Pa.: Feds clean out a closet, find $2.2 million in dirty money

By Paula Reed Ward
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

More than a year after his conviction and eight months after he was sentenced to life in prison, Terrance Cole continues to keep local law enforcement officials busy.

This time, instead of tracking the criminal, they are tracking the criminal's money.

On Thursday, federal and state officials searched a home in Penn Hills where Mr. Cole used to live with his former girlfriend.

There, inside a bedroom closet, they found a large, locked olive green suitcase bearing a tag with Mr. Cole's name on it.

Inside that, they found a black duffel bag.

Inside that, they found $2.2 million in cash.

That represents only a portion of the estimated $10 million to $15 million in profits Mr. Cole earned during his time running a huge cocaine ring in Pittsburgh between 1991 and 2003, said U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan.

Mr. Cole, 39, of Penn Hills, was convicted of conspiracy to distribute cocaine and conspiracy to commit money laundering in August 2005. In March, he was sentenced to life in prison. In addition, U.S. District Judge Thomas M. Hardiman issued a $50 million judgment against Mr. Cole.

As part of that, the federal government seized 17 properties he owned, as well as three vehicles and seven bank accounts in his name.

The money seized last week, all $50 and $100 bills, will go toward that judgment, as well.

A day after that search was conducted, investigators used a backhoe to dig up the back yard of Mr. Cole's mother's home in Penn Hills. They were seeking -- and found -- a large safe buried 8 feet underground.

"Unfortunately, the safe was empty," Ms. Buchanan said.

She added that investigators will continue their search to recover all the profits from Mr. Cole's cocaine sales.

"We believe there is much more to be found," Ms. Buchanan said.

Through the cocaine ring, Ms. Buchanan said Mr. Cole brought "colossal harm" to the community.

The jury found him responsible for distributing at least 25 million doses of cocaine, or more than 5,500 pounds.

Mr. Cole was tried twice on the conspiracy charges. The first ended in a mistrial when the jury deadlocked 10-2. Two of the jurors refused to deliberate, prompting allegations of jury tampering.

An investigation into that has not concluded.

Officials yesterday would not say if the house where the money was found last week had been searched before or if new charges will be filed.

It is the same house where Mr. Cole was living when he was originally arrested on the charges back in May 2004.

Ms. Buchanan said she did not expect any charges to be filed against Mr. Cole's former girlfriend.

He is currently at the United States Penitentiary at Allenwood, Union County.

Once the court orders forfeiture of the money, all of the agencies involved in the investigation -- including the state attorney general's office, which initiated the case against Mr. Cole -- will get to split it to use toward other law enforcement efforts.

It was the largest cash seizure ever made in the Western District of Pennsylvania.

"That's a down payment," said Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett, pointing to the bundles of cash spread across two tables. "We're looking for the rest of it."

Copyright 2006 P.G. Publishing Co.

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