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After nine years, Buffalo man goes on trial – and loses

Tyrone Pennick waited nine years for his day in court.

On Wednesday, the man accused of heading up a major cocaine ring was found guilty by a jury in the first of his two federal court trials.

Arrested in 2009, Pennick invoked his constitutional right to a speedy trial to eventually gain home confinement in 2014. But he lost it two years later because of new allegations of drug dealing.

Investigators say a search of Pennick's home in late 2016 resulted in the seizure of cocaine, equipment commonly used to distribute cocaine and nearly $50,000 hidden in a dishwasher.

"He told the sheriffs that money was his tax refund," Assistant U.S. Attorney Laura Higgins told the jury in her opening statement.

After the 2016 search, Pennick was returned to jail.

As part of his new prosecution, the feds also charged Geneva Smith, the 30-year-old woman spotted leaving his home with a large tote bag. Prosecutors say Smith was eventually pulled over and found to be in possession of two kilograms of cocaine.

From Day One, Smith maintained her innocence and eventually won her release from pretrial custody. A few months later, she was murdered at her South Buffalo home.

The killing is under investigation by Buffalo police.

During the first of two trials, prosecutors argued that Pennick was Smith's supplier and, in the end, the jury agreed.

"It's obvious the jury could see this individual was still trafficking in large quantities of drugs, even while on pretrial release," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Joel L. Violanti.

In contrast, the defense claimed it was Smith, not Pennick, who was the drug dealer.

"What the government doesn't mention is that there was no cocaine found in the house," Donald M. Thompson, Pennick's defense lawyer, told the jury. While the bulk of the cocaine was seized when Smith was arrested, prosecutors said a small amount also was found in Pennick's home.

Since his arrest, Pennick spent every day in jail except for the two years in home confinement. He was granted home confinement because of his constitutional right to a speedy trial.

When Pennick was first charged, he was one of 25 people arrested in connection with an East Side drug ring. He was initially charged in only two of the indictment's 37 counts but, four years and two more indictments later, found himself facing 11 new felony charges.

The government's third indictment against him, the one that added the new charges, came just months after he filed his first speedy trial motion.

Pennick, who was found guilty of conspiracy and drug dealing charges Wednesday, will face up to life in prison when he is sentenced by U.S. District Judge Richard J. Arcara.

Wednesday's conviction stemmed from the 2016 arrest. Later this month, he will stand trial in connection with the older federal charges.

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