A Johnstown businessman was ordered to stand trial on a firearm violation after police said they found a handgun inside a store.
James Edward Williams, 45, the manager of J-Town Fashions near Central Park, was held for court following a preliminary hearing Thursday before District Judge Rick Varner of Salix.
Williams is charged with being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm. He pleaded not guilty through his Pittsburgh-based attorney, Bruce Carsia.
City police and Cambria County Drug Task Force agents swooped into the Gazebo Place business July 31 and seized a firearm, a large amount of suspected synthetic drugs and drug paraphernalia.
A last-minute attempt by prosecutors on Thursday to file drug charges against Williams was turned back after Carsia said he was given no time to prepare.
“It’s unfair to add (charges) the day of the hearing without a crime lab (report),” Carsia said. “It doesn’t give the defense time.”
Assistant District Attorney Wayne Langerholc Jr. said he would file drug charges once the lab report is available, which could take up to three months.
“We’re at the mercy of the lab,” Langerholc said.
Detective Thomas Keirn testified that the investigation began after a confidential informant reportedly bought K2 (synthetic marijuana) from Williams.
Keirn told the court a .40-caliber semi-automatic handgun was found in a open storage room about 10 feet from the counter where Williams was sitting in the store.
Authorities determined the gun was registered to Williams’ girlfriend, who owns the business.
Carsia argued that the prosecution must prove Williams not only knew the gun was there but intended to “exercise control.”
“We know he did not possess the gun,” Carsia said. “We know the gun belonged to the owner of the store.”
Keirn conceded that Williams said he knew the weapon was there “at times.”
“Based upon the evidence that was presented here today in front of this magistrate, I believe the commonwealth failed to prove even a prima facie case (one strong enough for the case to continue to county court),” Carsia said after the hearing.
Kevin Price, head of the drug task force, said that when he entered the store, Williams ran and flushed a toilet in the back.
“There was a large amount of K2 marijuana that was seized,” Langerholc said after the hearing. “As this is a newer substance that we’re dealing with, there isn’t any type of field test we can do.”
Court records show Williams has felony convictions including drug-related offenses in Pittsburgh in 1998 and is on federal parole. He is being held at the Cambria County Prison in Ebensburg.
Patrick Buchnowski is a reporter with The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/PatBuchnowskiTD.