- Associated Press - Monday, April 4, 2016

PITTSBURGH (AP) - A heroin trafficking suspect has been charged with killing a government witness and seriously wounding her mother in western Pennsylvania nearly two years ago, federal and state prosecutors announced Monday.

U.S. Attorney David Hickton said the new charges against Price Montgomery, 35, show the “staunch determination” and “unwavering commitment to seek justice” for Tina Crawford and her family.

Crawford, 34, and her mother, Patsy Crawford, were gunned down near the garage of their Pittsburgh home in August 2014. Patsy Crawford was about to drive her daughter to the federal courthouse downtown to meet state and federal authorities investigating money laundering related to Montgomery’s alleged heroin operation, Hickton said.

Twenty-nine shots were fired at Crawford and her mother. Patsy Crawford was seriously wounded but survived, but Tina Crawford, who was shot 10 times, died, according to a probable cause affidavit filed last year by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

The drug investigation against Montgomery was begun in 2011 by the Pennsylvania attorney general’s office. That investigation bore fruit when Montgomery and James Perrin, 37, were arrested when state drug agents raided a home owned by a former Pittsburgh Steelers player and found 1,500 bricks of heroin, more than $100,000 and 16 handguns, shotguns and rifles. A brick of heroin consists of 50 individual dose bags, making the drugs seized worth more than $500,000.

The former Steelers player, Deshea Townsend, no longer lived in Pennsylvania and was never a suspect in the drug trafficking case. He told authorities he had rented out the home, but that neither Montgomery or Perrin was listed on the rental agreement.

Instead, Charles Cook, 49, of Pittsburgh, and Andre Avent, 38, of Homestead have been charged with using drug money to pay a “lease-to-purchase” agreement on the Townsend-owned house and a condominium then also owned by Townsend in the city’s North Hills suburbs. They and Perrin are awaiting trial and none of their attorneys immediately returned calls for comment.

All four suspects are named in the superseding indictment announced Monday, which was updated only by the new charges against Montgomery in the Crawford shootings.

The ATF affidavit was filed in connection with still other charges Montgomery faces for allegedly trying to solicit or persuade a fellow inmate at the Northeast Ohio Correctional Center and another person, neither identified by name, to kill two other unnamed witnesses. The correctional center, near Youngstown, is a private jail commonly used to house inmates awaiting trial on federal charges in Pittsburgh.

Hickton wouldn’t say whether any attempts were made on the other witnesses’ lives, or whether anybody else was involved in the Crawford shooting, because both remain under investigation.

But Special Agent-in-Charge Sam Rabadi, who heads the ATF’s Philadelphia division, which includes Pittsburgh, said the new charges against Montgomery should send a message.

“When you threaten or retaliate against a witness, the gloves will come off,” Rabadi said.

Among other things, Montgomery told the Ohio inmate that he dropped his cellphone during the Crawford shooting and that investigators traced the phone to him and found his DNA on it.

Hickton said his office will prosecute the Crawford shootings because federal authorities had assumed the drug investigation by the time Crawford was killed.

Montgomery has not been charged with homicide. Instead, he’s charged with tampering with a witness by killing a person - Tina Crawford - which carries life in prison upon conviction.

The superseding indictment also charges him with tampering with a witness by attempting to kill a person, Patsy Crawford, and weapons offenses.

Montgomery’s attorneys didn’t immediately comment on new charges.

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