Pizza boxes held marijuana, police say

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By Peter Schworm
Globe Staff / September 1, 2011

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MEDFORD - Pinky’s Famous Pizza bills its custom-made pies as “gourmet taste delivered,’’ a mouth-watering blend of handmade dough, garden-fresh sauce made from vine-ripe tomatoes, and “the finest Italian cheeses that money can buy.’’

According to authorities, that is not all that Pinky’s owner was buying. And it was not just the ingredients that were top-notch.

The pizza shop owner, Nikita Yanakopulos, faces a drug trafficking charge after police said they found more than $750,000 worth of high-grade marijuana in his pickup truck last week, prosecutors said yesterday.

Through a tip from a confidential informant, investigators said they learned that Yanakopulos was slated to receive a large shipment of marijuana last Friday in Everett, and began surveillance on him. That morning, they saw Yanakopulos in a parking lot loading cardboard boxes into the back of his truck before driving off, according to court records.

Officers followed him to a Dunkin’ Donuts drive-through on Revere Beach Parkway, where they arrested him. Police, who had obtained a warrant based on the allegation that the boxes contained marijuana, said they found 11 cardboard boxes filled with more than 200 heat-sealed bags of the drug.

“These are troubling allegations into the suspected trafficking of over three-quarters of a million dollars of marijuana by a local business owner,’’ Gerard T. Leone Jr., the Middlesex district attorney, said in a statement.

Police said they also seized his truck, three cellphones, and $2,366 in cash in the arrest. During the booking process, the suspect indicated he did not want to speak with officers.

Yanakopulos was released on $15,000 bail posted by his wife, but was not at the pizzeria yesterday afternoon and could not be reached for comment. His lawyer, James Dilday, did not return calls for comment.

A spokeswoman for the district attorney’s office said the pizza shop and the alleged drug activity were apparently separate, despite the stereotypes.

“At this time there does not appear to be a connection,’’ Cara O’Brien said.

Yanakopulos, who has pleaded not guilty to the charge, is due back in court Sept. 29.

Earlier this year, police shut down a Toronto pizza shop and charged the owner with selling drugs after finding $1 million worth of marijuana inside, according to published reports.

The district attorney’s office would not say whether Yanakopulos had a criminal history, but noted that he had a court case dismissed last June. They said there are no allegations that he is part of a larger drug ring, but the investigation is ongoing.

State Police assigned to three prosecutors’ offices and federal agents with the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement conducted the investigation. Leone praised the collaborative effort for the drug bust and “preventing it from finding its way to young people.’’

The seized drugs, which weighed 250 pounds, were stronger and more expensive than typical marijuana, the district attorney’s office said.

At the pizzeria yesterday, two workers said they had never seen any evidence of illegal activity, and neighbors agreed. Regulars of the Main Street shop, between Medford Square and Tufts University, said the only thing that stood out about the restaurant was its food.

“Good buffalo wings,’’ said Bruce Forbes, a 70-year-old visiting his daughter and granddaughter from New York City. “Very good.’’

Notified of the charges, Forbes was taken aback, but said he would probably still order the wings now and again if the place stays open. It had better, many said.

“The owner of Pinky’s?’’ one woman asked in disbelief. “For real? That’s terrible. They have some cool food up in there.’’

Joe Walker, a 27-year-old who orders pizza from Pinky’s about once a month, expressed amazement at the amount of marijuana reportedly seized.

“That,’’ Walker said, “is a lot of pot.’’

Like his neighbors, Walker said the food at Pinky’s was quite good. Still, in light of the charges, he said he would probably take his take-out business elsewhere.

“There are plenty of other pizza shops in Medford,’’ he said.

Peter Schworm can be reached at Follow him on twitter @globepete.