PITTSFIELD - City Councilor Paul Capitanio has denied charges that he tipped off a local drug dealer - from whom he was allegedly buying pain pills - about an upcoming law enforcement drug bust.
Massachusetts State Police allege Capitanio, who represents the city's Ward 3, was an oxycodone addict who was buying nearly $300 in pills a day from the dealer.
During an "intensive" Berkshire County Drug Task Force wiretap investigation into area drug trafficking, investigators recorded the dealer telling 36-year-old Joshua Stegemann, the alleged kingpin of the drug organization, that a "councilman friend" had tipped him off about upcoming drug raids, according to a police report. After the dealer's arrest, he allegedly told authorities that he was referring to Capitanio during those conversations. The dealer is not named in the report.
Stegemann then called dealers in Pittsfield, as well as his supplier in the Bronx, N.Y., warning them of a possible raid, said police.
On April 30, just days after those conversations, there was a massive raid at Stegemann's home in Stephentown, N.Y., involving the federal Drug Enforcement Agency, the Berkshire County Drug Task Force, and New York and Massachusetts state police. Authorities say they turned up more than 700 grams of cocaine, a pound of heroin, thousands of illegal prescription pills, two pistols and a shotgun and close to $300,000 in cash found buried in coolers on the property.
Stegemann, who's originally from Pittsfield, allegedly told DEA agents that he had been worried about a possible bust and was awake when police arrived. Police said Stegemann nearly escaped into a nearby field before being taken into custody.
On Tuesday in Central Berkshire District Court, Assistant Berkshire District Attorney Richard M. Locke said Capitanio had impeded their investigation with the intent of keeping his supply of illegal pills coming.
Police say Capitanio, the chairman of City Council's public health and safety subcommittee, is "in a position to know certain information about Task Force Operations and posit how that information may involve the illicit organization he was directly involved with." Capitanio was "actively trying to learn more about the police plans without tipping of his source as to what he was up to," according to the police report.
There were 380 phone calls between the drug dealer and Capitanio from March 4 to April 30, police said.
The councilor pleaded not guilty Tuesday to charges of conspiracy to possess oxycodone and accessory after the fact. The conspiracy charge specifically relates to Capitanio allegedly conspiring with the unnamed drug dealer to purchase oxycodone. The second charge is tied to Capitanio allegedly tipping off the dealer "with the intent that the felon would avoid or escape detention, arrest, trial or punishment."
Judge Fredric D. Rutberg said Capitanio could remain free on $500 bail, the same amount he had previously posted after his arrest by the Massachusetts State Police on Friday.
"The sole allegation against my client is based on the word of a drug dealer a rat who got his hand caught in the cookie jar and who is still out in the street," said attorney Timothy J. Shugrue, who represents Capitanio. "It's an exceedingly weak case."
The attorney said his client adamantly denies the allegations, including those of his being an oxycodone addict. He said Capitanio had been willing to take a drug test while at the court to prove it. He did confirm that Capitanio previously suffered from a back injury and had been prescribed pain killers.
Shugrue said Capitanio's arrest at his business on Friday and the events leading up to Tuesday's arraignment were "suspicious."
In similar cases, someone facing these charges would be summonsed into court instead of being arrested and would be released on personal recognizance, he said. Instead, Capitanio was hauled into the state police barracks in Cheshire on Friday afternoon, wasn't arraigned that day and had to post $500 bail.
According to the attorney, the probable cause report wasn't available for him to look at Friday and the official complaint wasn't signed by the state police until Tuesday morning at 9:45.
A hearing in the case was scheduled for Oct. 3, but the case may be headed to Superior Court.
Berkshire District Attorney David F. Capeless said he was sure it a was a day filled with "shock" for those constituents in Ward 3. He said he shared those sentiments, but believed that the people of Berkshire County should be "reaffirmed in their trust" of county law enforcement.
"No one is above the law regardless of name or title," he said.
Capitanio, who has represented Ward 3 since 2009, owns the East Side Cafe on Newell Street.
Earlier this summer, Capitanio announced he would not be seeking a re-election bid this fall. During his tenure on the council, Capitanio was an outspoken critic of locating a methadone clinic in Pittsfield and publicly asked landlords not to rent to such a company.
Capitanio walked into district court accompanied by his wife, Beth.
The Capitanios also have discussed publicly the hardship of losing a son to complications from drug abuse.
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