BY JULIE MANGANIS
---- — BEVERLY — A Lowell man who was carrying nearly half a pound of heroin, and an EBT card that belonged to a Beverly drug user, was sentenced to eight years in prison yesterday after pleading guilty to a drug trafficking charge.
Campeo Armando Diaz-Carola, 45, was originally facing a 15-year minimum mandatory term, but under a recent change in the drug laws and a charge reduction by prosecutors, received the eight-year term in a plea agreement accepted by Salem Superior Court Judge David Lowy.
Diaz-Carola will then face deportation proceedings, his attorney, William Keefe, told the judge.
On the afternoon of April 20, 2012, Beverly Patrolman Thomas Nolan was in the North Beverly Plaza on Route 1A when he saw a Chrysler Pacifica pass with two men inside, who appeared to look “intently” at the officer, prosecutor Phil Mallard told the judge.
Nolan ran the license plate and recognized the name of the registered owner as a Lynn woman who had also been the registered owner of a vehicle used in a 2010 drug case he investigated, Mallard said.
He followed the minivan out the back of the shopping plaza to the nearby Beverly Commons apartment complex on Tozier Road, where he saw the two men get out.
As Nolan approached, he noticed that the driver, later identified as Diaz-Carola, appeared to be holding a knife in his pocket.
When the officer ordered the suspects to put their hands on their heads, Diaz-Carola was initially uncooperative. It took a threat of pepper spray to get him to comply, Mallard said.
But then, as Nolan was calling for backup, Diaz-Carola began running, dropping items as he ran, including his sunglasses, an iPhone, the keys to the Pacifica and a tin-foil wrapped package.
Police eventually tackled him and put him in custody, Mallard said.
Inside the tin foil were several layers of plastic wrap coated with dish soap, plastic bags, and finally, numerous small bags of heroin totaling about 205 grams (a little more than 7 ounces).
A drug-sniffing dog later searched the Pacifica after police noticed a piston inside the passenger compartment that didn’t seem to have any function and then found that it controlled a secret compartment tucked behind the air conditioner.
That compartment, like the rest of the vehicle, was stuffed with air fresheners and a towel soaked in cologne or perfume, a trick drug dealers use to throw off the drug dogs, police say. Investigators believe that’s where the drugs were stored when not being sold.
During his booking, police found that Diaz-Carola was carrying an EBT card in the name of a Beverly man who, according to officers, was a known drug user.
Police say drug dealers often take the cards either to use them to obtain cash for payment of drug debts or to hold them as collateral.
Diaz-Carola, who had lost a bid to suppress evidence in the case, was about to stand trial yesterday on a charge of trafficking over 200 grams when he agreed to the plea deal being offered by prosecutors, who reduced the amount to trafficking over 100 grams.
Lowy granted him credit for the year and a half he’s been held in custody awaiting trial in the case.
Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @SNJulieManganis.