PITTSFIELD -- Colleagues and acquaintances expressed shock and sadness Tuesday after Ward 3 City Councilor Paul Capitanio was arraigned on charges he tipped off a drug dealer from whom he purchased pain pills about an imminent drug raid.
"I'm heartsick about the whole thing," Council President Kevin Sherman said. "My thoughts and prayers are with all those involved. Right now, I'm kind of speechless."
Capitanio, 57, a councilor since 2009, whose family owns the East Side Cafe on Newell Street, had announced in July that he would not seek re-election, citing a desire to focus on his business and family. On Tuesday in District Court, he denied charges of conspiracy to possess oxycodone and accessory after the fact.
Sherman said he could not comment on the investigation and court case. However, he said Capitanio has not indicated he might resign from the council. If the councilor leaves, Sherman said, there would be no need to fill the seat because the November election is close.
Five candidates are on the ballot seeking the Ward 3 position in a Sept. 24 preliminary election, which will narrow the field to two candidates for the Nov. 5 city ballot.
Capitanio could not be reached Monday concerning any implications involving the council or his restaurant, which was closed. A sign on the door said the business would be closed through Wednesday.
"This is a very unfortunate and a sad situation," Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi said.
He declined to comment on the investigation, but said that, if the allegations are true, illegal drug use "is a very sad aspect of daily life that can hit close to home."
Police allege Capitanio was an oxycodone addict who was buying nearly $300 a day of the drug from a local dealer. According to police reports, during a Berkshire County Drug Task Force wiretap investigation this spring into area drug trafficking, investigators recorded the dealer telling the alleged leader of the drug organization that a "councilman friend" had tipped him off about upcoming drug raids.
Capitanio's attorney, Timothy J. Shugrue, said his client denies the allegations, including that he is an oxycodone addict.
Shugrue did confirm that Capitanio previously suffered from a back injury and had been prescribed painkillers.
Judge Fredric D. Rutberg ordered that Capitanio remain free on $500 bail, the amount he had posted after his arrest by the state police on Friday.
"The way I feel right now, he is innocent until proven guilty," Ward 1 Councilor Christine Yon said Monday.
The councilor, who has known the Capitanio family for more than 30 years, said "he has really been a wonderful man, helping people in the community. I don't think you can discredit what good a person has done."
She added, "I have seen how many people this man has helped in this community. It is just a very sad situation. Until this all gets vetted, I just don't know."
Councilor at large Melissa Mazzeo said, "I'm stunned; I really am."
She said she's known the family for years and hopes Capitanio will receive "his day in court." She added, "This is hard on his family, hard for Pittsfield, and for the City Council."
A Ward 3 resident, Mazzeo said the East Side Cafe has long been "packed every week" and is a favorite of many local officials.
RELATED STORY | Police say Councilor Capitanio tipped off dealer to drug bust
Asked about the allegations that a tip about a police raid was leaked, Bianchi and councilors interviewed said there are no briefings on specific police strategies that are given to councilors -- including the council's public health and safety subcommittee, which Capitanio heads.
Yon, who serves on that panel, said the only police matter she could remember concerned the department's use of Tasers. More typical, she said, are health issues like mosquito-borne illness or PCB contamination.
Police Chief Michael Wynn said Pittsfield Police aren't "currently investigating anything in connection with this case." He said that since another agency is handling the case, he could not comment on it.
Capitanio won a special election in March 2009 to replace Linda Tyer, who left the council to become city clerk. He won re-election in 2011 and had taken out nomination papers in May before announcing in July he would not seek re-election.
Capitanio and his wife, Beth, have spoken publicly about the dangers of drug addiction and about the loss of a son, Paul Capitanio Jr., in 2003 from complications of drug use.
In 2012, the Capitanios were staunch opponents of proposed location of a methadone clinic at 15-17 Stoddard Ave. The councilor said at the time, "I would fight it tooth and nail to keep it out of my [neighborhood]."
Beth Capitanio said in a letter to The Eagle that her late son had been in a methadone clinic in Holyoke and had a very difficult time detoxing from its use, arguing that methadone "is not a cure but a long-term replacement [for heroin or similar drugs]."
The methadone clinic was located at another site in Pittsfield, on Summer Street.
To reach Jim Therrien:
or (413) 496-6247
On Twitter: @BE_therrien