- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 17, 2014

PITTSBURGH (AP) - A western Pennsylvania man has pleaded not guilty to selling materials used to dilute and package heroin while awaiting trial on charges that he helped two alleged members of a violent street gang traffic the drug.

Mayank Mishra, 33, of Glenshaw, entered the plea before a federal magistrate Wednesday.

Mishra’s family has a long history in the paraphernalia business, which indirectly led to the conviction of comedian Tommy Chong for selling marijuana pipes in 2003. But federal prosecutors contend Mishra’s most recent crimes were far more serious.

Mishra was indicted two years ago on charges of conspiring to distribute heroin with two purported members of the East Hills Bloods and faces 10 years to life if convicted of that crime. The gang is credited with dozens of armed robberies, shootings and other crimes in Pittsburgh’s East End neighborhoods and neighboring suburbs, most notably the drug- and violence-wracked borough of Wilkinsburg, according to court documents.

Mishra was indicted on the drug trafficking charges in 2012. He was allowed to remain free but confined to his home pending trial. He’s not accused of selling heroin, but of aiding the conspiracy by selling the gang members powdered “cutting” agents used to dilute heroin and the individual dose, or “stamp,” bags used to package the drug for sale on the street.

But according to a new indictment returned last year and unsealed earlier this month, Mishra has continued to sell the heroin packaging supplies from his home and a store he operates, Rock America, in a struggling mall in Pittsburgh’s North Hills suburbs. His father, Akhil Mishra, 70, is charged with conspiring with his son to sell the same items at a store he operates, Giggles, in downtown Pittsburgh.

Mayank Mishra’s attorney, Sally Frick, said after the arraignment, “I think that about says it all: ‘Not guilty,’” before declining further comment. His father’s attorney, G. William Bills, didn’t immediately return a phone call and email for comment.

Akhil Mishra was indicted in 1991 for selling illegal drug paraphernalia from two novelty stores he owned. Although he was originally sentenced to probation, he and his wife violated federal court orders to stop selling the items - including marijuana and crack cocaine pipes - and were both convicted in federal court in 2000. Akhil Mishra received a two-year sentence and his wife, Rajeshwari, five months.

They also forfeited their two stores, though the family argued then that was a thinly veiled attempt to help the city obtain the properties cheaply, so Pittsburgh’s then-blighted Market Square could be redeveloped.

The latter investigation led then-U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan to charge Tommy Chong and his Gardena, California, business, Nice Dreams Enterprises, with illegally selling marijuana bongs and pipes to stores like those operated by the Mishras. More than 50 alleged suppliers were targeted by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration nationwide, with Chong pleading guilty and receiving a nine-month prison sentence from a federal judge in Pittsburgh.

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