By Shawn Regan
---- — HAVERHILL — A New Hampshire man who tried to frame his love rival for a Haverhill bank robbery has pleaded guilty to obstructing a police investigation in exchange for a sentence that includes no jail time and unsupervised probation for one year.
Anthony Drago, 47, 48 Theresa Ave., Salem, N.H. pleaded guilty Monday in Haverhill District Court and was sentenced to six months in the House of Correction, said a spokeswoman for the Essex County District Attorney’s Office.
Drago’s sentence was suspended for one year, however, which means he won’t serve any actual jail time so long as he doesn’t break any more laws during his year-long unsupervised probationary period. The spokeswoman said Assistant District Attorney John DePaulo did not recommend jail time in the case.
At Drago’s December arraignment, prosecutors said he faced up to two and a half years in jail if convicted of the charge in district court and up to five years in state prison if convicted in superior court.
Haverhill police said Drago gave them bad information on the department’s tip line because he was angry that a woman he had a relationship with was living with her former boyfriend — the man Drago identified as the robber.
Police said Drago called the Haverhill Police Department’s tip line to falsely identify Joseph Jennings Jr., 43, of Plaistow, N.H. as the perpetrator of a Sovereign Bank robbery in December. Detectives said they were able to charge Drago after tracing the false tip to his cell phone.
Police said Drago left them a voice message stating the bank was robbed by Jennings. The tip said officers would find a black ski mask and knife used in the robbery at the Plaistow property where Jennings and his girlfriend live, police said. The tip said the items were in a garage on the property. Police said they eventually determined the information was not true, however.
Police reports said Drago had a short romantic relationship with Jennings’ girlfriend while Jennings was incarcerated at Middleton jail, but that Jennings moved back in with the woman after he was released. The reports said both men have filed various complaints against each other with Salem, N.H. police in recent months — Jennings claiming Drago stole his hunting equipment and Drago claiming Jennings threatened him with violence.
Haverhill Detective Carl Rogers said he and another officer went to see Jennings after police received the phone tip about the bank robber. Rogers said they determined Jennings had nothing to do with the robbery after searching the garage and then reviewing Jennings’ automobile and body for ink marks from the stolen money bags.
According to police reports, Jennings’ girlfriend told officers she was romantically involved with Drago for a short time while Jennings was in jail, and that Drago begged her not to renew her relationship with Jennings. Police said the girlfriend told them Drago sent her more than 100 text messages stating how much he loves her and that he is better for her than Jennings. Police said Jennings and the woman tried to obtain restraining orders against Drago in New Hampshire courts, but were denied.
“It appears the whole thing was a set-up by Drago to harass Joe Jennings,” Rogers wrote in his report.
The December bank robbery happened when a man wearing a mask used a knife to threaten a teller and got away with an undisclosed amount of cash from the bank, located just outside Monument Square. Police searched the area but did not find the man. No one has been charged.
Rogers said Drago refused his request to voluntarily come to the Haverhill police station to speak to officers about the matter. As a result, police had to arrest Drago on a fugitive warrant and trasnsport him from New Hampshire to Haverhill for his arraignment.
At Drago’s arraignment, Assistant District Attorney John DePaulo told Judge Stephen Abany that police wasted several days investigating the phony information given in the phone tip.
“Officers from Haverhill and Salem spent four days investigating the wrong man over a love triangle,” DePaulo said.
Rogers said told the judge that police take the tip line very seriously and were offended by what happened.
“He used the Haverhill Police Department to harass a person who he has a beef with,” Rogers told the judge.