It's all about drugs, say local authorities
Drugs are the common thread running through the most extreme crimes in the Poconos.
According to court records, drugs permeated the life of Steven Santillo for years. Last week a motorist found Santillo shot dead at the intersection of Hypsie Gap and Laurel roads in Chestnuthill Township. State police have accused Fritz Gerald Dejoie, 21, of the murder. They say the men had a relationship that involved drugs, and Santillo may have owed Dejoie money. Both men were unemployed.
“The general public doesn’t understand the depth of the drug problem in the Poconos, or how drugs impact the amount of crime we have,” said Eric Kerchner, Monroe County District Attorney’s Office detective and drug task force coordinator.
“Many users and dealers are not gainfully employed. The have to get money somewhere, usually they get it from crime,” Kerchner said.
In 2002, unemployed drug dealer Otis Powell was charged with shooting and killing brothers Keith and Daniel Foiathis after an argument in Stroudsburg.
“The majority of crimes in the Poconos are drug related,” according to Kerchner, who’s office conducts undercover drug buys in Monroe County. Buys are made in the parking lots of businesses, in private homes and on street corners all over the county. Marijuana, heroin, cocaine and prescription drugs are all prevalent.
Carbon Monroe Pike Drug and Alcohol Commission Executive Director Rich Mroczka said that well over 60 percent of the agency’s caseload involves people in the criminal justice system in some way.
“It could affect anybody in our society at any level. People have good jobs and nice families ruined because of addiction,” Mroczka said.
Alcohol has always been the top drug of choice because it is legal. Marijuana used to be second, but not anymore. Heroin and prescription opiates like OxyContin are most prevalent, according to Mroczka.
“Kids are raiding parent’s medicine cabinets. They put the drugs in a bowl at parties,” he said.
“Heroin is 90 to 95 percent pure. You don’t have to inject it anymore. You can snort it,” Mroczka said.
Drugs were at the center of a grisly 2003 ax murder in Kresgeville.
Manuel Sepulveda was described as a crazed crack dealer by his victim’s mother. Sepulveda killed drug dealer Johnny Mendez after an argument about stolen guns. Mendez survived a close-range gunshot from Sepulveda, and his accomplice, Daniel Heleva, chopped Mendez with an ax. A wounded Mendez escaped the bloody home, but the attackers dragged him back inside and killed him. Sepulveda also shot and killed Ricardo Enrique Lopez Jr. in the same incident.
“Disputes over money, territory and confidentiality are reasons relationships turn violent,” Kerchner said.
If a dealer suspects someone of stealing his customers or reporting him to the to police, there will be trouble.
“It’s their lifestyle and means of income. They sell drugs so they can afford to use them,” Kerchner said.
Mroczka says addiction is a progressive disease. Big problems don’t happen overnight. For some, “There is a desperation to feed the habit and to live. Some have no home or food,” Mroczka said.
The first place addicts turn to when they get desperate is often to those closest to them. They commit crimes against family members.
“It’s the family who enables the situation to continue. By paying the fines and putting up bail money, they enable the addiction to continue,” Mroczka said.
Addicts frequently lose their jobs. To continue the habit, they sell part of the drugs they buy at a profit. That takes customers away from other dealers. A recipe for danger. Unregulated trade invites harsh, often fatal, rule enforcement from inside the drug world.
Quitting the drug business is tricky too. It is not easy to stop dealing without making associates nervous.
A drug deal gone bad left dealer David Sigmund Jr. shot dead and Christopher Nowak wounded in the East Stroudsburg Wal-Mart parking lot in 2006.
John Brabazon and Joseph Alvardo were out of cash but they had been snorting cocaine, smoking marijuana and drinking beer that night. They wanted more drugs and decided to rob them from Sigmund.
“Drugs are one of the major problems we have in our area. A lot of people don’t realize that,” said Mroczka.