In a 6-to-2 ruling Thursday, the state Superior Court reversed an appellate court decision and upheld the 2014 conviction of a former head of the Pagans motorcycle club on multiple drug charges.
A three-member appellate court panel in December 2016 ruled that Dennis “Rooster” Katona, 52, of Hempfield should be granted a new trial in Westmoreland County, citing problems with the validity of the search warrant used in the years-long investigation.
The court previously ruled that police cannot use a single search warrant to repeatedly send a wired informant into someone’s home. As stipulated in earlier court rulings, “a separate finding of probable cause was required for each in-home intercept,” the court ruled in a 2-1 decison.
However, the state Attorney General’s Office appealed that ruling as too narrow, and Thursday afternoon the Superior Court announced its decision.
Katona was convicted by Westmoreland Judge Debra Pezze of two counts of possession with intent to deliver and two counts of possession of a controlled substance in 2014 after police searched his Ember Lane home in July 2011 and found more than 84 grams of cocaine and nearly 100 grams of methamphetamine with a combined street value of $20,000.
The search turned up nearly $4,000, a digital scale used to weigh drugs and a document that indicated who owed Katona money, police reported.
Officers previously testified that as many as 30 state troopers stormed Katona’s property and searched the home as Katona and his wife sat on a living room sofa. The drugs and money were found in a bedroom.
The full court on Thursday said that even if the wiretap recordings were “removed from the equation, the Commonwealth lawfully obtained everything (Katona) relayed to the confidential informant.”
“Evidence is potentially suppressible as fruit of the poisonous tree stemming from unconstitutional police conduct. However, any such evidence may be admitted where the Commonweath sufficiently proves that it was discoverable through an independent source,” the 38-page opinion states.
“The search warrant application provided sufficiently specific information to conclude there was probable cause to believe that (Katona) would call the confidential informant on June 29, 2011, to supply more drugs. The judgment of sentence is affirmed,” the court wrote.
Joe Grace, spokesperson for the Office of Attorney General Josh Shapiro, said the office was happy with Thursday’s decision.
“The office of Attorney General Josh Shapiro is pleased with the court’s decision, which upholds the sentence and conviction in this case,” he said.
Katona’s attorney, Paul Boas of Pittsburgh, did not immediately return telephone calls seeking comment on the decision.
Katona, former national president of the outlaw Pagans motorcycle club, had served 63 months in federal prison for his role in a 2002 attack on Hell’s Angels at the “Hellraiser Ball” in Long Island, N.Y. Seventy-two other Pagans were charged in the brawl. One Pagan was killed. Ten men were injured.
Superior Judge Mary Janes Bowes wrote the majority opinion and was joined by Judge Susan Peikes Gantman, Judith Olson, Paula Francisco Ott, Victor P. Stabile, Alice B. Dubow. Dissenting were Judges Anne E. Lazarus and Jacqueline O. Shogan.