PITTSFIELD -- A local defense attorney alleges that members of the Berkshire County Drug Task Force illegally seized money that was supposed to be used to bail out her client. Police and prosecutors insist that the money stems from drug sales and was taken as evidence in an on going investigation into a prescription pill distribution ring that stretches from New York City to the Berkshires.
On Friday in Berkshire Superior Court, Judge C. Jeffrey Kinder lowered bail for 59-year-old Gerald A. Ramos and said he would "take under advisement" a motion to return the $10,000 in cash that Ramos’ nephew brought to the Pittsfield Police Department on May 8 to bail Ramos out of jail.
During two days of hearings on Thursday and Friday, defense attorney Jill Sheldon, representing Ramos, argued before Kinder that the bail money was illegally seized by police.
"The police have access to a judge 24 hours a day," Sheldon said. "They could have gotten a judge to issue a warrant to seize the funds. They had ample opportunity to do this the right way."
Instead, said Sheldon, the police bypassed the court system and took the cash illegally.
Assistant Berkshire District Attorney Richard M. Locke argued that the money was contraband stemming from drug dealing and was taken legally. Additionally, he said, because it was "a fast-moving case" the police didn’t have time to get a warrant to seize the cash.
The judge questioned whether, based on Locke’s argument, anyone accused of a drug dealing-related crime could have their bail money considered contraband and thus able to be seized by police.
Locke answered that it would have to be considered on a "case by case basis."
Ramos, who has addresses in the Bronx, N.Y., and Pittsfield, was arraigned in Superior Court on Thursday on single counts of trafficking in oxycodone and conspiracy to violate drug laws. He pleaded not guilty.
Ramos was arrested on May 8 by members of the Berkshire County Drug Task Force as part of an on going investigation into the trafficking of prescription painkillers in the county.
He was stopped on his way into Pittsfield and was allegedly found to have more than 400 oxycodone pills hidden in his vehicle.
The night Ramos was arrested, his nephew, Tony Ramos -- whom Sheldon said is not connected with the case -- came to the police station to post his uncle’s bail. The money was taken from Tony Ramos, but his uncle was not released from custody.
The amount of bail to hold the elder Ramos had been set by an assistant clerk magistrate who was never told that the money would be seized and was never alerted that someone had come to bail Ramos out, which is standard procedure, state Trooper and task force member William Scott testified.
Scott told the court the task force had evidence that the money put up for Gerald Ramos’ bail was directly linked to his drug dealing activities, and that Ramos’ son, Gerald A. Vailes, was also involved in the conspiracy, and had brought the money from his father’s residence in the Bronx.
Vailes was arrested that night on a warrant for failing to appear in court on an unrelated matter.
Assistant Berkshire District Attorney Richard M. Locke said the Bronx home was a "stash house" where the elder Ramos, whom he called the "kingpin" of the alleged trafficking operation, kept his drugs and a large amount of cash.
Locke told the court that the investigation was on-going and more arrests would be made in the case.
Two other men, Nasheen Davis, 40, of Pittsfield, and Nathaniel Robinson, 43, of Queens, N.Y., have also been arrested in connection with this case.
Kinder lowered bail on Gerald Ramos that had been originally set in District Court on May 9 at $50,000 cash bail or $500,000 surety bond to $20,000 cash or $200,000 bond. The judge did not specify when he would make a decision on whether the $10,000 should be returned.
The defendant remains at the Berkshire County Jail & House of Correction.
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