By Shawn Regan
---- — HAVERHILL — A New Hampshire man is accused of calling police and falsely identifying another man as the person who robbed a bank last week in Haverhill.
Investigators said Anthony Drago, 47, 48 Theresa Ave., Salem, gave the bad information on the Police Department’s tip line because he was part of a “love triangle.’’ He is angry that a woman he had a relationship with is now living with her former boyfriend — the man Drago identified as the robber, police said.
Detectives said they were able to charge Drago after tracing the false tip to his cell phone.
Drago was arraigned in Haverhill District Court yesterday on a charge of obstructing a police investigation. Police said he called the Haverhill Police Department’s tip line to falsely identify Joseph Jennings Jr., 43, of Plaistow as the perpetrator of last Friday’s Sovereign Bank robbery.
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.
Police said they eventually determined the information was not true, however. They said they easily traced the call back to Drago because he used his cell phone to make it.
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 a few months ago. The reports said both men have filed various complaints against each other with Salem 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 setup by Drago to harass Joe Jennings,” Rogers wrote in his report.
Last Friday afternoon’s 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 that when he called Drago’s cell phone, Drago answered and initially denied calling the Police Department tip line. Drago eventually admitted to making the call, but said he thought the tip line was anonymous, police said. Drago told police he hoped Jennings doesn’t find out about the phone call.
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 arrested Drago yesterday on a fugitive warrant and had him transported from New Hampshire to Haverhill District Court.
At yesterday’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 Haverhill police take the tip line very seriously and are offended by what happened.
“He used the Haverhill Police Department to harass a person who he has a beef with,” Rogers told the judge.
DePaulo pushed for $10,000 cash bail, but Abany set it at $2,000 and scheduled a Dec. 21 date to continue the case.
Drago covered his face with his hands and shook his head during most of the arraignment.
Drago’s court-appointed lawyer, David Stuehr, said his client has a minor criminal record, including three cases that were dismissed and a run-in with the Massachusetts Fisheries and Wildlife Department in 1996. Stuehr said Drago has lived in the area his entire life and that he is a sheet metal worker at Raytheon in Andover.
Drago faces up to two and a half years in jail if convicted in district court, but prosecutors said the case could be moved to superior court, where he would face a maximum penalty of five years in state prison.