CALAIS, Maine — The sting was in place. The confidential informant paid the suspect for the drugs. A police officer confirmed the drug to be cocaine.
And later the suspect was charged — with theft by deception.
Theft by deception?
"That's a funny case," Officer Dave Claroni told the media last week, "because he sold cocaine, but it turned out to not be cocaine so he is charged with theft because he presented something that wasn't what it claimed to be. Because of his prior convictions he's charged with felony theft."
In a bizarre twist to a routine drug story, 30-year-old Robert Barter of Baileyville is charged with theft by deception after allegedly representing a quantity of white powder to be cocaine, which testing eventually revealed to be baking soda.
For several months this summer, Calais police, working with a confidential informant, investigated the drug problem in the city.
On June 22, police officers met with a confidential informant with the purpose of purchasing drugs from Barter, according to an affidavit and request for arrest warrant on file with the Maine Superior Court in Machias.
"The CI's person and vehicle was searched and both were found to be free of any scheduled drugs, money or weapons," the affidavit said.
The confidential informant was given $200, fitted with an electronic transmitting device on his body, and instructed to go to a predetermined meeting place and buy 2.5 grams of cocaine from Barter, the affidavit said.
"The CI purchased 5.5 grams gross weight of [what was thought to be] cocaine for $200," the affidavit said.
"I met the CI and the CI relinquished to me a white powdery substance. Due to my training and experience that I recognized as cocaine during the course of my employment as a police officer," the affidavit said. "I have positively identified cocaine on numerous occasions. I confirmed this identification of cocaine through ... test kits. This test showed a positive result for cocaine, which is a scheduled W drug."
Three men were arrested in connection with that investigation, including Barter who was arrested in July.
Further testing proved the substance was sodium bicarbonate. The charge of trafficking in scheduled drugs was dismissed and replaced with a charge of theft by deception, Assistant District Attorney Joelle Pratt said Monday. Sodium bicarbonate, or baking soda, is a cleaning and cooking product.
Also charged in connection with the confidential informant investigation over the summer was Brandon McInnis, 26, of Eastport. He was charged with unlawful trafficking of scheduled drugs. It is alleged that McInnis sold liquid methadone to a confidential informant. "McInnis met the confidential informant outside of the Discovery House in Calais. They walked down the road a little bit and McInnis allegedly sold the confidential informant his liquid methadone," Pratt said.
Discovery House, a Providence, R.I.-based company, first proposed building a methadone facility in Calais three years ago. Since opening the clinic on Beech Street across from the Calais Police Department in 2005, the client number has grown to more than 225.
Methadone is a synthetic opiate that blocks the craving for heroin and other opiates. A major opiate problem Down East is the prescription drug OxyContin that is diverted for sale on the street.
A third man, Ricky Palmeter, 37, of Calais, was charged with unlawful trafficking in scheduled drugs. He allegedly also sold drugs to a confidential informant, Claroni said.
"It was mainly done by myself and Officer [Roy] Wise," Claroni said. "We are the drug investigators for the department. So we were able to utilize some informants and do some work in the area. So we're not done by any means; we plan to continue to fight and we will see what happens," he said.
The Maine Drug Enforcement Agency assisted with some of the arrests.