A Washington County man with ties to West Mifflin is headed to federal prison after prosecutors said he sold heroin while on probation.
Maurice "Reece" Frezzell, 35, faces nearly 29 years in prison after his convictions this week before U.S. District Judges Arthur J. Schwab and David S. Cercone.
U.S. Attorney Scott W. Brady called Frezzell "a career criminal and one of the most significant heroin and fentanyl dealers in Washington County" and said that people are "safer today, now that he is behind bars."
Schwab imposed a sentence of 327 months on Frezzell for the drug charges, while Cercone added 18 months for the probation violations.
Prosecutors allege that Frezzell sold two "bricks" of heroin -- 50 stamp bags --- to a confidential informant.
But witnesses testified that the sale was only a small glimpse into what they claimed was a much larger operation.
Canonsburg police Sgt. Charles Tenny, a member of a federal drug task force working throughout Western Pennsylvania, testified that Frezzell is one of the "highest-ranking members" of a drug-trafficking organization that has flooded Washington County and the surrounding area with heroin and opioid-based drugs since 2015.
Prosecutors said the federal investigation began in August of that year, when hospitals and morgues began reporting large numbers of patients who had overdosed on high quality heroin and the synthetic painkiller fentanyl.
Testimony implicated Frezzell as the source of drungs linked to "multiple overdoses," a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney's office said.
In 2014, when Frezzell was serving his prior federal sentence for drug dealing, there were fewer than two overdose deaths per 100,000 people in Washington County, prosecutors allege. In 2016, after Frezzell was released, the number jumped to 51.
A map of locations where victims overdosed showed that the majority of the deaths were within five miles of locations associated with Frezzell, prosecutors claimed.
Prosecutors said Frezzell has a long criminal record, dating to a sexual assault when he was only 12 years old, and that his list of arrests and convictions has only continued to grow.
"Frezzell has spent essentially the 23 years from the age of 12 either pending trial, in jail, on supervision, or wanted for crimes," the spokeswoman said.
Additional felony drug charges are pending against Frezzell, according to Brady's office.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Ross E. Lenhardt prosecuted the case, which was investigated by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, Canonsburg and Monessen police, the state Attorney General's Office, the Washington County district attorney's office and the Washington County sheriff, along with the IRS.
Originally published June 14, 2018.