POSTED: 06:05 p.m. HST, Jan 30, 2014
LAST UPDATED: 01:19 a.m. HST, Jan 31, 2014
PITTSBURGH >> A McDonald's employee has been jailed on charges she sold heroin hidden in Happy Meals to drive-thru customers who uttered the code words, "I'd like to order a toy," but investigators have no reason to believe the store's owner was aware of it, or of another employee charged with selling heroin near another restaurant.
"We have no indication the owner knew of this and neither suspect has, to this point, implicated the owner or anyone else at either restaurant," said Mike Manko, spokesman for the Allegheny County district attorney's office.
The meals are marketed to children and contain a toy. But police said the customers who called Shantia Dennis' cellphone to let her know they were coming to the McDonald's in the city's East Liberty neighborhood knew they'd be getting drugs from the 26-year-old East Pittsburgh woman.
Dennis denied wrongdoing when she was led away in handcuffs past reporters Wednesday night. Online court records don't list an attorney for her.
The franchisee, Iftikhar Malik, owns the store and another in Murrysville -- a suburb about 15 miles east of the city -- where a different employee was charged with dealing heroin on Jan. 14.
Malik's employees wouldn't take a message or give The Associated Press his phone number. They referred a reporter to a corporate press office which issued a statement from Malik:
"As an employer and a member of the community, the safety of our guests and employees is our first priority. The allegations related to this employee do not represent acceptable behaviors and are not consistent with my values. As such, we take these charges very seriously and we are fully cooperating with the authorities. We are also conducting our own thorough internal investigation."
Using information from a tip to a district attorney's drug task force, an informant accompanied by a police officer called Dennis on Wednesday, then pulled into the drive-thru and ordered the toy. They paid Dennis $82 for the $2 meal which also contained 10 stamp bags -- or individual doses -- of heroin, according to a criminal complaint.
Other officers then moved in and found the money used to buy the drugs, plus another $80 and a small amount of marijuana stored in Dennis' bra, the complaint said. Police said they later found another 50 stamp bags of heroin in her purse.
Dennis was jailed after her arraignment early Thursday on charges of criminal use of a cellphone and four drug counts: delivery of heroin, possession with intent to deliver heroin, and possession of heroin and marijuana.
The other drug suspect, Theodore Upshaw, 28, was charged with selling heroin to a police informant in the parking lot of the other McDonald's Malik owns. Upshaw remained in the Westmoreland County Prison awaiting a Feb. 4 preliminary hearing.
Investigators don't believe the drugs sold at either restaurant are linked to fentanyl-laced heroin that authorities are blaming for 22 fatal overdoses in recent weeks. Those drugs have been sold in bags stamped "Theraflu" and "Bud Ice." The drugs Dennis allegedly sold were stamped "Nite Nite" followed by a misspelled racial slur, a catch phrase popularized by comedian Kevin Hart.