NORRISTOWN >> An East Norriton man showed no emotion Thursday as a jury determined he transported heroin in retrofitted car batteries from Atlanta to New York City, via Montgomery County.
After a little more than two hours of deliberations, the Montgomery County jury convicted David Pacheco, 45, of the 200 block of West Johnson Highway, of possession with intent to deliver heroin, dealing in proceeds of unlawful activities and criminal use of communication facilities in connection with nine drug deliveries that he completed between April 2015 and January 2016.
The jury acquitted Pacheco, who operated a successful towing business, D&J Towing in the 100 block of West Marshall Street in Norristown, of a single charge of corrupt organizations.
“This was a trafficking operation through Montgomery County that was responsible for 27 kilos of heroin. The detectives kept a lot of heroin out of the hands of users and that’s very important when we are facing an epidemic like we are in heroin overdoses. I applaud the work of detectives,” county District Attorney Kevin R. Steele said after the verdict was announced after a four-day trial.
Testimony revealed Pacheco’s arrest was the result of extensive cooperation among federal, state and local authorities.
Pacheco, who remains in the county jail without bail, potentially faces decades in prison when he’s sentenced later this year by Judge Garrett D. Page, who presided over the trial.
Defense lawyer John I. McMahon Jr., who argued at trial that Pacheco was under extreme duress from a violent Mexican drug cartel to smuggle the heroin and was not guilty of the drug-related charges, said he was disappointed in the verdict.
“The jury found him not guilty of being part of a corrupt organization. That is certainly consistent with the defense. Unfortunately they found him guilty of the other charges,” McMahon said. “Nonetheless, I think that if the jury was persuaded that there was duress at some point, they may have been swayed by the fact that he never went to the police, which quite frankly, I think is rather unrealistic under the circumstances when you’re talking about a violent Mexican drug cartel.”
McMahon said there likely will be an appeal after sentencing.
During the trial, Pacheco did not dispute that he transported heroin but he claimed he did so under duress by the New Generation Cartel Jalisco that threatened his relatives. Pacheco testified he believed the cartel would kill his brothers in Mexico if he didn’t cooperate.
Pacheco testified men he believed were associates of the cartel visited his Norristown towing business in early 2015 and also showed him photographs of his father and mother, which he believed was a thinly veiled threat against his family if he did not cooperate.
McMahon characterized Pacheco as a “mule” used by the drug cartel to smuggle heroin.
McMahon argued the cartels use extortion, the threat of kidnapping family and relatives and even murder to get otherwise law-abiding Mexican immigrants to assist them. Pacheco came to the U.S. 18 years ago, had no criminal record and operated a successful towing business in Norristown, testimony revealed.
McMahon argued Pacheco initially rebuffed the requests of cartel associates who visited him but caved in when cartel members revealed they had photos of his relatives and knew where they lived.
But Steele and co-prosecutor Robert Kolansky argued Pacheco willingly smuggled the heroin out of greed to make money with the “poison he was peddling.” Steele questioned why Pacheco never sought help from police or requested witness protection if he felt he was being intimidated by a drug cartel.
Authorities, who dubbed the nine month investigation “Operation EverStart,” documented at least nine trips that Pacheco made between April 2015 and January 2016 to service wholesale heroin buyers in New York. Authorities estimated Pacheco transported a total of about 27 kilos of heroin, nearly 60 pounds, with a street value of about $9 million, during those nine trips.
Kolansky and Steele said the investigation revealed that each time Pacheco drove to Atlanta he received kilos of heroin in retrofitted, working car batteries, which he then drove to Montgomery County and then to the Bronx, N.Y. Once Pacheco was paid for the heroin in New York he would return to Atlanta with the cash for a supplier there.
Pacheco was arrested Jan. 10, 2016, at the King of Prussia toll plaza of the Pennsylvania Turnpike in his Ford F-250 pickup truck with three kilos of uncut heroin, which was enough to divide into 100,000 individual street doses that had a total street value of about $1 million, prosecutors argued.
A member of the county’s Violent Crime Unit testified the investigation included information from confidential sources, electronic and physical surveillance, including court-ordered wiretaps on Pacheco’s four cellphones, as well as an analysis of call detail records. During the trial, jurors listened to the wiretapped phone conversations between Pacheco and other conspirators.
A county narcotics detective who interviewed Pacheco a day after his arrest testified Pacheco never told authorities that he and his relatives were threatened by cartel members and he never expressed fear. The detective said the first time he learned about Pacheco’s claim of duress was when the trial got under way this week.
Authorities said Pacheco’s Atlanta supplier of heroin and his buyer in New York also were charged in connection with the alleged conspiracy in those jurisdictions.