New Castle News

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May 30, 2014

Key player in marijuana operation sentenced

NEW CASTLE — A Butler County man charged with a marijuana growing and distribution operation could spend up to six years in jail.

Curtis Daniel Chritzman, 40, of 260 Harmony Road, Evans City, was sentenced to spend three to six years in a state correctional institution, followed by four years probation. He also was ordered to provide a DNA sample and pay costs of prosecution.

Chritzman — who was arrested July 4, 2012 — was believed to be the key player in a marijuana growing and distribution operation in Lawrence and Butler counties.

He initially was 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.

Last month, he pleaded guilty to three of those charges and was sentenced on them Thursday.

•On the charge of manufacture, delivery or possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver, he was sentenced to 18 to 36 months in a state correctional institution.

•On the charge of operating a corrupt organization, he was sentenced to 18 to 36 months in a state correctional institution.

Lawrence County Judge Thomas M. Piccione, who imposed the sentences, ordered those two to be served consecutively and that each be followed by two years of probation, also to be served consecutively.

•On the charge of possession of firearms by a person with a felony record, Chritzman was sentenced to serve 36 to 72 months in a state correctional facility, to run concurrently with the other sentences.

Chritzman, who had been free on $10,000 bond, was taken into custody Thursday.

He apologized to the judge.

“Not everyone who comes before me is a bad person,” Piccione said. “You stood up and took responsibility. You did what was best for your family and children.”

Defense attorney Paul Gettleman of Portersville noted that, “By the time he gets out of jail, marijuana will be legal in Pennsylvania and he’ll have no redress.”

Gettleman later apologized for the remark when Piccione noted, “Marijuana may one day be legal, but now it isn’t.”

Chritzman’s arrest was the result of a nine-month investigation.

He and his wife, Beverly, were arrested at their home, which law enforcement officials said is on about 40 acres in Evans City where Chritzman operates a construction business.

Charges against Beverly Chritzman were withdrawn as part of the negotiated plea bargain after her husband took responsibility for the operation.

Gettleman asked that his client be considered for a reduced sentence through the Recidivism Risk Reduction Incentive, because he has cooperated since his arrest. Piccione said he does not believe Chritzman is eligible, but said, “I will review the act myself.”

Still unresolved is a question of forfeiture.

At the time of Chritzman’s arrest, police seized firearms, the makings of an indoor marijuana-growing operation including fluorescent lights, live plants, $5,710, about 100 pounds of processed marijuana, and assorted vehicles and heavy equipment, including a golf cart and Bobcat, on four flatbed trucks.

Under government forfeiture laws, all items related to drug activity or acquired with drug money can be confiscated and sold by law enforcement.

Gettleman and Diane Shaffer, assistant district attorney, went back and forth on the issue, with Gettleman noting that family members or partners may have an interest in seized items and that Chritzman can give no more than his interest in any items seized. He asked that family or partners be allowed 30 to 60 days to file their claim.

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