November 19, 2012

MDEA: Priest mailed drugs to Wiscasset jail inmate

By Michael Shepherd mshepherd@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

A top midcoast drug agent said Monday that a local Episcopal priest arrested for drug trafficking earlier this month mailed drugs to an inmate he was friendly with and more charges will be filed in the case.

He would not say whether those charges will be against the priest and inmates -- who are already charged -- or other people involved in getting prescription drugs transported.

"It could be all of the above," said James Pease, supervisor of the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency office covering Waldo, Knox, Lincoln and Sagadahoc counties.

The new information provides a clearer picture of the case against the Rev. Stephen Foote, 70, of Bremen, who was arrested Nov. 1 and faces a class C charge of trafficking in prison contraband. The Lincoln County Sheriff's Office alleges Foote trafficked suboxone strips at Two Bridges Regional Jail in Wiscasset.

Pease said Foote concealed the drug in letters to Joshua Theriault-Patten, 25, of Bremen, an inmate with whom he had a friendship, according to authorities.

"That was my understanding of this allegation," William Avantaggio, Foote's Newcastle attorney, said Monday. "I don't have any reason to believe it happened more than once."

Foote, who was released on unsecured bail following his arrest, was placed on administrative leave by the Episcopal Diocese of Maine as a transition priest at St. Mark's church in Augusta.

Theriault-Patten and fellow inmate Adam Shawley, 27, of Newport, are charged with class D counts of attempted trafficking in prison contraband. Lincoln County Sheriff's Office Lt. Michael Murphy has said Shawley didn't know Foote but was associated with Theriault-Patten in jail.

The charges against the trio are based on one incident, but Pease said investigators believe Foote mailed drugs into the jail on other occasions. Pease said the inmates were abusing the drugs, but he said it's also possible they were selling the drugs in jail.

Now, central to the case is where Foote got the drugs for the inmates, who both have a history of drug-related offenses.

Authorities do know Foote got the drugs, Pease said, though he wouldn't comment on the method except to say Foote was not prescribed them.

Murphy has said that the inmates arranged for drugs to be sent to Foote and "he took it from there." Pease said Foote was given a contact outside the jail from whom he got the drugs.

Avantaggio wouldn't comment when asked if he knew how Foote allegedly got the drugs. Murphy has said Foote admitted to the crime, saying he was trying to help Theriault-Patten.

Some information from Pease contradicts parts of what Murphy publicly said -- that drugs were exchanged during physical visits to the jail. Murphy also told the Kennebec Journal that he didn't think the inmates were distributing the drugs in jail. He didn't return a message Monday seeking comment.

Assistant Attorney General Lisa Bogue, a state drug prosecutor, has said her office will prosecute the case.

The use of the U.S. Postal Service to transport drugs can trigger federal prosecution because it's a federal agency, according to Biddeford-based criminal defense attorney William Bly. He said federal prosecutors, however, will usually let lower-level prosecutors handle cases unless drugs are being trafficked across state lines via post office or another courier.

"For the feds to get involved, they often times have to decide whether or not to pick it up," Bly said.

Suboxone is a synthetic opiate that is used to treat addiction to opiates such as heroin and morphine. It can be abused, but it is said to produce less euphoric highs than those drugs. Murphy said 10 suboxone strips, worth $500 in jail, were seized in the investigation. To use a strip, the user must dissolve it under the tongue.

A 2011 New York Times article detailed suboxone being trafficked into the Maine Correctional Center in Windham in mail to inmates there. There and in other parts of the country, it was reported to sometimes be trafficked by mail tucked under stamps, envelope seals and inside children's coloring books.

Foote retired in 2003 as dean of the Cathedral Church of St. Luke in Portland and had been serving at St. Mark's Episcopal Church since January, according to church officials.

Michael Shepherd -- 621-5632
mshepherd@mainetoday.com

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