Drug prosecutor’s reassignment to have direct impact on Hancock County

AUGUSTA — As the Maine attorney general scrambles to assign special drug prosecutors to areas where illegal drug activity is most rampant, Hancock County might be slighted.

Assistant Attorney General Patrick Larson is the special prosecutor for Hancock and Penobscot counties, but he is to be reassigned to cover only Penobscot County, according to Timothy Feeley, a spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office.

The change in Larson’s job reflects a focus by the Attorney General’s Office and drug agents on what they call the I-95 corridor. Most illegal drugs are being brought from out of state and traffickers are using the interstate as their primary route, Feeley explained. The idea is to stop drug traffickers before the drugs filter into outlying communities.

A date for Larson’s departure has not been set. A bigger question is who is going to fill the gap as prosecutors deal with the epidemic opiate abuse problem in the state, a situation chiefly driven by the low cost and ready availability of heroin.

On Monday, Matthew Foster, district attorney for Hancock and Washington counties, had no answer. He had not heard from the Attorney General’s Office about whether Larson would be replaced.

Feeley said a plan is under way.

Two new drug prosecutors are to be added to the attorney general’s staff. The Legislature recently approved funding for the positions. One of these people is to be assigned to Knox, Waldo and Hancock counties, Feeley said.

“It’s still in the process; we’re not sure when it will happen,” Feeley said.

At one time Larson also prosecuted drug cases in Washington County. That arrangement ended sometime in the past, leaving prosecution of those cases to the District Attorney’s Office.

Help is on its way in Washington County as well, Feeley said. Assistant Attorney General Hunter Umphrey, who prosecutes child protective cases for the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, is to be trained as a drug prosecutor and work as such on a part-time basis in Washington County, balancing that job with his child protective work.

Despite these developments, Foster is concerned that part-time prosecutors will not be able to handle the burgeoning number of drug cases in his district. His office most likely will have to take up the slack.

“The burden is going to fall on us,” Foster said. “We don’t have any choice.”

Foster disagrees with the focus on the I-95 corridor; the expanse of coastline and rural nature of Hancock and Washington counties are ideally suited for drug smuggling, he said.

Foster said he disagrees with the method used by the attorney general in determining the areas where drug prosecutors are most needed. The number of drug cases considered includes only the prosecution of cases involving the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency. Those statistics ignore the true extent of the drug problem because they ignore drug cases brought forward by other law enforcement agencies, Foster said.

For now, all Foster can do is wait to hear official word about the changes from the attorney general.

“It’s frustrating not knowing what’s going to happen,” he said.

Mark Good

Mark Good

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Mark Good

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