Jail staff finds hidden drug

Several methods used to smuggle opioid

Maine Department of Public Safety
Suboxone strips like these are being hidden cards, letters and books and smuggled into the Franklin County Jail.

Maine Department of Public Safety Suboxone strips like these are being hidden cards, letters and books and smuggled into the Franklin County Jail.

GREENFIELD — Several people are facing drug charges after county jail employees uncovered a variety of schemes to smuggle an addiction-fighting drug into the facility.

Though they are charged in three separate cases, they all share similar elements. People on the outside allegedly hid Suboxone, an opioid prescribed to fight heroin withdrawals, in items addressed to different inmates of the Franklin County Jail.

When taken properly to treat addiction to heroin and painkillers, Suboxone can curb cravings and stave off withdrawals without creating the euphoric sensation associated with street drugs. However, addicts who have lost their body’s tolerance to opioids can use the drug to get high.

“Suboxone is an abusable substance, unfortunately,” said Sheriff Christopher Donelan. “When people have been away from heroin for a while, Suboxone gives them a little something. I don’t think it’s equivalent to a dose of heroin, but its the best thing people can get in the situation.”

Addicts who wind up in the county jail are often forced to go “cold-turkey,” facing painful withdrawals as the drugs leave their systems.

Though counseling is available to recovering addicts, the sheriff said treatments like Methodone and Suboxone are not administered in the facility.

“We provide medical supervision, make sure they’re safe and keep an eye on their vital signs,” Donelan said. “Other than that, it’s a hard, nasty detox.”

Inmates, however, have apparently found a variety of ways to get Suboxone in jail. In the recent cases, the source is reported to be an outsider who either purchases the drug illicitly or gets it by way of a legitimate prescription.

Donelan said the recipients are a mix of people seeking to fuel their own habits and those who want to turn a profit.

“When it successfully makes its way in, I’m sure it’s a mixture of people trading it for other things and using it for themselves,” said Donelan.

A state police report on one of the smuggling cases mentioned that inmates can transfer banked funds by phone or computer and also trade items available from the jail’s canteen for drugs. The report also said that money is also exchanged between inmates’ associates on the outside.

The drug, in the form of a thin, water-soluble oral film, is easily hidden, Donelan said, but is often found by deputies monitoring the mail. He said he believes they catch the bulk of the illegal shipments.

“I don’t know that a lot of it has made its way into housing,” he said. “We’ve had a stack of (intercepted) Suboxone here.”

Deputies have found the drug hidden in book bindings, under sheets of paper affixed to envelopes and drawn directly onto greeting cards in a drug-laced ink.

Once the drug is discovered, said Donelan, deputies and state police investigate the intended recipient. The contraband is usually sent from a bogus return address, so investigators must work backward to find out who sent the drugs.

Sgt. Stephen Burgess, of the state police Detectives Unit, has investigated several Suboxone smuggling cases at the jail since last year, and charges were filed in June.

Last April, Lt. Lee Terrill of the sheriff’s department found a suspicious card addressed to an inmate, according to a report by Burgess, who was called in to the jail to investigate on May 30. The investigation resulted in charges against three people.

Belle McCarthy, 36, of 44 Linden Ave., pleaded innocent to charges of distribution of a Class B drug and conspiracy to violate drug laws in Greenfield District Court for allegedly sending the card to a man since convicted of bank robbery.

The alleged recipient, Richard May, 39, is currently serving a 9-to-10-year state prison sentence for three bank robberies he committed at gunpoint in Greenfield in 2013. The alleged smuggling occurred while he awaited trial in the Franklin County Jail.

May is charged with conspiracy to violate drug laws for allegedly having McCarthy send him Suboxone.

Inside the card, child-like writing read “We love you uncle Rich,” and, in an adult hand, “the kids thought you might like the sticker,” Burgess wrote.

The lieutenant peeled off a sticker on the back of the card and saw a “reddish purple” pigment underneath. Also on the card were figure drawings in the same color.

Terrill’s field test kit indicated the presence of opiates, Burgess wrote. The card was sent to a state drug lab and found to contain Suboxone, according to Burgess.

Recordings of May’s previous phone calls and jail visits were reviewed. Dozens of transcripts contained in Burgess’ report detailed conversations between McCarthy and the inmate.

May referred to the Suboxone-laced “paintings” several times and also repeatedly asked McCarthy to bring him a Bible, though Burgess noted that several copies are readily available in the jail’s library.

Bibles, Burgess wrote, are often used to secret Suboxone and other illicit drugs. People will remove the book’s binding, fill it with drugs and reseal it, according to Burgess.

McCarthy brought May a Bible on April 24, 2013, and it was confiscated days later, according to the report. The binding was found to be altered, though no drugs were detected, Burgess wrote.

Robert Lozada, 32, of 23 Forbes Court, was charged with conspiracy to violate drug laws in relation to the same case.

Burgess reported that Lozada, an inmate at the time, used May’s personal identification number to call McCarthy and arrange to have her send Suboxone to the jail and receive payment from an outside party.

Another man has been charged with sending Suboxone to the jail, though nobody was charged on the receiving end.

Others allegedly hid Suboxone strips under pages pasted onto envelopes and cards.

Veronica Gould, 35, with a last known address of the Windmill Motel in Bernardston, faces charges of distribution of Suboxone and conspiracy to violate drug laws.

Jeffrey Poirier, 28, of 42 Third St., Turners Falls, has been charged with conspiracy to violate drug laws for allegedly arranging to have Gould send him the drug.

When a card to Poirier showed up at the jail, guards held the envelope to a light and saw several dark rectangular spots, Burgess wrote. When they peeled back the card’s front page, they found 10 strips of Suboxone, according to Burgess.

The card, he wrote, contained a false return address. When police reviewed Poirier’s jailhouse phone records, they found several calls to Gould discussing drug transactions, Burgess wrote.

Walter Radvon, 22, of 151 Marble St., Athol, is charged with distribution of Suboxone, and conspiracy to violate drug laws. Radvon did not appear for a June arraignment, and a warrant was issued for his arrest.

Radvon allegedly sent a letter to an inmate in July, using a pseudonym for a return address. According to Burgess the letter was addressed to a man who has since been sent to state prison for arson. At the time, he was incarcerated in the county jail while awaiting trial.

The letter’s envelope contained an extra layer of paper, under which Suboxone strips had been placed, according to the report. The addressee told investigators that he no longer used drugs, wrote Burgess. Burgess also wrote that the man’s cellmate had previously done time with Radvon, and both had lived in Athol. That case did not include transcripts of phone calls or inmate visits.

Donelan said the methods allegedly used by the accused show that they are no strangers to opioids.

“These are people who are well-versed.” Donelan said. “Unfortunately, their interest is not in taking care of their problem.”

You can reach David Rainville at: drainville@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 279 On Twitter follow: @RecorderRain

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