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'Family Store' drug lord to spend rest of life in prison

Tuesday, July 22, 2003

By Torsten Ove, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Drug lord Oliver Beasley, of Penn Hills, was sentenced last week to spend the rest of his life in federal prison, joining his former partner, Donald "Chief" Lyles, of the North Side.

The two men ran what U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft called the largest drug ring ever in Western Pennsylvania, an organization based on the North Side that distributed massive amounts of cocaine and heroin from 1998 to 2002.

Beasley, 39, and Lyles, 29, were charged under the Continuing Criminal Enterprise Act, which carries a mandatory life term if prosecutors can prove certain elements of large-scale drug-dealing.

In addition to supervising at least five co-conspirators, the defendants must have distributed more than 300 pounds of cocaine, 60 pounds of heroin or 3 pounds of crack cocaine, and they must have raked in at least $10 million in one year.

The Beasley-Lyles gang qualified, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Constance Bowden, and also contributed to the deaths of at least 11 people from heroin overdoses in suburban Pittsburgh.

Beasley and Lyles were charged as part of "Operation Family Store," an investigation by federal and state agents and Pittsburgh police that got its name from a business Beasley ran on Perrysville Avenue.

In addition to running drugs, Beasley also laundered drug money by buying property to conceal the source of his income. The government has seized all of his cash, jewelry and real estate, including the family store and two other Perrysville Avenue businesses, J.B.'s Coffee Shop and Diner and Beeda Bea's House of Style & Beauty Supply.

Beasley was on supervised release from another federal narcotics conviction when he started dealing cocaine in 1998.

His enterprise became so lucrative that he paid $50,000 in cash for land in Perry, Lawrence County, where he planned to build a $500,000 house.

According to Gregg Drews of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, the ring operated unchecked until October 2001, when DEA agents arrested a man in Gwinnett County, Ga., a suburb of Atlanta, who was brokering a $2.1 million cocaine deal for Edward Myrick, 40, of Bethel Park.

After the Atlanta bust, the ring members met at a Red Lobster on McKnight Road and discussed concerns over losing their $2 million. Lyles and Beasley indicated they would rebound by switching to heroin supplied by Herbert Felder, 34, of Newark, N.J.

The new arrangement came undone in March 2002, when state police arrested Pamela "Auntie" Watson, 54, of the North Side, after stopping her minivan on the Pennsylvania Turnpike in Somerset County. Police found more than 6 pounds of heroin stashed under the van's floor.

Since then, all of Beasley's co-conspirators have pleaded guilty. The case recently generated a new round of charges, when 23 others identified as distributors in Pennsylvania, New York and Illinois were indicted under seal in March.

The investigation also uncovered a credit card theft ring that prosecutors said Beasley helped cook up to prey on diners at Don Pablo's Mexican Kitchen in North Fayette.

Torsten Ove can be reached at tove@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2620.

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