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Dutch ecstasy ring smashed, U.S. says

Friday, May 24, 2002

By Torsten Ove, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Federal agents say they have severed another ecstasy pipeline from Europe to Pittsburgh and other cities with the indictment of 10 people, including a reputed ringleader from the Netherlands, the country authorities say is the source of almost all the ecstasy sold in the United States.

U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan yesterday announced a 14-count indictment naming Stefan Stricker, 32, of Heemskerk, Netherlands, and nine other men in Philadelphia, Altoona, New Hampshire, Ohio and Indiana, Pa.

Stricker was arrested in the Netherlands on Wednesday. Michael Maser, 33, and Andrew Maser, 27, were captured in Toronto on Tuesday. Patrick Maser, 31, was arrested in Philadelphia on Wednesday.

The others named in the indictment are Brendan Gilmartin, 31, of Manchester, N.H.; Brian Murray, 26, of Indiana, Pa.; Brandon Repovz, 28, of Laughlintown; and Brian Trainer, 30, and Kevin Kroskey, 25, both of Akron, Ohio.

A federal grand jury returned the indictment under seal on May 7, and in the last two days agents and police have been rounding up the suspects here and abroad.

From May 2000 through March of this year, authorities said, the ring smuggled hundreds of thousands of ecstasy pills into the United States and Canada hidden behind the glass of table-top cosmetic mirrors.

Some shipments came through Philadelphia, where agents say brothers Michael and Patrick Maser, who are originally from Altoona, helped Stricker distribute pills.

Others were sent to Western Pennsylvania for distribution in Allegheny and Indiana counties. In Indiana, the customers were students at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

For several years, the Pittsburgh region has been a major distribution center for ecstasy, and the Stricker case is the latest in a series of busts with connections to Western Pennsylvania and State College.

To date, 19 members of two other smuggling operations have been indicted here on similar charges. Buchanan said those suspects and the ones indicted May 7 were responsible for distributing a total of 2 million ecstasy pills in the U.S.

The three drug rings are not directly linked, but some members know each other. James Harper, head of the Pittsburgh office of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, said the ecstasy dealers aren't as organized as traditional La Cosa Nostra crime groups, but rather operate in a loose affiliation. Many are from Eastern Europe, Russia and Israel, and their suppliers are often in Amsterdam.

Why have they set their sights on Pittsburgh?

"We have a high percentage of college students," said Andrew Petyak, a special agent with DEA. "Ecstasy is this generation's drug of choice."

Harper said the Stricker investigation developed when drug dogs in Frankfurt, Germany, alerted on a mirror packaged for shipment from a glass manufacturer. Packed behind the mirror was a sheet of ecstasy pills. Agents determined the pills came from the Netherlands and were destined for Indiana, Pa. With help from Netherlands authorities, DEA set up a controlled delivery at IUP that resulted in five arrests.

In addition to the indictment, the U.S. attorney's office is seeking to seize at least $1 million in cash and bank accounts from the ring members.

According to the Criminal Investigation Division of the Internal Revenue Service, Stricker and the Maser brothers, along with a third brother, Andrew, of Altoona, and Armand Taormina of Norristown, Montgomery County, sent drug proceeds to the Netherlands and laundered some of the money through a sham business in Panama. The ring is also accused of using drug money for hotel rooms, airline tickets and credit card purchases.

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