NORRISTOWN — Montgomery County authorities have identified the county jail inmate who succumbed to the coronavirus as a Pottstown man who was awaiting sentencing for his role in a fentanyl and cocaine distribution ring that operated primarily in Pottstown but also in Berks and Lehigh counties.

Jerome Beverly Tucker, 65, formerly of the 400 block of Chestnut Street, died at Einstein Montgomery Hospital on Aug. 18, according to the latest information released by the county commissioners.

According to a court order and other court records, county Judge William R. Carpenter modified Tucker’s bail to $99,000 unsecured and Tucker was released from the Montgomery County Correctional Facility at 2:01 p.m. on Aug. 18, “due to defendant’s medical condition” and by agreement of prosecutors and Tucker’s defense lawyer, Gregory P. DiPippo. Tucker was discharged from custody directly to the hospital.

County officials said administrators at the Lower Providence jail were informed that Tucker died later in the day or early evening on Aug. 18.

“I’m saddened to learn about his passing.” DiPippo said on Thursday.

DiPippo said he was contacted early on Aug. 18 by prosecutors and did not object to releasing Tucker on unsecured bail, based upon his medical condition.

“They handled it as an urgent matter and dealt with it expeditiously…to get this individual the best medical care possible,” said DiPippo, referring to prosecutors.

Tucker had been at the jail since June 2018, held originally on $250,000 cash bail and later $99,000 cash bail, according to court records.

On Nov. 20, 2018, Tucker pleaded guilty to felony charges of possession with intent to deliver controlled substances and conspiracy-related charges in connection with incidents that occurred between November 2015 and June 2018.

Tucker was facing state prison time, based on sentencing guidelines for the charges to which he pleaded guilty, and was still being held in the county jail awaiting a sentencing hearing.

“He was awaiting sentencing because his co-defendants’ cases had not been resolved and he would not be sentenced until his codefendants’ cases were resolved,” DiPippo said.

Last year, two of Tucker’s alleged co-defendants saw their cases transferred to federal court where penalties are more severe upon conviction. Those federal trials are slated to begin next month.

David Tyrone Cooper, 45, of the 1000 block of Saylor Street, Muhlenberg Township, Berks County, the leader of the alleged corrupt organization, and Christopher Saunders, 27, of the 400 block of King Street, Pottstown, identified in court papers as Cooper’s stepson and “a member of the organization’s upper echelon” who allegedly was responsible for overseeing the distribution of cocaine and fentanyl in Pottstown, originally were charged by county authorities but were later indicted by a federal grand jury on various drug trafficking charges.

Tucker, Cooper and Saunders were among more than a dozen people originally rounded up in June 2018 during an investigation dubbed “Operation Poison Control.”

With the county charges, authorities alleged Tucker’s job was “to cook the crack cocaine,” preparing it for distribution.

Investigators with the district attorney’s Violent Crime Unit said the organization’s criminal activities were reported to police by nine confidential informants and three anonymous “concerned citizens.” The investigation also utilized electronic surveillance including wiretaps on the suspects’ phones, visual surveillance, controlled drug buys and seizures of evidence with search warrants.

The arrests were the culmination of a joint investigation by authorities from Montgomery, Berks and Lehigh counties, as well as the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General and Pennsylvania State Police.

Several others involved in the drug organization previously pleaded guilty in county court to drug-related charges and were sentenced or are awaiting sentencing in connection with the incidents.

On Wednesday, county Commissioners’ Chairwoman Dr. Valerie Arkoosh said Tucker’s death is the first COVID-19 related death at the county jail since the pandemic began in March.

“We have not been able to determine with certainty how he was exposed,” Arkoosh said during a weekly news briefing. “We extend our deepest condolences to this individual’s family and loved ones.”

Officials said Tucker had three underlying medical conditions that are associated with an increased risk of mortality from the coronavirus.

comments powered by Disqus