By Robert Zullo

A McDonald's drive-thru employee was caught selling heroin in a Happy Meal box Wednesday after narcotics officers set up a controlled buy at a restaurant franchise in East Liberty, the Allegheny County district attorney's office said.

Shantia Marie Dennis, 26, of East Pittsburgh, was arrested after the district attorney's Narcotics Enforcement Team received a tip from an informant that heroin was being sold out of the McDonald's at The Village of Eastside shopping center, prompting officers from Swissvale, North Versailles and McKees Rocks to stage the operation Wednesday afternoon.

"The way that the deals would happen is that the customer looking for heroin was instructed to go through the drive-thru and say, 'I'd like to order a toy,'?" wrote Mike Manko, a spokesman for the district attorney's office, in an email. "The customer would then be told to proceed to the first window where they would be handed a Happy Meal box containing heroin."

According to a criminal complaint, the deal was arranged in advance by an informant, then an officer and the informant pulled up to the drive-thru and sent Dennis a text to tell her they had arrived. After ordering a "Happy Meal toy" at the intercom, the informant gave Dennis $82 and she put a bundle of heroin stamp bags into a Happy Meal box and handed it out the first drive-thru window.

The requested toy was also in the box, the complaint says.

Manko said 10 stamp bags were inside the box and an additional 50 were found in Dennis' possession.

Dennis was arrested immediately after the transaction and faces drug delivery and possession charges as well as "criminal use of a communication facility."

The heroin recovered from Dennis, according to the complaint, is not believed to be related to the lethal batches stamped "Theraflu," "Bud Ice," and "Income Tax" that have been blamed for as many as 22 overdose deaths in Western Pennsylvania since Jan. 19, Manko said. He added that it was unknown how long the drive-thru dealing was going on or how many transactions had been conducted.

Dennis' arrest was the second heroin arrest at a local McDonald's this month by the district attorney's task force.

On Jan. 14, officers also received a tip that heroin was being sold out of the McDonald's at 3820 U.S. Route 22 in Murrysville. After a controlled buy in the parking lot, officers arrested Theodore Levon Upshaw, a 28-year-old convicted drug dealer with numerous offenses who was living in an alternative housing facility in Braddock after receiving early release from a three-year sentence for possession with intent to deliver, the district attorney's office said.

Both restaurants are owned and operated by an independent franchisee, according to a McDonald's website, although attempts to identify the owners through local and state health inspections and property records were unsuccessful Wednesdayafternoon.

A manager working at the East Liberty restaurant Wednesday evening said he was not authorized to discuss the arrest.

A manager at the Murrysville restaurant could not be reached.

Manko would not say whether investigators believe other employees may have been involved or whether additional arrests are pending. Court records show that Dennis was charged in August of 2011 with drug possession, possession with intent to deliver and endangering the welfare of children. She later pleaded guilty to possession, receiving probation, and the possession with intent to deliver charge was withdrawn.

_(c)2014 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette