Witness disputes officer's testimony in Pittsfield drug trial
PITTSFIELD — In testimony during a city man's trial on drug charges, a defense witness Wednesday said members of the Berkshire County Drug Task Force offered her drugs and cash before arresting her and the defendant, Adalberto Santana, on narcotics charges.
Simone Farnum, 41, described a different set of events than had been presented by the law enforcement officers who testified in the trial, which began Tuesday.
Santana, 47, of Pittsfield, is accused of providing a pair of undercover officers with $50 worth of crack cocaine, and breaking off $10 worth and keeping it for himself during a sting operation on Aug. 17, 2017. The officers then signaled a nearby surveillance team, who pulled over the vehicle in which the group was riding.
Farnum's account contradicts much of what jurors were previously told about the events.
An admitted addict, Farnum said she was going through about 24 hours of withdrawal that night when she went for a walk to try to feel better. Santana, who Farnum described as her long-term partner of more than 20 years, accompanied her part of the way to make sure she was OK.
"He was concerned, because every time I used could have been my last time," Farnum said.
Once on her own, Farnum saw a friend talking to two men who turned out to be working undercover as members of the Berkshire County Drug Task Force.
The officers — Pittsfield Police Investigator Andrew Couture and Berkshire County Sheriff's Office Capt. Joseph Abderhalden — said they were looking for a bundle or 10 bags worth of heroin, and Farnum offered to held make that arrangement and said the officers offered to give her a bag or two in exchange for her assistance.
Farnum said she accepted the offer so she would have relief from her withdrawal symptoms, but said she had no money to buy drugs. The officers provided her the money to make that purchase.
Once that deal was finished, she said she handed the bundle to Couture, who was sitting in the passenger seat, and he gave her two bags.
She testified the officers then asked if they could buy $40 worth of crack cocaine and, she she called Santana, who said he was aware of a drug dealer in the area she might be able to contact.
She made contact with that dealer and was given $40 cash by the officers, but was told she had to leave her purse behind in the car while she made the exchange.
The dealer took the money and told Farnum to wait. Santana arrived on foot and joined her just as the dealer returned with the cocaine.
Farnum said she asked the officers, who she still believed were civilians, if they could give she and Santana a ride back home.
Once in the car, Farnum said, she was told there was a change in plans and that instead of being paid $10 cash, she could take a $10 portion, or a "pinch" of the cocaine instead.
After struggling to tear open the bag, she sought help from Santana, who ripped it open and handed it back to her. Moments later, she said, the car was being pulled over by other members of the task force.
Couture and Abderhalden both testified that it was Farnum who said plans had changed and told the officers they could give her some of the crack or pay $10 more, and that it was Santana who said he would just take the pinch himself and broke off that piece before the car was pulled over.
That piece of cocaine was never found. Abderhalden testified he believed Santana swallowed it.
Dale Gero, of the Massachusetts State Police, who was also involved in the operation, testified Wednesday that when asked, Santana said he was out that night "hustling," which he interpreted to mean he was dealing drugs, and that Santana admitted to swallowing the crack before the police lights came on.
Under cross-examination by Santana's attorney, Joseph Zlatnik, officers acknowledged that there was no audio or video recording of any of the interactions in the car and that the only documentation of the events of that night was the report written by Couture, who was also the only officer to testify before the grand jury that indicted Santana.
On Tuesday, Zlatnik noted Couture's testimony to that grand jury was different than his testimony on the stand. Zlatnik pointed out Couture told grand jurors in September 2017 that the $40 was given to Santana, but he testified Tuesday that he gave the cash to Farnum.
Couture said he "misspoke" to the grand jury.
Farnum pleaded guilty in July 2018 to charges of cocaine and heroin distribution and conspiracy, and was given a suspended 18-month jail sentence and one year of probation.
Testimony was scheduled to continue Thursday morning, with the jury likely to get the case and begin deliberations later that day.
Bob Dunn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @BobDunn413 on Twitter and 413-496-6249.
TALK TO US
If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.