A big drug bust in the Poconos that started with a traffic stop on Interstate 80 in Illinois has gone bust after a Monroe County judge ruled the police were out of line when they battered through the front door of a stash house without a warrant.
In a 17-page opinion and order handed down Sept. 6, President Judge Margherita Patti Worthington said it was hard to understand why state police had not obtained a search warrant, given the fact they knew two days in advance that a 150-pound load of high-grade marijuana was scheduled for delivery and sale to 591 Poplar Creek Road in Effort, Chestnuthill Township.
In reviewing the case, Judge Worthington noted Pennsylvania state police had been tipped off by state police in Illinois about the alleged drug deal in the Poconos on Jan. 28 after stopping a car headed from California to Pennsylvania. The two people in the car, Rusty and Misty Tygart, cooperated with Illinois troopers after the load of marijuana was discovered in their car.
The Tygarts were taken into custody and turned over to Pennsylvania state after they had agreed to complete the drug delivery to the home in Effort, under police observation.
On Jan. 30, two days after the traffic stop that revealed the planned drug deal in the Poconos, Rusty Tygart delivered the marijuana to the home in Effort and received more than $30,000, court documents state.
Police watched an individual hand Rusty Tygart the money and place the marijuana in the garage area, according to court documents.
At least four officers then went to the front door, knocked and then battered it down. Three people were arrested inside the house: Michael Mazzella, 39, of White Plains, N.Y., Marc Robert Zaccardo, 43, of Dorado, Puerto Rico and Marvin Olanzo Leonard, 44, of Poplar Creek Road, Effort.
The police then waited about 3.5 hours for a search warrant to arrive “to conduct a more thorough search and re-acquire the marijuana,” which had a street value of about $600,000, the judge noted.
In an affidavit for the search warrant, Trooper Matthew Tretter stated that law enforcement’s ability to observe the house in Effort was not practical in the rural setting. Tretter also said the drugs might easily have been re-distributed from the house.
In the opinion, Judge Worthington questioned why law enforcement officers kicked in the door and why they had not obtained a warrant before the drug deal went down, which they controlled through their two informants, the Tygarts. If troopers feared the marijuana was going to be quickly shipped out, Worthington noted there was nothing to prevent law enforcement from stopping anyone coming or going from the house.
The judge said that police appeared to “have had the opportunity and grounds to pursue a warrant before the search.”
Defense attorney James Swetz argued the warrantless search violated the defendants’ Fourth Amendment rights.
The district attorney’s office has not said if it intends to appeal the decision. Attempts to contact Barbara Fitzgerald, the assistant district attorney on the case, were unsuccessful.
Mazzella, Zaccardo and Leonard are each free on $250,000 bail.