BY JULIE MANGANIS
---- — SALEM — A Salem robbery investigation took a “Law and Order”-style turn when, police say, while seeking to question witnesses to a robbery, they discovered a prostitution business being run by the suspect’s girlfriend.
Now, both Aaron Pelletier, 44, and his now-presumably former girlfriend Jennifer Owens, 41, both of 3 Cross Street Court, Salem, are in trouble. He’s charged with unarmed robbery, and she is charged with engaging in sexual conduct for a fee.
The two appeared to glare at each other in the courtroom at Salem District Court yesterday, where a judge was puzzled by their description as co-defendants on such disparate charges — until a police prosecutor explained the connection.
Late on the evening of June 10, a man walked into the Coffee Time Bake Shop on Bridge Street and ordered a cup of coffee, five creams and five sugars, police said. When the cashier opened the register, he demanded that she hand over $100.
Instead, the frightened employee ran, leaving the suspect to grab about $70 in cash from the open drawer, Salem Police Lt. Conrad Prosniewski told a judge.
The man then ran. The owner of the coffee shop ran out after him but was unable to catch him. The owner had noticed the man speaking briefly with a woman who was near Sam’s Market, so he approached her. She denied knowing who the robber was but seemed a bit “defensive,” the owner later told police.
Sgt. Kristian Hanson began looking at surveillance videos from the store and from Sam’s Market, and police canvassed the area.
Several residents complained about a couple that had recently moved into the neighborhood, Salem Police Capt. Tom Griffin said.
The investigators obtained a phone number and discovered that it belonged to Owens. They also discovered that Owens was advertising “services” on the website Backpage, using the name “Mesha.”
The police turned to a time-honored investigatory tactic: They had a detective, Tom Brennan, call to arrange a “date.”
On Monday, Brennan showed up at the apartment, wearing a wire so that fellow officers would know when to move in and make the arrest. The two agreed on a price of $100, and as the woman started to pull off her clothes, officers raced toward the apartment.
They spotted Pelletier nearby. He fit the description of the suspect on the coffee shop’s surveillance video.
At the station, the woman eventually told officers that she had tried to talk Pelletier out of robbing the coffee shop and was “shocked” when she discovered that he did it anyway, Prosniewski said in court.
Police later found evidence at the apartment linking Pelletier to the robbery, Griffin said.
After his arrest, Pelletier told officers he was “dope sick,” experiencing symptoms of drug withdrawal at the time, Prosniewski told Judge Michael Lauranzano.
Because both have ties to Maine, Lauranzano set bail at $1,500 for Pelletier and $500 for Owens.
Lawyers for the pair had hoped to persuade the judge to release them on their own recognizance.
Ed Sargent, Owens’ lawyer, said his client has several children, including twins who are in the custody of her mother and a teenage daughter who is in foster care in New Hampshire.
Lawyer Heidi Shore argued that Pelletier had been out of work lately and struggling with drug addiction. She asked the judge to send him to a treatment program.
Instead, he’s expected to remain in custody at Middleton Jail.
Both are due back in court on July 17.
Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, via email at email@example.com or on Twitter @SNJulieManganis.