PITTSBURGH — An accused drug trafficker failed to appear in court for a second time.
When Yan Carlos Pichardo Cepeda, 27, was arrested on Aug. 31, the PA Office of Attorney General sent out a press release praising its agents for such a big drug bust. But on Sept. 19, Cepeda was nowhere to be found.
“As soon as he left the jail, he’s in the wind,” said Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala. “He’s not coming back.”
As top prosecutors expected, Cepeda did not come back for his preliminary hearing in Pittsburgh. He’s failed to appear twice now, ever since Magistrate Judge Xander Orenstein released him on a non-monetary bond the day after he was arrested. Police say they found more than $1.5 million worth of deadly fentanyl on him after he rode a bus to Pittsburgh from New York.
Channel 11′s Alyssa Raymond called Judge Orenstein’s office and was told Orenstein would be out all week but Channel 11 tracked down the magistrate judge. Orenstein is an elected official with a six-year term. Orenstein ran for election without any formal legal background, campaigning on a platform of reflective and compassionate justice.
“Court administration has either issued or will be issuing a statement soon regarding that, and I’m going to let that speak for itself,” said Orenstein.
That statement has not been shared with Channel 11. Channel 11′s Alyssa Raymond asked Orenstein if there was any regret with the decision that was made.
“I don’t make comments about judicial decisions,” said Orenstein. “Thank you.”
Meanwhile, in court on Tuesday, Judge Craig Stephens marked down another “failure to appear” for Cepeda and his preliminary hearing was continued to Oct. 10.
Channel 11′s Alyssa Raymond asked Defense Attorney David Shrager what happens next.
“There’s an outstanding warrant and the rest will be up to the courts and the sheriff’s office,” said Shrager.
The Allegheny County Sheriff’s Office says they’re actively searching for Cepeda. The U.S. Marshals Service for the Western District is also working on the warrant for his arrest now, too.
After Orenstein’s decision came out, District Attorney Stephen Zappala’s Office requested a hearing to review it. Cepeda failed to appear for that and that’s when the warrant for his arrest was issued.
“I understand that people want to jump to conclusions, but the bottom line is innocent people are accused of crimes,” said Shrager. “People are entitled to have their side of the story heard in court before a neutral arbitrator. They’re entitled to an attorney. They are entitled to question witnesses, and this is something that’s fundamental to our justice system and is a very important thing.”
“Quite frankly, I think he’s a liability to the drug dealers,” said Zappala. “I don’t think we’re going to see the guy. The upside is we got 10 kilos off the street. Nine kilos of fentanyl and another kilo of cocaine. They’re killing in two families a day. Somebody’s dying because of these opioids, and this guy is just letting this guy walk. This is not a hood situation.”
“Whenever you’re dealing with a situation with drugs, there’s an argument about danger to the community, and that’s a difficult question,” said Schrager. “Obviously, this is a nonviolent offense. Nobody was injured. But then certainly people would make an argument that having that much of a dangerous drug is inherently dangerous. But at the same time, we can’t deny bond for every single solitary person that’s carrying a dangerous drug because we wouldn’t have room in the jail for all of those people. So, we have to balance practically with the rights that every person has.”
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