New Castle News

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July 7, 2012

Records, equipment seized as marijuana investigation continues

NEW CASTLE — After a day spent harvesting marijuana in three counties, police yesterday combed through business records of a mammoth drug operation.

Armed with search warrants for the construction business of Curtis Daniel Chritzman, 39, of Evans City, Butler County, law enforcement officials seized equipment and classic cars stored at the business.

Chritzman and his wife, Beverly, 39, were arrested Wednesday at their home in Butler County, following a nine-month investigation by local law enforcement.

Yesterday, police seized firearms, the makings of an indoor marijuana growing operation, including 34 fluorescent lights, plant trays, 129 live marijuana plants in a grow room in the lower level of the Chritzmans’ home, $5,710 in cash, and harvested more than 300 marijuana plants from farmers’ fields in about 50 sites throughout Lawrence, Mercer and Butler counties.

“These plants had been planted with other crops,” Lawrence County District Attorney Joshua Lamancusa said, confirming that corn is the usual plant of choice selected by marijuana growers.  “They grow up together and are harvested before the farmer brings in his crop. I’m sure the farmers didn’t even know that the marijuana plants were there.”

In addition to the plants harvested from farmers’ fields, Lamancusa said, police seized 100 pounds of processed marijuana from Chritzman’s house.

“At $4,000 per pound, based on the weight, what we seized at (Chritzman’s) house had a street value of $400,000,” the district attorney said.

He said the business was a two-man operation consisting of Chritzman of Evans City and Brenhan James Skrak, 33, of 143 Muddy Creek Road, Slippery Rock Township, Lawrence County, who was arrested Tuesday.

Chritzman, identified as the key player in the growing and distribution operation, was arraigned in Butler County on charges of conspiracy, manufacture and delivery of a controlled substance, participation in a corrupt organization, possession of firearms with a felony record, possession of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia.

A surety bond was set at $10,000.

Skrak is charged with five counts of possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver, one count of possession of a controlled substance with intent to manufacture, eight counts of possession of a controlled substance, five counts of criminal use of communications facility and one count of possession of drug paraphernalia.

He is additionally charged with fleeing or attempting to elude police, multiple traffic offenses, driving with a suspended license and operating a vehicle without insurance.

He remains in the Lawrence County jail on $50,000 bond.

Beverly Chritzman faces charges of conspiracy, manufacture and delivery of a controlled substance, possession of a controlled substance and possession of drug paraphernalia.

She was released on her own recognizance and returned to her home and two young children, Lamancusa said.

The district attorney said he does not believe any other arrests will be made in connection with the case.

“It was a two-man operation,” he said, adding that he does not know how long the two have been in business.

“It was at least two years. We’ve been investigating for the past nine months,” he said.

He added that all three of the parties arrested have been cooperative since being taken into custody.

Working in cooperation over the past two days were  Pennsylvania state police, Lawrence County Drug Task Force, and U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and New Castle police. Also assisting were state and Lawrence County parole officials.

Lamancusa said since the investigation began in Lawrence County, he anticipates the criminal charges against the Chritzmans will be transferred to Lawrence County. He said he does not know when that will happen.



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