Revere Police have announced that they worked a three-month investigation and took down some 26 persons accused of dealing drugs – mostly heroin – including one man who is still being sought and is believed to knowingly have sold a lethal bag of Fentanyl-laced heroin to a user who overdosed and died in February.
Dubbed Operation High Tide and directed by Detective Rob Impemba and Lt. John Goodwin – with extensive help from undercover State Troopers and Trooper Tom Cannon – the take-down was deemed a success late last week after 90 percent of the targets were arrested and charged.
The bust was a change of pace for the Drug Unit and Chief Joe Cafarelli’s overall Department, which for years has focused only on the bigger fish, while leaving the smaller dealers and users alone. That, however, has historically caused complaints and quality of life issues for residents, and police said they hear those complaints loud and clear and are ready to attack them as well.
“Maybe getting them in the system and getting them some help could stem some of the drug problem,” said Chief Cafarelli. “This narcotic use is everywhere and hits every home. No family is immune. We take a pro-active approach to drug interdiction and this is an innovative approach by our detectives to take a different tack. I think it’s going to pay dividends for the City in the future.”
Goodwin said the bust was about quality of life for residents.
“The whole point of this operation is quality of life,” said Goodwin. “This started because of some local elected officials and the business community – especially on Shirley Avenue – complaining to us. We partnered up with the State Police and for three months worked this investigation. We could have let this go on and had more than 50 people under arrest, but we had to cut it off.”
The major bust was also in response to what has quickly become a well-publicized epidemic – that being the use of heroin. In particular, large quantities of heroin in eastern Massachusetts have turned up to be laced with the powerful, hospital-grade narcotic Fentanyl. That has caused numerous overdoses and deaths – including at least one death in Revere on February 28.
Police believe that one of the targets of their investigation sold a bag of laced heroin to Rocco Cunsolo – who overdosed and died at 50 Walnut Ave. on Feb. 28. Det. Impemba said when that happened, they kicked the investigation into high gear so as to prevent any more deaths.
“We developed information because one of the targets of the investigation told an undercover Trooper during a sale of heroin that it was the same stuff that had been sold to Cunsolo,” said Impemba. “Another target actually told the undercover Trooper during a controlled buy to be careful with the bag because it had Fentanyl in it. That’s why we really went quicker on this than we would have liked. There were two Fentanyl incidents during the investigation and we decided to take this case down early as a direct result of that.
“We are still pursuing the individual we believe sold Cunsolo that bag of heroin,” Impemba continued.
The investigation focused on three areas of the city, most especially on Shirley Avenue. The other two areas were in Beachmont and on Broadway.
On Shirley Avenue, police said most of those arrested were part of a loosely knit insular community of drug users and drug dealers. Most, they said, will buy several bags of heroin – selling most of what they buy and keeping a couple to support their own habit. Those taken down on Shirley Avenue are frequently in the area, and according to police, rarely venture away from ‘The Ave.’
One of the main areas where heroin users were congregating in the Shirley Avenue area was at 50 Walnut Ave., the elderly public housing apartment tower. Police said they would hide in the stairwells or find refuge in an elderly person’s apartment.
Cunsolo died while using drugs in the elderly housing complex.
Revere Housing Authority (RHA) Executive Director Linda Shaw said she fully cooperated with the police. As a result of the investigation, they have made some changes, she said.
“The police had my full support in doing the ‘sweep’ and we have tried to instruct residents not to let strangers into the building,” she said. “Also, we now have another licensed social service worker on site. This should also help to stabilize the building once again.”
Impemba said Revere Police were particularly glad to have taken down Reinaldo Vega, 47 – a man they believe allegedly has been supplying the area with heroin. He is a close associate, they said, of another larger dealer who they have frequently arrested in the Shirley Avenue area.
“Vega was responsible for supplying most of the heroin in the Shirley Avenue area,” said Impemba. “He was known as ‘Oscar’ on the street and he had several fake IDs.”
Another target they were glad to get was Susan Mims, 40, who has been a long-time fixture on The Ave. She has been charged in other heroin busts previously, as well as smaller crimes.
“This stuff is all related to a lot of other crimes,” said Goodwin. “You have shoplifting crimes that go with this and even armed robberies and other kinds of car breaks. It’s just a huge heroin ring and it all connects to individuals and other criminal acts.”
Meanwhile, other targets of the investigation were in Beachmont, where a 15-year-old and 16-year-old (both unnamed due to being juveniles) were arrested for distributing cocaine.
A related bust earlier in the month took down a larger heroin dealer and “shooting gallery” on Washburn Avenue adjacent to the Beachmont Train Station.
The remaining targets were in the Broadway area, selling to undercover Troopers in the business district.
In Beachmont and Broadway, Police said it’s less about an insular network and more about opportunity. Due to the large parking lots in the area and the nexus of transportation networks (bus, car, train) in those areas, many are coming into the city to buy and sell drugs in those locations.
All that said, Revere Police said the large operation would likely not mean a permanent change to the situation, as many were let out on bail shortly after being arraigned. However, it sends a message to everyone that the police are taking such things seriously.
“It will make for a quiet summer because all these people will be jammed up,” said Goodwin. “These are the type of cases where we have to roll though town and do every year or so.”
Added Impemba, “Unfortunately, due to the criminal justice system, some of these people will be bailed and be out on the street again. Some, though, were held on bail.”
Police also said they understand the full solution to the problem is not just arresting more and more people.
“We know we can’t arrest our way out of the problem,” Goodwin said. “It’s a multi-faceted problem. It’s treatment, prevention and enforcement. There has to be some suppression like this, but we’re also constantly taking people to treatment facilities and helping them find a bed in a rehab.”
How Does it Get to a Needle in the Arm?
Last week, Gov. Deval Patrick declared that opioid addiction, both in pill form and heroin, to be a statewide health emergency epidemic.
In his announcement last Thursday, the governor acknowledged that the route quite often to heroin addiction starts with prescription pills – either gained legitimately or on the street.
In the wake of this week’s heroin bust, Revere Police concurred – saying in large part the ongoing heroin epidemic in Revere has been introduced via pills.
“They almost always start with the pills,” said Lt. John Goodwin. “However, it’s $30 a pill on the street. That doesn’t last long. Then they go to heroin and they start sniffing it. Eventually they meet up with a seasoned heroin user who shows them how to boot up and inject it in their arm – which gets them higher on less of the drug. It also gets them addicted almost immediately.”
Impemba said the road to heroin typically will start in the late 20s after a young person began using pills as a teen or in their early 20s.
“Heroin is basically what you end up on when you can’t afford any other drug,” he said. “You go to the cheapest thing and heroin is $40 a bag…All of those on heroin will tell you as soon as you start to inject it, it’s all over. It’s like falling in love.”
Both Revere Police officers said a big problem facing the area is a lack of long-term “beds” at rehab centers. Also, a law several years ago that removed hypodermic syringes from the list of drug paraphernalia offenses also has hampered law enforcement efforts.
“We used to be able to arrest them for having the syringe until that law passed,” said Impemba. “Before, the only thing that could get them out of that was a card from the Boston Needle Exchange.”
Currently, anyone over age 18 can buy syringes at any pharmacy; no questions asked.