Defendants in drug bust waive hearings

Seven Elk County residents and one individual with local ties, all charged with offenses relating to the operation of a Jefferson County-based drug trafficking ring, waived their preliminary hearings in District Judge Mark Jacob's courtroom on Tuesday. The defendants were arrested in June following a year-long investigation by the Pa. State Police and United States Postal Service into the sale and distribution of illegal narcotics in Elk, Jefferson, and Clearfield counties. The investigation, led by Troop C of the Pennsylvania State Police in Punxsutawney, was initiated following the U.S. Postal Service's detection of suspicious packages coming in to the area that were sent from Orlando, Fla. According to the affidavit of probable cause, through the course of their investigation authorities identified numerous suspects conspiring to sell and purchase narcotics, typically methamphetamine, marijuana, and oxycodone pills.Investigators also identified the mobile phone numbers belonging to suspects and being used in organizing and arranging drug transactions. According to the affidavit, authorities identified the eight defendants now being charged in Elk County Court through text message communications between each of them and Laura Elizabeth Hallstrom, whom investigators had determined to be involved in street-level drug sales. On Jan. 31, 2012, Hallstrom and eight other co-conspirators were indicted in U.S. District Court, Western District of Pennsylvania, for conspiracy to distribute and possession with intent to distribute 500 grams or more of a mixture and substance containing a detectable amount of methamphetamine and a quantity of oxycodone. One of Hallstrom's co-defendants, Joshua G. Shaffer of Orlando, Fla., was subsequently identified as the source of illegal narcotics coming into Jefferson County via the U.S. Postal Service.