I-Team: Heroin dealers avoiding jail, getting 2nd chances

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) - Thousands of bags of heroin are taken off the streets each week in western Massachusetts and drug dealers are arrested.   The 22News I-Team reveals many of those dealers are back on the street within days.

The I-Team looked into the people pushing this poison and discovered a trend where heroin dealers don’t go to jail very long if they get locked up at all.

“80 to 90 percent are back on the street within 10 days,” said Springfield police LT. Steven Kent.

Heroin kills.  13,300 people have died from opiods in Massachusetts since 2000.   That would be about the same as wiping out the entire town of Wilbraham or Longmeadow.

Springfield police LT Steven Kent has been arresting drug dealers for more than 20 years.

"If there was a quarter of the spike in drunk driving arrests as we had in opiod related deaths, people would be clamoring for incarceration,” said LT. Kent.

The 22News I-Team went to the Springfield police department and went through their arrest logs.  We found the heroin dealers they arrested in 2013.  Then we went to court to find out what happened to their cases.

We discovered heroin dealers who are arrested are rarely locked up and many are given 2nd chances, to only get caught selling heroin again.

We found 119 people arrested, 56 found guilty.  And Only 38 of them were sentenced to jail or prison time.

25 of those not found guilty had cases continued without a finding.  That means if they don’t violate their probation, they get a clean record.  18 of the 25 alleged drug dealers who took that deal, violated their probation.  Many for selling drugs again.

“We do give those opportunities to people they come few and far between in my administration when it comes to drug dealing” said DA Anthony Gulluni.

Joshua Santiago was given that 2nd chance after he was arrested for selling heroin in 2013, before Gulluni was the District Attorney.   He has now been arrested four times for selling heroin including in April when police found 750 bags of heroin stuffed in a kid’s teddy bear.  He’s never been found guilty. In 2016 he pleaded down to possession and he was out on $5000 bail for an earlier 2017 arrest.

“He has been charged with crimes more recently and again has not been convicted of any of those things," said Defense Attorney Jared Olanoff.

Jared Olanoff is Santiago’s defense attorney.

“The popular misconception is that we just put them in jail and it acts as a timeout or detention in high school.  They’ll take their time, think about it, feel bad and be rehabilitated somehow, and never do it again.  That’s simply not how it works," said Attorney Olanoff.

Springfield police commissioner John Barbieri told the I-Team heroin dealers don’t fear prison because they know they won’t be there long.

“If you are going to deal with people that sell poison then if you want them to stop and jail is just part of the job occupational hazard then we have to get stricter with drug dealers”, said Barbieri.

In District Court a judge can sentence a heroin dealer up to 2.5 years.

Our I-Team investigation reveals the average sentence from District Court was 10.5 months.

In Superior court the maximum sentence is 10 years for a first time offender, 15 years for a repeat offender.  The average sentence for both first time and repeat offenders was 3.5 years.

One way the DA is trying to hold drug dealers accountable is charging them with manslaughter when the dealer sells a deadly dose.


“If you cause a death we're going to investigate it back and if we can we're going to charge you with manslaughter,” said Gulluni.

Hampden County has two manslaughter cases pending for heroin deaths in Westfield and Ludlow.

Lt. Kent told the I-Team the heroin crisis is only getting worse and if these dealers aren’t locked up, someone you know might be the next victim.

"It's spreading out and it's coming to a neighborhood near you if it hasn't already”, said Lt. Kent.




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