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TWO LINKED TO DRUG RING PLEAD GUILTY

Two of the three remaining defendants in a cross-country drug network uncovered more than five years ago pleaded guilty Thursday to drug conspiracy charges.

State prosecutors dropped drug peddling charges that carried mandatory life prison terms for each of them.

Capping a five-year court battle, former California businessman John J. Battaglia, 64, and Joel Vizzini Jr., 29, pleaded guilty to felony conspiracy counts before State Supreme Court Justice Mario J. Rossetti, who said he would consider sparing them further time in prison for their crimes.

Both were allowed to remain free on their own recognizance pending sentencing July 8.

Battaglia faces a possible prison term of up to 25 years, while Vizzini faces a possible 16 months to four years in prison. But court officials said the judge is considering "time-served" sentences for both men.

Battaglia and Vizzini were jailed about two years before a state appellate court overturned their 1990 drug convictions late in 1992.

The case stems from the state task force's yearlong investigation into allegations of a cocaine trafficking between Buffalo and Los Angeles. About 3.5 pounds of cocaine valued at $100,000 was seized from Vizzini's father, Joel Vizzini Sr., 52, a former Williamsville real estate investor, on March 8, 1989.

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