-year-old James Hogeland, an alleged meth dealer, handled his arrest like a seasoned veteran. He just kind of nodded his head and asked for his lawyer.
Next thing they knew, they were involved in a second piece of Pennsylvania legal history.
In the wake of 9/11 the Pennsylvania Legislature passed a weapons of mass destruction law intended to increase penalties for terrorists caught in the act of plotting attacks on American soil.
The law made storing WMDs a second-degree felony and using them a first- degree felony. In the months since the law was passed, it's been used twice--both times in Philadelphia narcotics cases.
The first case, slated for a September trial, boasted a plot line like a gangsta version of Bonanza.
An alleged drug-dealing family, the Bellmons, started looking for street justice after one of the Bellmon boys was murdered. Benjamin and Harry Bellmon and their then-60-year-old father Johnnie acquired a machine that enabled them to make their own ammunition. They had five or six silencers, two sniper suits and numerous guns, hand grenades, military-grade bulletproof gear, even an armor-piercing rocket.
The rocket fit the bill for a WMD, but assistant district attorney Scott Sigman, who's prosecuting both WMD cases, decided to hit the North Philly men with the charge based in part on their stockpiling of other weapons. "These guys went way beyond the usual," says Sigman. "They were intent on building up their own armory to make war on a rival drug gang."
The defense challenged his use of the law, arguing that the Bellmons weren't exactly Al Qaeda. But judge Carolyn Temin, usually considered pro-defense, ruled for the commonwealth.
Sigman recognized that the ruling meant he'd acquired a new weapon as a prosecutor. When a bomb was found waiting behind a pit bull at James Hogeland's home, the attorney didn't hesitate to seek the WMD charge a second time.
As bombs go, the device Hogeland allegedly built ain't much.
There was no nuclear material and no biological agent. There was wax, matches, a long fuse, gunpowder and 20 bullets packed around a quarter stick of dynamite. And that's enough.
The new state law defines WMDs as biological agents, chemical agents or a bomb, further defined as an "explosive device used for unlawful purposes." The Bellmons' rocket fell under explosive devices. And Hogeland's crude Wile E. Coyote-like construction would definitely have exploded--scattering bullets in every direction.
Still, the DA's application of the law will likely be applauded by citizens and appealed by the defense lawyers who encounter it. The stakes are high: The extra charge could mean up to 20 additional years in prison for Hogeland or anyone else who keeps a WMD. Hogeland is currently being held on bail set at a staggering $10 million. Sigman seems ready for the debate.
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