The epidemic of hard drugs making its way through the state of Maine is showing itself in overdose deaths, addiction, child endangerment, criminal forfeiture of cash and arrests. In 2016 the death toll from drug overdoses reached 376, the Portland Press Herald reported.

More than one victim per day. More than car accidents. Or suicide. Or breast cancer.

Rural Somerset County, home to some of the best white-water rafting, hunting, hiking and fishing, is no exception.

Of the recent indictments by a county grand jury, nine of them were for drugs — opioids, prescription painkillers, heroin and now fentanyl, a powerful synthetic. It’s happening in rural towns like Cornville, Anson, Canaan and Madison.

They are small towns with a big problem.

Many of the charges listed in the grand jury indictments are felonies, with convictions carrying hefty prison terms.

And sometimes there are children home when the county’s drug enforcement team arrives, as was the case a few days after Thanksgiving this year when police seized a loaded 9mm handgun and narcotics on Route 43, also known as Shadagee Road, in Cornville and arrested two people in a raid on their home. Also in the home at the time of the execution of the search warrant were four minor children ages 17 and under.

Andrew Swanson, 39, and Jamie Wheeler, 37, were indicted last week on nine criminal charges each as a result of that raid, including aggravated trafficking, a Class A felony punishable by up to 30 years in prison, and endangering the welfare of a child.

Detective Lt. Carl Gottardi II led a team of 11 deputies and a Maine Drug Enforcement agent who is assigned to the Somerset County Sheriff’s Office.

Seized in the raid were more than 20 grams of heroin, possible amounts of fentanyl powder, numerous controlled pills, digital scales and $3,319 in cash. Also seized was a 9mm pistol with a loaded clip, drug related documentation and drug related paraphernalia, police said.

Once the controlled pills are identified and tested and an exact weight is determined more charges can be expected. The seized heroin has an approximate street value of over $4,000.

An indictment by a grand jury is not a finding of guilt but is an indication that there is enough evidence to proceed with a trial.

Other drug-related indictments handed up by the Somerset County grand jury were:

• Elialdy Javier, 20 years old, of Manhattan, New York City, charged by the grand jury with trafficking in heroin and possession of heroin, Nov. 17 in Madison.

• Christopher J. Gifford, 36, of Anson, charged with Class A aggravated trafficking in heroin and with felony possession of heroin, Nov. 25 in Norridgewock.

• In separate indictments, Christopher J. Gifford, charged with seven counts, including aggravated trafficking and possession of heroin near a school Dec. 1 in Anson and endangering the welfare of a child.

• Darrin K. Whipple, 49, of Anson, charged with felony trafficking and possession of heroin, Dec. 1 in Anson.

• Kristi L. Vigue, 26, of Epping, New Hampshire, charged with felony trafficking and possession of fentanyl, Oct. 31 in Fairfield.

• Justin A. Beauchesne, 35, charged with aggravated trafficking and possession of fentanyl, with a previous drug conviction in New Hampshire, Oct. 31 in Fairfield.

• Danielle R. Furbush, 40, of Canaan, charged with felony trafficking and possession of cocaine, March 31 in Canaan.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]


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