Addiction has motivated recent crime sprees
Evidence on display from burglary investigation cases lined tables in the basement of the Athol Town Hall on Saturday during the Burglary Fair. Victims of burglaries came in hopes of identifying and recovering their stolen property.
A packet of heroin emptied out on a latex glove at Greenfield Police Department. Each bag costs around seven to ten dollars.
Evidence bag of herion packets
State Police troopers stand at the ready on Linden Avenue, assault rifles drawn, as Greenfield and State police investigate a Wednesday afternoon bank robbery.
Police blame the need to purchase heroin for the three recent bank robberies in Greenfield, the rash of convenience store robberies in the area and sporadically recurring strings of break-ins that have plagued downtown Turners Falls and Greenfield and the eastern part of the county this year and last.
Crime is not an inevitable or universal side effect of addiction, but heroin has been a silent motivator in many recent crimes across Franklin County, police say.
Assistant District Attorney Jeremy Bucci worries that prescription painkillers are leading many people who would otherwise not experiment with drugs to stray down the path to addiction. But for their neighbors, he says, “an altogether different problem” is what some people will do to feed their addiction.
Financing an expensive drug habit through crime is certainly not new.
“I would say over the past years that I’ve been here 75 percent of the B&Es and larcenies have absolutely been drug related,” said Jarret Mousseau of the Athol Police Department. “And what happens a lot are the addicts are stealing from their own family members; usually, first and foremost, they steal from their own family.”
In some cases, stealing from convenient family members progresses to stealing from anyone with anything to steal.
The Greenfield Police Department’s crime comparison report for the years 2009 and 2010 logs 45 drug or narcotics violations one year and 47 the next, versus 240 and 215 break-ins or burglaries.
In Athol, two local men are accused of a months-long spree of burglaries netting over $30,000 worth of jewelry, medication, cash and other items in a swath spreading south from their hometown along the border of Franklin and Hampshire counties.
Athol police allege Aaron Provencher and Antonio Velez would enter a home during the day while the owners were out working and their children at school, take a pillowcase from a bedroom and fill it with anything small and valuable. After selling their haul to pawnshops, the two would return directly to Athol or Orange to purchase heroin or cocaine, which they would then smoke or inject, according to police.
At their arraignment in March, Provencher, 34, of 389 Unity Ave. and Velez, 27, of 24 Carlin St., pleaded innocent to 26 counts each in relation to seven burglaries in five towns.
Also in March, Greenfield Police charged Richard C. May, 38, of 44 Linden Ave., with armed and masked robbery in connection with the March 13 robbery of the Greenfield Cooperative Bank branch at 277 Federal St. Police said at the time that May was a suspect in two similar robberies at the TD Bank branch on Main Street on Feb. 17 and March 3. He has not been charged in connection with those crimes.
“This is coming from information through my investigation that his addiction ... was a factor in what he had been doing,” said acting Detective Lt. Daniel McCarthy of the Greenfield Police. He said heroin and cocaine were May’s drugs of choice.
Do anything for a fix
“With opiates, that rush, then five, six hours later you feel like you want to blow your head off,” said Nick, 29, from the Pittsfield area and currently incarcerated in the Franklin County House of Correction.
“It’s the best feeling in the world followed by the worst feeling in the world and when you start feeling that, you’ll do anything to fix it,” he said. “And people who haven’t felt it can’t understand that.”
Nick, who did not use his last name on the advice of the jail treatment program, started buying OxyContin and Percocet for the high around the age of 20. At one point he tried Suboxone to taper off, but said he couldn’t shake the bone-ache feeling of coming down. He started using cocaine regularly, then began travelling to Springfield to buy heroin every day, injecting it after he was diagnosed with diabetes and was suddenly used to needles and had them in cheap supply.
He also started dealing.
Nick has been in and out of jail, in and out of methadone and Suboxone treatment, and said he isn’t making any promises about whether he will stay clean once he is out of the jail and its recovery program this time.
Jason “Jay” Comeau, 38, of Athol, is currently in jail and in recovery following his conviction on a number of charges stemming from a 2011 bank robbery in Amherst.
Comeau began abusing pain pills after he blew out his knee wrestling in high school. Cocaine went hand-in-hand with the pills for him. Eventually he began dealing to “use for free,” as he put it. He ripped people off. He ended up incarcerated briefly in 1996.
“I haven’t had a sober length of time that I can remember since, that I wasn’t incarcerated,” he said.
He landed a good job selling motorcycles and he turned from smoking crack to Percocet and OxyContin, but these got expensive.
“My buddy suggested heroin because it’s cheaper and it does the same thing,” he said. He sniffed a little and couldn’t believe how cheap it was and how little it took.
To help pay for his various habits, he practiced large-scale shoplifting with his brother, walking into a store, filling a duffel bag and walking out while the other distracted employees.
Bounced checks eventually landed him back in jail for 16 months.
He started to get tired of his addiction and checked into a detox program in Springfield. When he left, he thought he would be OK, but he quickly started using again.
He began doing less heroin and more Percocet, then he began taking Suboxone in another effort to clean up.
In 2010 his sister died from drug and alcohol use, he said. “At that point I was on Suboxone. I dove back in, lost everything.”
Back on heroin, he and two others committed an unarmed bank robbery to which they pleaded guilty last September.
Comeau was arrested within a day of his sister’s birthday and he now calls her his higher power, a term used in 12-step recovery programs.
“I believe she brought me here to straighten me out,” he said. “I’m done. I lost my family. Just everybody’s sick of my shit. I’m ready to retire.”
Cops and courts