SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

July 30, 2013

Accused dealer claims drugs were for himself

BY JULIE MANGANIS
STAFF WRITER

---- — SALEM — Decades ago, 335 Lafayette St. in Salem was home to Poussard’s Pharmacy.

But recently, police say, the same building, across the street from the main campus of Salem State University, was being used by one of its tenants as a “virtual pharmacy.”

Christopher Bettencourt, 44, of 335 Lafayette St., Apt. 3, is facing more than a dozen counts of possessing with the intent to distribute a wide range of drugs, including heroin, marijuana and an assortment of prescription pills, as well as doing so near a school or park.

And while Bettencourt’s lawyer said he insists that the drugs, which also included sleep aids, methadone and a drug used to treat attention deficit disorder, were for his personal use, Salem police say they made a series of undercover purchases during a two-week period.

“Mr. Bettencourt had, virtually, a pharmacy of illegal drugs,” said Salem police Lt. Conrad Prosniewski during Bettencourt’s arraignment yesterday in Salem District Court.

Bettencourt pleaded not guilty to the charges against him, including six counts of distributing drugs near a school or park. Besides Salem State College, Bettencourt’s apartment is near Horace Mann elementary school and Forest River Park.

Judge Michael Lauranzano granted Prosniewski’s request for $50,000 cash bail.

Salem detectives had been investigating Bettencourt for two weeks and made a series of purchases from him after receiving information that he was selling the drugs from the apartment, Prosniewski told the judge.

Police say Bettencourt was arrested Friday after they arrived with a search warrant and found more than 20 bags of heroin, two bags of marijuana and dozens of pills, including oxycodone, gabapentin, Ambien, methadone, Suboxone and Focalin, some of it stashed in a Potato Stix can.

Police also found $4,600 in cash, they said.

Some of the charges could carry higher penalties because Bettencourt has prior convictions for drug distribution, Prosniewski told the judge.

Defense lawyer Sean Wynne said his client works as a cook and has been struggling with substance abuse for years.

“He tells me this was all for his personal use,” Wynne told the judge.

It was unclear whether Bettencourt would be able to come up with the bail yesterday. As his hearing concluded, he was heard whispering loudly, “my stuff, my stuff” to a man seated in the courtroom.

A pretrial conference in the case is scheduled for Aug. 22.

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