EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

September 23, 2013

Drug dealer or troubled family man?

Neighbors' complaints lead to arrest, debate in court

By Mike LaBella
mlabella@eagletribune.com

---- — HAVERHILL — Police said he’s a high-level drug dealer.

His lawyer called him a family man with a wife and two children, and said he sold drugs only to support his own heroin habit.

A judge listened to the evidence and ordered Rafael Torres, 57, held on $10,000 cash bail.

Torres, of 53 Wilson St., was arrested after numerous complaints to police about possible drug dealing in the neighborhood where he lives. Police charged him with distribution of heroin and conspiracy to violate the drug laws.

“This is a serious (drug) distribution case,” Assistant District Attorney John DePaulo said during Torres’ arraignment last week in Haverhill District Court.

Wilson Street is between Washington and River streets, just west of downtown.

DePaulo told the court that Torres has served time in the past for drug offenses.

Assistant District Attorney Thomas Sholds said detectives believe Torres is a high-level street dealer in the city and asked that he be held on $10,000 cash bail, which the judge granted.

According to a police report, after police seized Torres’ cell phone it rang more than 30 times within a two-hour period. Police said it was an indication of just how busy Torres was in his illegal activity.

Reading from a police report, Sholds said Torres told arresting officers that he wasn’t a dealer and that “I just do this to support my habit. I am a heroin addict.”

According to a police report on file in Haverhill District Court, the Haverhill Police Narcotics Unit had received several neighborhood complaints of a blonde woman with a tattoo on her neck meeting a man in an old red pickup truck at the intersection of Chick Avenue and Davis Street. They said the woman would get into the truck and, after driving around the block, she would get out.

Neighbors left messages on the police tip line complaining about cars coming and going at all hours of the day and night in front of Torres’ home. Neighbors said a man, who police later identified as Torres, would often leave his house and walk up to a waiting car. Other times he would get into the red pickup truck and leave with the waiting vehicle, then would return a short time later, according to a police report.

Torres was arrested Tuesday after detectives set up a drug buy with a witness who was provided with marked currency, police said.

According to a police report, after arresting Torres, detectives told him they had been watching him for a long time and that neighbors had been complaining about his drug dealing.

During the investigation, police charged both Krystal Duke, 25, of 22 Broad St. and Catherine Niebrzydowski, 24, of 459 Washington St. with possession of a class A substance and conspiracy to violate drug laws. When they were arrested, both Duke and Niebrzydowski told officers they bought heroin from Torres and that he’s provided them with heroin in the past, police said.

Sholds said Torres has used several aliases. According to the police report, Torres was convicted: In October 2001 for possession of a Class A substance (heroin); in March 2008 for possession of a Class A substance; and in May 1984 for the sale of a Class A substance, for which he was found guilty and sentenced to probation.

“He’s been charged as a fugitive from justice on at least two occasions, and has been serving committed time for drugs since 1975,” Sholds said. “This is someone who police believe is a major street level dealer.”

Defense lawyer Joseph Gannon asked for a lesser bail amount than the $10,000, saying Torres always shows up for court hearings and that he has no reason to flee. Gannon said Torres lives on Wilson Street with his wife and two children, that he is unemployed and is a diabetic who has a drug problem.

The judge told Torres he has a right to a bail review in Essex Superior Court.