by Neil H. Dempsey
---- — SALEM — Police say an officer happened upon a marijuana-dealing operation yesterday when he knocked on the door of a Gardner Street residence to get cars on the street moved for snow removal and was told to “come on in.”
Sgt. Harry Rocheville was helping a city inspector get sidewalks shoveled and streets plowed early in the afternoon when he noticed a number of cars parked in front of 26 Gardner St., Lt. Mary Butler said.
Since police had already gone down the street with their lights and sirens on, warning residents through the public announcement system that they needed to move their cars, Rocheville went into the common hallway of the building and knocked on a door.
“They said, ‘It’s unlocked, come on in,’” Butler said.
When Rocheville entered the residence, he saw six people in the living room, including one who was “standing with a bag of marijuana that they had just taken off a digital scale,” Butler said. Rocheville also said he saw cash and plastic baggies near the scale.
Police secured the apartment, meaning nobody could come or go, while they sought a search warrant. When police executed that warrant shortly thereafter, they seized digital scales, several hundred dollars in cash, baggies and marijuana, Rocheville said. He declined to say how much marijuana was found, saying only that it was probably more than an ounce.
Police arrested all six people they found inside, including Sarra Bergeron, 22, of 26 Gardner St. on a charge of conspiracy to violate the controlled substance laws; Andrew Cetola, 22, of 26 Gardner St. on a charge of possession of a Class D substance with intent to distribute; Chad Goodwin, 23, of 26 Gardner St. on a charge of possession of a Class D substance with intent to distribute; Kasey Higgins, 20, of 32 Stewart St., Billerica, on a charge of conspiracy to violate the controlled substance laws; Christopher Mastropietro, 21, of 44 Gage Ave., Revere, on a charge of conspiracy to violate the controlled substance laws; and Stephen Taylor, 20, of 91 Bellfloer Road, Billerica, on a charge of possession of a Class D substance with intent to distribute.
Tom Torello, a Salem State University representative, confirmed last night that all of the people arrested were students but declined to say what repercussions they might face.
“We never talk about individual actions like that,” he said.
Rocheville said it was his contention that the people charged with conspiracy to violate the controlled substance laws were at the location to buy marijuana and that the people charged with possession of a Class D substance with intent to distribute were there to sell it.
Although the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana has been decriminalized in Massachusetts, it’s still illegal to buy or sell. Butler said the amount of marijuana seized is basically irrelevant to the charge of possession of a Class D substance with intent to distribute, since the charge depends more on accompanying materials, like baggies and scales. There is no minimum amount of marijuana that an individual must possess in order to be charged with intending to distribute it.
Rocheville indicated that the people inside the residence had no idea he was a police officer when he went to knock on their door.
“They probably thought I was another customer,” he said.