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Teen admits role in Main Line marijuana ring

The drug supplier made clear whom the 17-year-old's target customers for marijuana sales were to be: "Rich white kids" at Lower Merion Township's two public high schools.

The drug supplier made clear whom the 17-year-old's target customers for marijuana sales were to be: "Rich white kids" at Lower Merion Township's two public high schools.

The teen used Instagram, the social networking site, to help him, selling about $800 worth of pot each week.

Dealing drugs wasn't a new activity to him, he admitted. He had been selling them off and on since eighth grade.

Those were some of the details that emerged Wednesday during what was scheduled as an adjudication hearing in Montgomery County Juvenile Court.

During it, the teen admitted committing three felonies, including possession of marijuana with intent to deliver, which could send him to a detention facility for as long as four years.

Judge Joseph A. Smyth adjudicated the teen delinquent, the Juvenile Court equivalent of finding him guilty.

The hearing then focused on whether to grant a defense request to release the teen from the youth detention facility.

The proceeding came about two weeks after the Montgomery County District Attorney's Office dismantled what officials said was a network of young drug dealers in affluent communities. It offered a fresh glimpse into the ring, which one of the accused leaders said aimed to corner the marijuana market for Main Line high schoolers.

While many hearings and records in Juvenile Court are closed to the public, proceedings in which the offenses are serious enough and the accused is old enough are open. The teen will not be identified, following the Inquirer policy of not naming minors in most criminal cases.

Lower Merion Police Detective Cameron Parker, on loan to the county Detective Bureau, testified Wednesday about the day in March when he executed a search warrant on the Bala Cynwyd home where the teen lived with his mother and stepfather.

In his third-floor bedroom, investigators found about $1,000 in cash, marijuana in sandwich bags, a scale, and other supplies. Parker also said he smelled marijuana while going to the bedroom.

After authorities arrived, the detective said, the teen threw a jar filled with marijuana out a window. It landed in the hands of a detective.

"That's a pretty good catch by our detectives," Special Assistant District Attorney Tonya Lupinacci said.

As they did with the two alleged ring leaders in the case, investigators found what they called evidence of the drug ring in the teen's cellphone.

The phone number for Timothy C. Brooks, 19, of Villanova, was stored in it under the name Derek, one of several aliases Brooks allegedly used with his dealers, Parker said. Brooks is accused of being one of the ring's organizers and suppliers.

The phone also contained an app for Instagram, a website for sharing photos and videos with a network of contacts. On the site, the detective said, the teen went by the handle "Hustle Tree Daily." Tree is slang for marijuana, and hustle is slang for selling it, he said. A photo on the website showed a jar of marijuana and cash.

The text messages between Brooks and the teen that Parker discussed generally were about money Brooks said the 17-year-old owed him. The messages were from January and February. The ring allegedly operated from about September through February, investigators said.

In one text conversation, when Brooks was complaining that the teen owed him money, according to the detective, the teen replied that he had sold the drugs, but customers had not yet fully paid their bills.

"I have your bread, bro," the teen wrote to Brooks, Parker said. "It's just taking longer than normal."

The teen's mother said her son has mental-health problems and has struggled with using marijuana since he was in eighth grade. Still, she testified, she never smelled marijuana in the house.

"I am surprised he was involved in this," she said.

The mother said she was in touch this week with one of her son's teachers at Lower Merion High School. The teacher has been providing schoolwork for her son to do and allegedly told the mother that "Lower Merion is expecting him to return," since none of the charges involved drug sales at the school.

A spokesman for the Lower Merion School District could not be reached for comment.

The drug-dealing allegations against nine defendants who are 18 and older have been in District Court. All ultimately will be transferred to County Court. A 17-year-old student at Radnor High School already admitted to a charge of possessing marijuana with intent to deliver, and was found to have committed the crime and was sent home with his family. His disposition hearing is set for next month.

Near the end of Wednesday's session, the teen, who has had prior brushes with the law, read to the judge from a piece of paper.

"I'm very remorseful for my actions. . . . I don't want to get in trouble again. I just want to go back to school and play on my baseball team this summer," he said.

The teen's lawyer, James A. Funt, urged Smyth to let his client go home pending the next court hearing, arguing that the young man was a good student, was active on several sports teams, has cooperated with authorities, and has a supportive father, mother, and stepfather.

The judge denied Funt's request.