8/22/10 07:48 pm Updated: 8/24/10 08:53 am
Editor’s Note: This is the second in a periodic series of articles a year in the making that examines the effects of drug abuse in Maine.
Read Part One:
ROCKLAND, Maine — Even though Knox County is a far cry from the rough streets of Baltimore, just as the cops featured on the HBO series “The Wire,” Detective Reggie Walker of the Knox County Sheriff’s Department knows his way around a stakeout.
Walker has logged many hours in his unmarked police car, waiting patiently with his camera and computer close at hand, trying to catch people in the act of making an illegal prescription drug deal.
“You just wait, and wait, and wait and see,” Walker said recently from his crowded office. “It gets really boring sometimes.”
All that waiting and seeing has been leading to many more arrests lately for people caught dealing prescription drugs illegally in midcoast Maine.
Investigations of prescription drug deals — including opiates such as OxyContin, oxycodone, Percocet and Vicodin — are making up almost half of the caseload of the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency’s Mid-Coast Regional Task Force, according to Special Agent Supervisor James Pease.
“We’re always trying to figure out what the next move is, trying to figure out where they’re getting new drugs from,” Pease said.
“Everybody in this job is trying to stay ahead and combat whatever’s next.”
Pease oversees a large swath of the Maine coast, from Waldo County down to the town of Brunswick, and said that business in his territory has been booming. There was a 37 percent increase in prescription drug arrests last year with 240 arrests in Waldo, Knox, Lincoln and Sagadahoc counties and Brunswick and 180 arrests in 2008, he said. That is greater than the 25 percent increase in arrests in 2009 over 2008 for the state as a whole.
Why are there so many arrests and drug seizures in midcoast Maine? Pease has an answer.
“I think we have a very, very, very strong inter-agency cooperation,” he said. “We do not work a case where there are no other departments working side by side with us.”
Although years ago there were incidents of inter-agency jealousy, that’s not the case now, Pease said.
“It’s working awesome. It can’t get any better than it is right now,” he said. “I’m not going to say we’re winning, but it’s working.”
Their latest victory included the apprehension of John Wall, 45, of South Thomaston, a man police say supplied cocaine to drug dealers in Rockland. According to police, Wall fled the area earlier in the year after he realized he was under investigation.
Wall, who has an extensive criminal record including burglary and possession of cocaine, was found hiding at a home in Monmouth. He was charged with trafficking cocaine and violating bail conditions.
Wall’s Aug. 10 arrest — and the earlier arrests of the dealers to whom he allegedly provided drugs — also was the result of interagency cooperation.
The seven special drug enforcement agents based in Pease’s Rockland office work cooperatively with sheriff’s detectives such as Walker and with law enforcement officials from municipal police departments up and down the coast.
His agents concentrate on investigating larger-scale prescription drug dealers rather than those who illegally sell their own prescription pills.
Tools of their trade include Google Earth maps and cameras equipped with long telephoto lenses, Walker said. He used those recently in Warren when doing surveillance on a suspected prescription drug dealer.
Though police weren’t able to arrest the dealer that day, they were able to nab one of his customers, a young woman who had 24 Percocets in her possession.
“They’re doing a lot of pills,” Walker said. “You can’t ignore it. It’s just there. You’ve got to take care of it. It’s almost like coke and heroin are peripheral drugs now.”
Along with a gradual shift in the type of illicit drugs that are most commonly sold is a change in the ways that prescription pills are sold, Pease said. Larger amounts of prescription pills have been coming into Maine from out of state, Pease said, especially from Massachusetts and Florida.
“We see a lot of people that go around and buy. They’re true dealers,” he said. “They just go and have a bunch of customers and sell the pills for profit to other people.”
Pease recalled the arrest last summer of Shane Goodwin, a Richmond man who flew to Florida every month to pick up “several hundred oxy 80s” and methadone pills. When Goodwin returned to Maine to sell them, he made as much as $7,000 each month.
“It would definitely be a multi-million dollar business, all in all, over my counties, definitely,” Pease said of the business.
Illegal usage of prescription drugs generates trouble in addition to the profits, according to Pease, who used to be a Rockland Police Department detective. During his tenure with that department, 85 percent of the city’s burglaries were related to either drugs or alcohol.
“A lot of times, the victims of these crimes are relatives and family members, stealing from mom, stealing from dad,” Pease said. “They say that drug trafficking is a victimless crime, but you have victims all over the board.”