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Long term awaits missing ringleader



Published: Tue, October 31, 2006 @ 12:00 a.m.



The ringleader disappeared two days before his trial.

By LAURE CIOFFI

VINDICATOR PENNSYLVANIA BUREAU

NEW CASTLE, Pa. -- If James Brooks -- the ringleader of a Detroit drug gang -- is located, he will face 40 to 80 years in prison.

A Lawrence County jury convicted Brooks, 39, of 18 counts of drug possession, drug delivery and being part of a corrupt organization after a trial was held without his presence. The jury returned its verdict Monday afternoon.

Brooks, known as "O.Z.," who was arrested last March, disappeared two days before his trial was set to begin Oct. 23. Judge Tom Piccione of common pleas court decided to proceed with the trial without Brooks' presence.

Michael Ahwesh, a deputy attorney general, asked for the trial because he feared that witnesses would disappear if the trial were delayed for years.

An arrest warrant was issued for Brooks the first day of the trial. He had been free on nominal bond after prosecutors failed to take him to trial within 180 days of his arrest, but he had been required to check in with probation officials daily. He last checked in Oct. 21, two days before his trial began.

Ahwesh said someone claimed to see Brooks in New Castle over the weekend, but it wasn't a credible tip.

The jury of nine women and three men took about two hours to deliberate before finding Brooks guilty of all 18 charges.

Closing arguments

Ahwesh, in his closing argument, told jurors to use common sense while deliberating.

He added that jurors got a chance to see the drug business from several perspectives during the trial. Witnesses included low-level users, midlevel dealers and even the girlfriend of one of Brooks' trusted associates.

Ahwesh said Brooks bought cocaine from Detroit, cooked it into crack cocaine, and controlled its distribution here through a network of dealers. Police contend they distributed more than $2 million worth of crack cocaine since 2003.

Brooks' attorney Philip Berezniak tried to suggest to jurors that witnesses presented by prosecutors -- except for those in law enforcement -- were not believable because most were admitted drug users.

Berezniak did not present a defense on Brooks' behalf.

Ahwesh said sentencing for Brooks will be done sometime in the next 30 days. When Brooks is caught, he will be sent directly to prison, Ahwesh said.

"By his running, he's not going to benefit at all," Ahwesh said.

Brooks is the third person convicted on charges of being part of a corrupt organization. Several others arrested in March pleaded guilty, and numerous others await trial. Altogether, 28 people were charged with being part of the organization.

cioffi@yahoo.com




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