SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

October 18, 2013

Paperwork lag means Salem man avoids drug charges, deportation

BY JULIE MANGANIS
STAFF WRITER

---- — SALEM — A man who police say managed to flush at least a baseball-sized bag of heroin down the toilet before they were able to forcibly enter the apartment he was in with a search warrant last January had some more luck yesterday.

Jonathan E. Soto-Tejada (one of four names he was apparently using at the time of his arrest) learned that he wouldn’t have to face drug charges, or deportation, due to a delay in obtaining the “lab notes” for the testing done on the plastic bags police found next to the toilet.

Instead, he pleaded guilty to a charge of providing a false name and was fined $1,000, a disposition that will allow him to avoid being deported, his attorney, Murat Erkan, said during a hearing yesterday in Salem District Court.

Soto-Tejada, 31, of 21 Salem St. was arrested following an investigation by Salem police detectives, who used undercover officers to make a series of heroin purchases from Soto-Tejada, then obtained a search warrant for a Palmer Street apartment he was believed to be using.

Prosecutor Patrick Collins said there was initially no response to their knocks, so police had to force the door open.

The officers found Soto-Tejada, slightly wet, standing over a toilet, next to a number of plastic bags that were stained with brown residue, police said.

Based on the brown residue, police charged him with possession of heroin with intent to distribute.

But prosecutors were later forced to drop that charge because of the delay in receiving evidence from the lab where the drug bags were being tested.

They were left with false identity charges, stemming from the fact that Soto-Tejada originally told them his name was “Jose Oliviera,” and that he had licenses with his photo and the names of “Edward Lopez Morales” and “Edwin Guzman Nieves” that were found on him during booking.

Collins, the prosecutor, urged Judge Robert Brennan to impose a guilty finding and a sentence of 10 months in jail, time already served by Soto-Tejada while awaiting trial.

Erkan, meanwhile, urged leniency, saying his client has no prior record and that a conviction and jail sentence would trigger deportation proceedings.

Soto-Tejada is “an undocumented alien” who “made some bad choices,” said Erkan.

“He wants to fight for his ability to be a dad for his kids,” said the lawyer, pointing to two young daughters in the courtroom sitting with their mother, Soto-Tejada’s girlfriend of 10 years.

Brennan suggested that it was reasonable based on the evidence to conclude that Soto-Tejada was dealing heroin. “You have bags with a brown substance on them, a person flushing the toilet and people calling up looking for heroin,” said the judge.

And he suggested that since the crimes were motivated by a desire for money, the punishment ought to be in line with that motive. That’s when he proposed the $1,000 fine.

Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, via email at jmanganis@salemnews.com or on Twitter @SNJulieManganis.