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DEA sought new information after October acquittals

Back in October, two men were acquitted of federal charges after being accused of taking part in an alleged drug trafficking conspiracy that prosecutors claim was headed up by a Pennsylvania man. Since the acquittals, federal agents have taken additional steps in an effort to link co-defendants to the alleged conspiracy.

The charges date back to 2009, and 23 individuals were eventually charged in connection with the primary conspiracy case. Nine other defendants were charged separately. A number of the defendants have already pleaded guilty, but many others have chosen to go to trial. The October acquittals likely encouraged the co-defendants to continue fighting the allegations.

The Drug Enforcement Administration began investigating a 38-year-old Coraopolis man in 2008. The investigation led to the search of the man's car rental business, and DEA agents claim to have found drug packaging equipment and "61 empty kilogram wrappers containing cocaine residue." The DEA got some help from the Internal Revenue Service, and authorities claim that shipping, flight, cell phone and credit card records were used to link co-defendants to the alleged conspiracy.

Since the acquittals, however, agents have taken the unusual step of seeking new information late in the case. For example, a warrant was granted for an agent to access 11 cell phones that were used at some point by five of the defendants. Those cell phones apparently were not accessed for the cases against the men who were acquitted.

Usually, when federal agents arrest someone on drug charges, it is safe to assume that the government already has a significant amount of evidence against the defendant. However, a federal charge is still only that -- a charge -- and the burden of proof falls on the prosecution.

In this particular case, it remains to be seen whether prosecutors can convince jurors that the co-defendants conspired to traffic cocaine across state lines and into Pittsburgh.

Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "Cocaine trafficking trial starts Wednesday," Rich Lord, Jan. 3, 2014

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