Jun. 11—Something seemed suspicious as a special state police drug unit on Thursday watched a woman tuck a red suitcase into the trunk of a waiting white Chevrolet Malibu moments after it arrived outside a New Stanton motel.
Troopers had the property under routine surveillance as the car pulled away from the Fairfield Inn, and the woman headed back inside. A series of events would soon reveal to police what was inside the suitcase: $1 million worth of cocaine and heroin.
Jah Zhanee Sutton, 27, of Pittsburgh, is in the Westmoreland County Prison without bond. Harrison City District Judge Helen Kistler noted she would be held in jail because of the amount of contraband seized and "a flight risk" concern.
Sutton, who allegedly placed the luggage in the trunk, is charged with 18 drug delivery and possession counts.
Troopers on Friday also filed charges of drug delivery, possession and traffic-related complaints against Devell Dexter Christian, 31, of White Oak, who they said drove the 2018 sedan that pulled away with the cache of contraband. He was in the county jail awaiting arraignment, according to online dockets.
After police obtained a search warrant Thursday to search the suitcase, officers discovered inside three kilos of cocaine and 300 bricks of heroin, or 15,000 stamp bags, reported Corporal John Isoldi and Trooper Joshua Wiskeman, members of Troop A's Community Enforcement Team (TACET). The team was created in 2017 to focus on combating the region's opioid epidemic.
Wiskeman said when Christian pulled out of the motel parking lot onto Bair Boulevard, he noticed state police inside a parked patrol car were observing him. He passed by and "immediately turned into the the New Stanton Park 'n Ride lot and exited the vehicle," Wiskeman reported.
Troopers turned on their emergency lights and pulled in behind Christian. When asked him where he was going, Christian looked around and saw a nearby bank. "Citizens Bank," Wiskeman quoted him as replying.
Christian was actually "walking in the opposite direction from the Citizens Bank," Wiskeman noted in court documents.
Wiskeman said the man refused requests to allow troopers to search the vehicle. State police then summoned police dog Mingo from Penn Township. The dog gave investigators a "positive" signal for the presence of drugs, which triggered them to seek a search warrant.
Troopers said Christian also had multiple "conflicting stories for his travel."
Police said after the suitcase was loaded into the trunk, Sutton went back into the motel. Police acquired her room number. When they knocked on her second floor room and identified themselves, Wiskeman reported they heard "a loud noise from inside like someone was pounding on the wall of an ajoining room."
"It is believed Sutton was attempting to flee into the adjoining room," Wiskeman wrote.
Troopers entered the room and found Sutton holding a large black suitcase. Police said they seized a small amount of marijuana and unspecified white prescription pills "that were left in plain view."
According to online dockets, Sutton's only other arrest in Pennsylvania occurred Nov. 4, when McKeesport police charged her with criminal mischief and disorderly conduct. A preliminary hearing in that case is scheduled June 21, according to court records.
Christian has a criminal record dating back to 2008 in Allegheny County, according to court dockets. That year, he was sentenced to serve two to four years on a drug-related conviction. In 2012, he was sentenced to serve three to six years in prison on drug possession and delivery convictions. Both cases were filed by White Oak police.
Last September, Gov. Tom Wolf recognized three troopers with TACET for the work combating the trafficking of opioids in the New Stanton area, which is considered to be a High Intensity Drug Trafficking area by police, according to Isoldi.
Troopers Anthony Arbaczewski, Zachary Del Sordo and Isoldi, all stationed in Greensburg, received the Governor's Awards for Excellence during a virtual awards ceremony. The trio were among the first members of TACET.
Paul Peirce is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Paul at 724-850-2860, email@example.com or via Twitter .