New Castle News

November 2, 2012

Alleged pot-grower, wife heading to court

Nancy Lowry
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — A Butler County man arrested in an alleged marijuana growing and distribution operation is heading to court.

Curtis Daniel Chritzman, 39, of 260 Harmony Road, Evans City, is charged with conspiracy, manufacture and delivery of a controlled substance, participation in a corrupt organization, possession of firearms by a person with a felony record, possession of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia.

Following a three-and-a-half-hour preliminary hearing Thursday in central court, District Judge Melissa Amodie ordered all charges held for court.

Chritzman remains free on $10,000 bond.

His wife, Beverly Chritzman, 40, is charged with conspiracy, manufacture, delivery or possession of a controlled substance, possession of a controlled substance and possession of drug paraphernalia. She waived those charges to court and remains free on her own recognizance.

The couple was arrested in July at their Butler County home following a nine-month investigation by the Lawrence County Drug Task Force, New Castle police, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and Pennsylvania state police.

The probe uncovered what police described as a major marijuana growing and distribution operation involving multiple sites in Lawrence and Butler counties. Charges have been transferred to Lawrence County.

Officials claim Curtis Chritzman was the key player in the operation. He was charged following the July 3 arrest of Brenhan James Skrak, 33, of Prospect.

Skrak, who is cooperating with police, was the main witness at Thursday’s hearing. He said he was offered no immunity in exchange for his testimony. He is represented by the Lawrence County public defender’s office.

He faces multiple charges including manufacture, delivery of possession of a controlled substance, possession of a controlled substance, criminal use of communications facility and use or possession of drug paraphernalia.

Questioned by assistant district attorney Diane Shaffer, Skrak told of a well-planned operation that he and his friend Chritzman operated. It included growing marijuana from seed in the basement of Chritzman’s home, transplanting young plants into cornfields, then harvesting, drying, processing and packaging the product to sell to clients.

He testified he had agreed to deliver marijuana to Chritzman at his home July 3.

Defense attorney Paul Gettleman of Portersville pressed Skrak on details of the operation, including when it began, if Skrak was a partner or a go-fer and if he also sold prescription pills, something Skrak denied.

Gettleman also got Skrak to admit he had misrepresented his role in the operation to the police confidential informant and that some of what he told the informant was just made up.

Also testifying was Trooper Alan Collins, who outlined the police investigation which included controlled purchases, surveillance and obtaining phone records. He said police learned of Chritzman through their investigation of Skrak.

After Chritzman’s arrest, Collins said, investigators obtained a search warrant of his home and business where they found cash and ledger books containing maps and directions to grow sites. He testified police seized 336 plants over two days, finding marijuana growing in each location identified in the notebooks.

Gettleman did not present a closing argument but challenged Collins, noting Chritzman was arrested for possession of marijuana — which police had provided to their cooperating witness, Skrak, who then delivered it to Chritzman’s home.