Two Athol residents plead guilty to drug charges from 2019 incident

By DOMENIC POLI

Staff Writer

Published: 02-16-2021 4:04 PM

GREENFIELD — Judge Mark D. Mason accepted guilty pleas and a joint recommendation in Franklin County Superior Court on Tuesday, sentencing a pair of Athol residents to two years’ probation for drug crimes.

Mariah K. LaFountain, 26, and Bryce M. Cass, 31, each agreed to plead guilty to possession with intent to distribute (heroin) and conspiracy to violate drug laws. Each charge carries a maximum of 10 years in state prison. The sentences will be served concurrently. The two must abstain from using illicit drugs and submit to random screenings.

LaFountain’s and Cass’ lawyers, Lucy DeLaCour and Stephen Shea, respectively, said their clients take responsibility for their actions.

At the remote plea hearing on Tuesday, DeLaCour said her client “very much appreciates” this opportunity.

“She’s put a lot of thought into the consequences that this plea carries for her, and they’re significant, but she thinks this is the best choice for her and will enable her to move forward, and I think she’ll be successful on probation,” she said.

DeLaCour said LaFountain works an average of 70 hours a week as a certified nurse’s aid, providing care for a 103-year-old woman. She lives with her family and plans to move into her own apartment on March 1.

“She’s very motivated to eventually, one day, close this chapter in her life and attend nursing school and become a registered nurse,” DeLaCour said. “She appreciates the opportunity to resolve this case with a probationary sentence. We think that this is a fair one.”

Shea said Cass has taken it upon himself to enter a methadone treatment program.

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“We’re hopeful that he stays on track and he’s able to keep it together and continue on with his life, which frankly has a lot of potential,” he said. Shea said Cass, who is employed full-time, earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from Wake Forest University in North Carolina.

Assistant District Attorney Jeremy Bucci read Mason a statement of facts prior to the sentencings. Bucci explained Massachusetts State Trooper Jesse Gadarowski was traveling northbound on Route 202 in New Salem at about 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 4, 2019, when he saw a green Nissan Altima he was familiar with, having seen it traveling in the same direction multiple times previously. Gadarowski reportedly learned the owner was LaFountain, who in the past had faced charges for illegal drug distribution, and found out LaFountain and boyfriend Cass had been involved in a case in which they went to Holyoke to get drugs and bring them back to Athol. Authorities had previously seized about 900 bags of heroin from the vehicle.

Bucci said Gadarowski saw the vehicle pass him from the other direction about 45 minutes later and followed it “for an extended period of time into the town of Orange,” stopping the vehicle after it crossed the fog line “about four times.” LaFountain was driving and Cass was in the passenger’s seat.

Gadarowski reportedly asked where the two were going and LaFountain said they had driven to go for a hike, though she then confessed there were a little more than 1,000 bags of heroin in the vehicle’s air filter. Gadarowski searched the air filter and found 1,200 bags of what the State Police crime laboratory confirmed was heroin. Cass reportedly told Gadarowski he knew the drugs were there and was hoping the trooper wouldn’t find them.

Bucci said the quantity of drugs “was consistent with intent to distribute.” After it was determined they were not intoxicated, LaFountain and Cass were allowed to go home and the drugs were seized.

Reach Domenic Poli: dpoli@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 262.

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