WEST CHESTER >> Felix D. Garcia’s luck ran out Tuesday, at least when it comes to the criminal charges he faces for allegedly taking almost 2,700 Oxycodone and OxyContin pills from an East Bradford pharmacy.
Magisterial District Judge Mark Bruno of West Chester ordered Garcia be held for trial on charges of robbery, simple assault and possession with intent to deliver a controlled substance at the conclusion of his preliminary hearing at the Chester County Justice Center.
Garcia, 27, who is formerly of Lyndhurst, N.J., but had been living on North Brandywine Street in West Chester when he was arrested, had been freed briefly last month when Bruno ruled that authorities had not made out a sufficient case against him at his first preliminary hearing. At that time, the assistant district attorney handling the case called only one witness, Detective Robert Kuehn, who was not able to provide enough evidence to have Garcia held for court, Bruno ruled.
But in the follow-up after Garcia’s re-arrest last month, First Assistant District Attorney Michael Noone, who handled the hearing for the DA’s Office, called two other witnesses in addition to Kuehn — the Walgreen’s pharmacist who was behind the counter when the robbery occurred, and a borough detective who specializes in narcotics investigations.
Defense attorney Mark Conte of West Chester, who bad won dismissal of the charges last month, told Bruno that for the preliminary hearing, he stipulated that the pharmacist would identify Garcia as the man who confronted her during the robbery, and waived his client’s right to be present at the hearing. Garcia is being held in Chester County Prison on $25,000 bail.
The pharmacist, Sheila Rodriguez, told Noone under questioning that she was the only pharmacy employee on duty the evening of Sept. 9 when a man she did not know approached the pharmacy wearing a hooded sweatshirt. It was her second day on the job at the Walgreen’s on North Bradford Avenue, just outside the borough.
“A gentleman jumped over the counter,” Rodriguez said, “and asked me to get down (on the floor). I got down like he asked me to, because I was afraid that I could be hurt.” She said the man told her that if she screamed he would, “take out his gun,” although she said she never saw a weapon of any kind.
Rodriguez said that the man demanded to know where the Oxy pills were kept, and she said they were in the safe. He made her take him there, and unloaded the safe of all the bottles containing the narcotics, stuffing them in a bag he brought with him. He then took off his hooded sweatshirt and rapped it around the bag.
The pharmacist said the man asked her where the back door was, but that she did not know, so he made her lead him out of the pharmacy room and he let through the front door.
She told Noone that an inventory of the missing drugs showed that the robber had taken 2,614 pills.
Under cross-examination, Rodriguez told Conte that she had never seen the man before, and that other than the mention of having a gun he did not display a weapon. The entire episode, she said, had taken less than five minutes.
Kuehn, in his testimony, said he had received copies of surveillance tapes from the Walgreen’s as well as a nearby Giant Food Store. Images from those tapes were used to develop a photo that was distributed to the news media, and after seeing it an anonymous caller identified the man as Garcia. Another confidential informant also confirmed that the man they kmew as Garcia was the man in the photo.
West Chester Officer John DiBattista testified that he had interviewed Garcia after his arrest, and that the defendant had told him he did not use Oxycontin or Oxycodone. he said that based on the number of pills that Garcia had allegedly taken, it was his opinion as a narcotics investigators that he would be using them to sell, rather than for his own use.
But Conte was able to get DiBattista to say that he had not seen any evidence of drug dealing in the apartment where Garcia was living when he was arrested, and that no drugs had ever been found in his car.
Conte argued that his client should not be held on the simple assault charges that he faced since he had never touched Rodriguez and she was not harmed. He also noted that DiBattista had testified about the possession with intent to deliver charge only because of the number of the pills taken, not any other activity.
But Noone argued that Garcia’s alleged threat of using a gun on Rodriguez was enough to make out the assault, charge, and that the sheer quantity of the pills was enough to presume that they would be used for sale.
Bruno agreed with the prosecution and ordered the case bound over to Common Pleas Court.
To contacts staff writer Michael P. Rellahan call 610-696-1544.