By Denis J. O’Malley
It took Derrick “Boss” Ward little more than a handful of phone calls over the course of an afternoon to arrange a 131-gram shipment of crack from New York City to Scranton when his supply ran dry, investigators testified at a hearing Friday morning.
Mr. Ward, 36, of the Bronx, N.Y., appeared in Lackawanna County Court before Magisterial District Judge Robert Russell for a preliminary hearing along with five of his co-defendants in the state attorney general’s office’s “Operation Sunset” case.
Mr. Ward is accused of funneling crack from New York City into Scranton via subordinates from January, when the investigation began, until his arrest along with 35 of his alleged co-conspirators and customers during several raids throughout Scranton on May 18.
Agent Leonard Musto of the state attorney general’s office, who conducted the investigation along with Officer Jason Gula of the Scranton Police Department, presented a series of wiretap recordings of calls Mr. Ward either made or received on his cellphone on April 16 to illustrate his role atop an organization he said worked “as a hierarchy.”
At about 12:30 that afternoon, Mr. Ward made a call in the Bronx to an unidentified man with a Spanish accent who investigators say was his supplier.
“Yo, what’s the number?” Mr. Ward asked.
“37,” the man answered, indicating that a gram of crack would cost $37, Agent Musto explained.
“Whoa, where did he make that conclusion on that phone call?” Mr. Ward’s attorney, Christopher T. Powell, interjected, objecting to what he saw as speculation by Agent Musto on the brief conversation.
Judge Russell permitted Agent Musto’s testimony as both the defense and prosecution had agreed to recognize Agent Musto and Officer Gula as experts on narcotics trafficking and coded language for the purposes of Friday’s hearing.
Throughout the hearing, Mr. Powell repeatedly objected to what he saw as speculation or hearsay on the part of Officer Gula and Agent Musto throughout their testimonies, though, despite the ensuing arguments between him and Deputy Attorney General Timothy Doherty, the judge repeatedly permitted the remarks in question.
“They can throw as much against the wall as they want; obviously, it didn’t stick,” Mr. Doherty said of the debates over the admissibility of the investigators’ testimonies.
Mr. Doherty proceeded to walk Agent Musto through Mr. Ward’s phone calls that afternoon in April, leading him next to a call at about 12:45 between Mr. Ward and the suspected supplier in which Mr. Ward, as Agent Musto explained, placed an order for 131 grams of crack.
Less than an hour after calling in the order, Mr. Ward received a call from one of his alleged subordinate dealers, Ransford Robinson, 33 – who was also charged in the case – informing him that he had been inundated with customers’ calls and asked when his supply would be replenished.
At 2, Mr. Ward called his alleged transporter of product and new employees from New York, Rashad Roper, 22, of the Bronx, and asked him to meet him outside, Agent Musto explained of the recording.
By 5:20, Mr. Ward had received a call from Mr. Roper informing him that he would arrive in Scranton in his black BMW in about 10 minutes.
Mr. Ward then called Mr. Robinson and ordered him to meet the shipment at the Wendy’s on Wyoming Avenue and provide Mr. Roper with his money in exchange for the new product, Agent Musto said of that call’s recording.
Agent Musto presented surveillance photographs to Judge Russell depicting both the BMW in the parking lot at Wendy’s and Mr. Robinson walking to meet the vehicle.
After tailing Mr. Roper’s vehicle out of town and onto Interstate 80, Agent Musto and Officer Gula contacted state police and requested they pull the BMW over for suspect identification, which verified the Bronx man’s presence behind the wheel, Agent Musto testified.
After nearly eight hours of testimony, Judge Russell bound over all of the charges against Mr. Ward: two counts of participating in a corrupt organization, one count each of criminal conspiracy to deliver cocaine, possession with intent to deliver cocaine, delivery of cocaine and criminal use of a communication facility as well as additional charges related to a stolen gun and crack found during a search of his vehicle.
Five additional defendants appeared at the hearing on Friday, and the charges against them were bound over as well. They are: