Greensburg Police Chief Shawn Denning has been charged federally with facilitating cross-country drug deals after a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration investigation using a confidential source who at one point recorded their incriminating conversations at a cornhole tournament.
Federal agents arrested Denning, 41, Wednesday morning at the Greensburg Police Department.
He appeared briefly by video before a federal magistrate judge on six felony counts related to aiding the distribution of cocaine and methamphetamines in 2021 and 2022.
He’d been charged under seal on Jan. 17, and the case was unsealed after his arrest.
The U.S. attorney’s office said Denning helped a DEA source, who is cooperating with agents in the hopes of leniency in his own federal case, acquire coke and meth over a 16-month period from June 2021 to last October.
The drugs came from dealers Denning knew and vouched for in California and Arizona, with the narcotics shipped through the U.S. mail to Pittsburgh. Denning said in encrypted chats with the source that he did not “mess with” dealing himself but knew dealers who provided high-quality drugs and could help the source get them at good prices.
“I don’t sell anything man I just know folks is all,” the chief said in one message about a particular dealer. “Dude will handle it all he’s trustworthy.”
Denning acted as the go-between, and drug packages arrived in Pittsburgh by mail, where agents intercepted them. On Nov. 26, 2021, for instance, DEA took custody of one package from California that contained seven grams of coke inside a plastic baggie.
On that same day, the source sent a message to Denning saying the drugs looked good.
“I know it’s an odd system but I’m glad it worked out,” Denning replied and later asked, “How’s quality?”
Denning, who formerly worked for the New York Police Department, was hired in Greensburg in 2008 and was promoted to chief last year.
The case began in the summer of 2021 when the confidential source met Denning, then a captain, after receiving information that Denning could obtain narcotics and that the chief’s “girl,” Brittany Peglow, was a drug user, according to a DEA affidavit.
The two talked about cocaine prices, and Denning told the source to contact him on Facebook. They also exchanged phone numbers, with Denning providing the number associated with his home address.
On July 23, 2021, Denning texted the source a picture of a narcotics field test used to show a positive result for coke.
Denning told the source to download the Wickr app for communications because it’s “encrypted and safe for us both,” the affidavit said. He also told him to search under “jarhead3307.” Denning is a former Marine, and jarhead is a Marine nickname.
The source contacted jarhead on Sept. 15, 2021 on Wickr and asked if jarhead was Shawn.
“Yep,” Denning said, according to the affidavit. “It’s how all the heavy hitters conduct business it’s encrypted so virtually impossible to be intercepted ever.”
Denning said he could get prices for drugs and then listed prices for cocaine, steroids and ecstasy. When asked about payment, Denning said, “you’ll pay dude either Bitcoin, cashapp, then boom it’s at your door.”
Later, Denning told the source that “my buddy ordered a ball and said its top notch” in reference to cocaine and asked, “would u want that delivered to your house?”
When the source asked if he could get drugs straight from Denning, the chief said, “my buddy buys it on the regular but not from me just this online nyc connect so I rarely actually see it but I have enough and know it’s legit.”
The source used DEA money to buy 35 grams of coke for $1,650 and 325 tablets containing meth for $2,500, with the drugs shipped from California in four mailings.
In one message, Denning told the source to let him know how good the drugs are when they arrive, the complaint said. He vouched for the dealers, telling the source that “all these guys are California west coast folks but are trust worthy with top notch product.”
Agents also tracked payments in April 2022 to a supplier from a CashApp account associated with Denning.
In October, the DEA source wore a wire and met with Denning at a cornhole tournament at a park in Ellwood City. Denning was there with Peglow and presented the source with a set of cornhole bags from his gym bag.
In the recorded conversation, Denning said he gave the cornhole bags as a gift because one of the drug deals he’d arranged had fallen through when the source paid money for drugs that were not delivered.
When the source tried to refuse the gift, Denning said, “No man, listen man, hey it’s bad business.”
He then explained that the dealer is from Arizona and had ripped off “my home girl too for 500, that motherf—–.”
Denning also messaged in regard to that deal, “Imma figure out a way to get that dude,” according to the affidavit.
Denning is free on a $250,000 bond pending a preliminary hearing in federal court on Monday.