Drug Busts Make This A Bad Week For Marihuana and Heroin Trade South and West Of Boston

It has been a bad week so far for Massachusetts drug conspiracies. First, members of a joint Anti-Crime Task force confiscated 500 pounds of marijuana and more than $180,000 in cash from a weekend drug bust in Swansea, Massachusetts. The marijuana alone has a street value of more than $600,000. Then, in Holyoke, an Easthampton man and four Holyoke men were arrested Tuesday on charges including possession of heroin and possession of a loaded firearm.

After a month long investigation and 24-hour surveillance, John C. Mendonca, 38, of Fall River, who had been living at an East Providence hotel, was pulled over Saturday by an East Providence police officer. A search of his vehicle found prescription drugs, several cell phones and a box containing a large amount of cash. Search warrants were taken out for four of Mendonca’s known haunts, including two locations in East Providence and two in Fall River. The searches revealed a 2001 Dodge Caravan with 500 pounds of marijuana, a money counting machine believed to be tied to Mendonca’s alleged drug operation, 10 cell phones and a potpourri of additional drugs.

Mendonca is currently on federal probation from a 2002 drug bust. Swansea Deputy Police Chief Robert Furtado said police believe there were two men involved in Mendonca’s drug operation, but no one else has been charged. Furtado said because Mendonca was on federal probation, federal marijuana trafficking charges are being sought. Furtado also said that this was the biggest drug bust he said he has seen in more than three decades on the force .

Meanwhile, Holyoke law enforcement arrested Timothy Lipski, 21, of Easthampton and Manuel Quinones, 38, Alexander Sanabria, 32, Joseph Cartagena, 20 and Alejandro Ortiz Gonzalez, 24 all of Holyoke on Tuesday afternoon. The arrests were accompanied by the discovery of 132 bags of heroin with a street value of $1,320, $1,402 in cash, two guns with live ammunition, drug packing materials, and a small amount of marijuana.

Lipski, Sanabria and Ortiz Gonzalez are charged with possession of heroin. Sanabria is also charged with possession with intent to distribute heroin near a school zone or public park. Quinones is charged with possession to distribute heroin near a school zone or public park. Cartagena is charged with possession with intent to distribute heroin near a school zone or public park as well as two charges of possession of a loaded firearm and ammunition without proper identification.

Holyoke Police Chief Anthony R. Scott said the department had been conducting an investigation on the five men since August. Complaining that the bail set was too low, Scott said, “It is a shame that arrestee Timothy Lipski with his 11 rides on the Hampden County merry-go-round of justice was released after paying his bail of $100 plus his $20 Clerk Magistrate fee,” Scott said. “Bail on the individual who was in illegal possession of the two firearms was set only at $5,000.” He went on with, “These individuals have ridden on the Hampden County merry-go-round of justice for over fifty times and they are still walking the streets of our community while dealing in death and destruction,” and finally ended with ” Are the police and the assistant district attorneys the only individuals within our criminal justice system who care about the community?”

Police Chief Scott’s plea to the heavens reveals something important about the different perspectives of the criminal justice system. As far as the police and prosecutors are concerned, all these defendants are guilty of all crimes charged and probably many more that are not charged. In fact, this was most likely the case early on in each investigation before they even made the arrests. However, the United States Constitution and the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights talk about inconvenient things like the presumption of innocence. To law enforcement, such “legalisms” are merely hindrances (until they, themselves find themselves investigated or charged) to their holy war against evil. To the rest of us, however, it is the necessary backbone of what calls itself a fair justice system.

We do not know all the facts and circumstances behind the charges. The chief purpose of bail is to ensure that the defendants appear in court while their innocence or guilt is being determined. If, indeed, these defendants have been on the “merry-go-round” that so upsets Chief Scott, their records should reflect whether they have a history of showing up in court to face charges. While I would not be so quick to call the bail imposed “chump change”, the fact that it is not higher, or that the defendants are not being held without bail, probably indicates that they were not on probation, did not have a bad record or even, dare I say it, there could be something wrong something wrong with the charges?

Ahh, if only the chief’s defendants could be more like Mendonca of Fall River! Mendonca had the good grace to be on probation and so is being held.

And this comparison is the main part of the today’s daily lesson.

The backdrop is clear…while we may talk about the presumption of innocence, law enforcement really does not subscribe to that particular formality. It is therefore unlikely that , if arrested, you are wise to try to “cooperate” unrepresented and rely on promises of “going easy” on you. Once you walk into that courtroom and deal with the issue of bail, the issues are going to be your history and whether you are likely to show up in court (other than in matters which involve dangerousness). Whether you tend to show up or are on probation will be what most likely dictates the bail imposed. I cannot tell you how many clients I have had simply shrug when asked about their record of defaults, advising me, “Oh, that’s ok. I cleared up that one a few months later”. It is the existence, not the circumstances or later cure of the default that causes a hike in bail. Bottom line: show up or you will be paying for it in the future.

Which brings us to the sentence of probation or its cousin, parole. Many people, including defense attorneys without much experience, seem to feel that getting probation as a sentence is a gift. Sometimes it is. Sometimes it is not. The fact is that if you are on probation and you are arrested (even if that arrest turns out to lead to a dismissal or acquittal), you are likely to be held on the new arrest without bail and held in violation of probation. The violation is the arrest itself. The court usually does not wait to see what happens with the new case to decide whether your probation violation will land you behind bars. In most cases, you will be found in violation long before you even get near trial in the new matter and likely held without bail on the probation surrender…or simply sent to jail to serve the sentence which you avoided by getting on probation.

These are all intricacies of the system that can change your life and make the difference between freedom and incarceration. If you feel you are being investigated, or have been approached with either questions or the bracelets of shame by law enforcement, you need an attorney with experience who can guide you through and increase your chances of freedom through all these issues.

The full articles of this story can be found at
http://www.masslive.com/news/index.ssf/2008/09/five_men_arrested_in_holyoke_d.html and

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