During the days when an alleged Carrolltown drug kingpin’s operation was thriving, it was often good business for his father’s local bar, prosecutors said.
Thousands of dollars in drug money were put into renovations at Gerald Lowmaster’s longtime Carrolltown pub, Jerry’s Tavern – and sometimes, Lowmaster ring accomplices would pick up drugs there stuffed inside take-out food orders, Assistant U.S. Attorney John Valkovci added.
On Thursday, a federal judge gave the 67-year-old man 46 months in federal prison, plus three years probation for his role in the drug ring, saying Lowmaster conspired with his son, George, to hide more than $70,000 in drug money through bar upgrades and a recreational vehicle acquisition.
While a defense attorney argued Gerald Lowmaster was only a minor player in a more-than-million-dollar ring, a judge sided with prosecutors who said the Carrolltown man had an important role in his son’s operation – and pointed to some of the man’s own testimony at a forfeiture hearing earlier in the morning.
The elder Lowmaster served as a trusted source for his son “when George couldn’t be there” to handle transactions, Valkovci noted.
On some occasions he was there to hand over an envelope of money to fellow conspirators. Other times, drugs found their way into drug buyers’ orders from inside his bar, he said.
Lowmaster noted he handed over only what he was told to and that he didn’t know what was in the bags, although he admitted during cross-examination, “I could have suspected it was (drugs).”
“I signed where I was told to sign,” the Carrolltown man replied when asked about a $27,000 recreational vehicle he acquired from his son but never used. Lowmaster said that he never saw the vehicle before the day he was told to show up at a notary to make the transaction – and rode in the vehicle only once.
“We’ve had our problems over the years ... but yes, I love my son,” he told Valkovci in court.
The father and son were among dozens of Lowmaster friends and associates swept up in a major 2011 bust. With George at the helm, the operation made millions of dollars by selling marijuana, pills and other drugs. Much of it was shipped in from the West Coast, while profits were laundered through northern Cambria County businesses over a three-year period, investigators said at the time.
Defense attorney Russell Heiple was able to convince the judge to lower the amount laundered through Gerald Lowmaster, noting $60,000 prosecutors tried to pin to his client was based solely on a recorded phone call. In that instance, George mentioned spending the amount on Jerry’s Tavern, but didn’t offer specifics. And prosecutors admitted they had no other proof.
But they did point to upgrades they maintained they could tie to the laundered money, such as vinyl siding, televisions and an air conditioning system.
Heiple pushed for a probationary sentence but noted afterward that Lowmaster’s prior felony conviction – related to child porn possession – made it an uphill battle, given the fact that he was still on probation during the latest arrest.
Gerald’s wife, Marguerite “Dolly” Lowmaster, received five years probation and a year of house arrest this week for her role in the operation.
George Lowmaster faces a May 13 sentencing in U.S. District Court in Johnstown.
David Hurst is a reporter with The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/tddavidhurst.