U.S. halts pot-by-bike messenger deliveries

Philadelphia service operated 1999-2003

August 28, 2005|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

PHILADELPHIA -- From 1999 to 2003, a gang that disguised itself as a legitimate bicycle courier service delivered marijuana to residents of Philadelphia's Center City who ordered drugs by pager, authorities said.

A federal grand jury indictment unsealed Wednesday charged one New Jersey man and 11 Philadelphians, including a Shakespearean actor who has taught at Arcadia University, with conspiracy to distribute more than 100 kilograms of marijuana.

According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, the gang provided customers with a pager number and a personal identification number. Dispatchers allegedly returned the pages, took orders over the phone, and called couriers with instructions.

The organization netted about $250,000 a year, according to Barbra Roach, acting DEA special agent in charge in Philadelphia.

In June and July 2003, authorities said, an undercover federal agent ordered and was delivered several plastic containers containing three or four grams of marijuana. Each purchase cost $100.

The organization's alleged ringleader is Ryan Whiteoak, 32, of Philadelphia.

The grand jury alleged that Christian Lisak, 33, the actor; Brian Callahan, 28; and David Rosenberg, 30, "managed the day-to-day business ... by recruiting, training, and paying bicycle delivery couriers to deliver marijuana."

Amy Ilnicki, 28, and Leah Murray, 29, were charged as dispatchers. Charged with being couriers were Michael McCann, 30; Brian Marr, 28; Michael Sanders, 31; Ben Gaydos, 26; Stephen Breese, 25; and Jeff Cuellar, age unknown.

Rosenberg, McCann and Lisak surrendered last week and were released on $10,000 bail each. The others remain at large, Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel A. Velez said.

All the defendants are from Philadelphia, except Callahan, who lives in Bridgeton, N.J.

If convicted, each of the dozen defendants faces a five-year minimum mandatory sentence, according to the DEA.

Carmen C. Nasuti, who represents McCann, a housepainter, said his client's alleged role was so minor that a lengthy sentence appears inappropriate.

"It seems to me that five years is a long time for someone who was just a bike delivery guy, who had an addiction and now has been clean for a year," Nasuti said.

Other defense lawyers did not return phone calls Friday.

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