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Officer posing as high schooler leads drug sting

9 are arrested in Falmouth

Left, evidence police said was seized from a student's home after a three-month undercover probe. Right, Adam Hey, Scott Theirault, Chad Wiernicki, and Ryan Tripp (left-right) were led into Falmouth District Court yesterday.
Left, evidence police said was seized from a student's home after a three-month undercover probe. Right, Adam Hey, Scott Theirault, Chad Wiernicki, and Ryan Tripp (left-right) were led into Falmouth District Court yesterday. (Julia Cumes / David G. Curran / Boston Globe)

FALMOUTH -- She was new in school, a demure blonde with a sob story.

With her mother dead and father chronically absent, the girl said, she needed to get high to kill the pain. For three months, students at Falmouth High bought her story and sold her the drugs she said she needed.

But yesterday, the real story emerged.

The girl who some students yesterday said they knew as Keane was in fact a fresh-faced cop whose three months at Falmouth High School culminated before the start of classes yesterday when nine teenage boys were led out of their homes in handcuffs on charges of selling her marijuana and ecstasy.

Police had decided on the strategy in response to some parents' complaints about rampant drug use at Falmouth High School. But the tactic enraged other parents, who said the teens had been lured in by a dishonest and manipulative police sting inappropriate for a public high school.

''My kid was impressed by this pretty undercover drug officer," said the mother of a 16-year-old Falmouth student arraigned yesterday in juvenile court.

''He has issues with low self-esteem, and this pretty girl gave him attention," said the mother. ''He wanted to impress her by providing her with what she needed. The approach by the police was not justified. Drugs may be a problem at the school, but they have to change their approach."

The undercover officer had presented herself as a senior whose mother had recently died and whose father was in the Navy, according to students.

According to police, she made 31 purchases of marijuana and one purchase of ecstasy from nine teenage male students since January, when she began attending classes. Yesterday morning, based on the information she gathered, Falmouth police conducted early-morning raids at students' homes, arresting four 17-year-olds, four 16-year-olds, and a 14-year-old on charges ranging from possession of marijuana with intent to distribute to vandalism. Police also confiscated $3,500 from the home of one of the 16-year-olds.

Parents and classmates of the defendants filled Falmouth District Court for the arraignments.

The 17-year-olds, identified as Adam Hey and Chad Wiernicki of Falmouth and Scott Theirault and Ryan Tripp of East Falmouth, were arraigned as adults and pleaded not guilty. Hey, Wiernicki, and Tripp were charged with possession with intent to distribute marijuana and distribution. Theirault was charged with conspiracy to violate the controlled substance act.

Names of the minors and details of their cases were not released.

After the proceedings, the boys and their parents left the courthouse without commenting.

Police also would not comment yesterday on the undercover investigation, but court documents offered details on some transactions between the officer and students.

When Hey allegedly talked with fellow students in his business class about smoking pot, according to the court records, the officer, overheard him. She approached Hey on Jan. 17 to arrange a purchase of a small amount of marijuana for $40, the records said, and handed him the money. Later that day, Hey gave her a small bag of marijuana in the school parking lot, the records said.

Hey's parents posted $500 bail. He is due back in court May 16.

Tripp allegedly sold the undercover officer a bag of marijuana for $100 on March 21 in front of his home. She had driven to his house, according to the records.

''I need some money, I'm broke . . . no gas in my car," Tripp allegedly told the officer.

''Now you have some money," she said. Tripp allegedly replied, ''No, I keep my drug money separate from my personal money."

Tripp's parents posted $500 bail, and he is due back in court on April 12.

Wiernicki and Theirault are due back for preliminary hearings April 26 and May 16, respectively.

Yesterday, some law-enforcement officials questioned the tactics used by Falmouth police.

Matthew Machera, former Suffolk assistant district attorney, said he had never heard of police doing such undercover work in high schools and called the tactic used in the Falmouth bust ''outrageous."

''What strikes me as odd is if it was so prevalent, why did an undercover police officer have to dig so deep?" he asked. ''As a prosecutor I wouldn't be comfortable with this. Why should she have to make up a sob story? That's something you'll have to explain to a jury."

School officials raised questions, too. Glenn Koocher, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees, said undercover drug stings are rare in high schools in the state. ''This is the kind of stuff you see in made-for-TV movies," he said.

Most schools have police officers who keep an eye on drug problems, said Boston-area high school principals. And while drugs are pervasive in most high schools, principals in Needham and Belmont said they have not heard of any undercover officers posing as students.

''I don't think the community would accept that," said Paul Richards, principal of Needham High School.

Tom Scott, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents, said that he has heard of undercover narcotics work in schools, but that it's not common. ''It's done where there are serious concerns and they need to go deeper into the scope of the problem," he said. ''I think it is done . . . [when] they don't have enough information. It is a decision made as a last resort."

Several students yesterday described the undercover officer as shy but always looking for a party.

''She would tell people that her mother was dead and that her dad was in the Navy and that she needed pot to cope," said Julia Massi, a 17-year-old senior who said she was in English class with the officer. ''She made people feel bad for her. She would say 'Hey, if you see a party, give me a shout.' "

Jamie Heide, 16, a sophomore and member of the school's track team, said the undercover officer talked about drugs incesssantly.

''It seemed like she was trying to score from everyone," he said.

Dennis Richards, the superintendent of Falmouth schools, said police had approached the school ''before the first of the year" about putting an undercover officer in the high school. The school had done such a sting some years ago and he was open to doing it again, he said.

''Our principal, Paul Cali, had experienced a similar situation six years ago, so he was familiar with it. I listened to Paul and the police, and I supported it."

Richards acknowledged the schools had problems with drugs but said it was among a minority.

''Drugs are a concern in most communities around the country, and it's no different here. But I believe we're dealing with a small group of students," he said.

Most students indicated in a school survey they had not used marijuana in the past month, he said. ''About 85 percent said they hadn't," he said.

Massi said she took that survey, but got bored because it was so long, and filled in some responses without reading the questions. ''A lot of students didn't want to tell the truth," she said.

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