Heroin Sting in Salem Leads to Arrests

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[Photo Credit: Mark Sardella / Flickr]

SALEM, Ma. — An investigation into a heroin dealing in Salem resulted in the arrest of two men August 7, including Richard Watson, a well-known psychic and member of the Wiccan community living in the self-styled “Witch City.” Reaction to the story was swift. Watson’s church revoked his credentials, and people took to social media to condemn his alleged involvement.

According to the Salem News, police received information about heroin being sold out of Watson’s apartment at 100 Bridge Street, and made some undercover purchases before obtaining a search warrant and raiding the premises. Inside the place, they found Watson and another man, Javier Pena-Abreu, sitting at a table on which there was reportedly a pile of heroin.

Pena-Abreu is no stranger to police encounters, and was free on a $20,000 bail resulting from another heroin-trafficking arrest last year. He invoked his right to remain silent. Watson, on the other hand, cooperated with police by showing them the remainder of the heroin in the apartment, totaling more than two ounces. Police allege that $10-15,000 of the drug was passing through the apartment on a weekly basis.

This was not the first time that Watson, or his apartment, had been touched by less-than-legal activities. In 2007, during the so-called “witch wars” over psychic licenses in Salem, Watson arrived home to discover a grisly scene. As was reported by the Salem News at the time,

Richard Watson said he went back to his Bridge Street apartment on the night of May 26 to a disturbing scene: his roommate, Sharon Graham, dressed in black, surrounded by four young men, also all in black, standing around a jar. Inside that jar was the eye of a raccoon, police say. And in two trash bags in Watson’s refrigerator was the rest of the critter, which had been dismembered.

Graham was one of the people who later pleaded guilty to leaving parts of that raccoon on the steps of two psychic shops. Watson was a witness in that case, and claimed at the time that Graham had pressured him to not testify.

However, this time, it was Watson caught by surprise. He and Pena-Abreu have different recollections of what was happening when they were discovered at a table piled with heroin. Watson has asserted that he was allowing Pena-Abreu to keep the drugs in the apartment as a favor, while not profiting from the dealing whatsoever. Pena-Abreu’s attorney, at the arraignment Monday, claimed his client was only there for a tarot reading, and had no involvement with the heroin. Only Pena-Abreu had money on his person, although it is not clear if it was heroin proceeds or cash for a reading.

Reverend High Priestess Lori Bruno of Our Lord and Lady of the Trinacrian Rose Church, where Watson was an ordained minister, issued a statement denouncing the news. She said, in part:

What I cannot stomach is one who would be a purveyor of death to the innocent. Therefore, after the news article I saw today and having also been directly informed about this, I and our clergy counsel have come to the decision to revoke the ministerial credentials of a trusted minister to humanity, Richard Watson. It is with much sadness that I do this, because I trusted Richard Watson to carry on the creed of our people.

I still hope that may be there is no truth in this, but as it stands right now, to protect our people, I have to remove him from clergy status. I hope that he is innocent of this, but should he not be, this revocation will stand.

Heroin is a growing problem in Massachusetts, and nationwide. The supply of the drug has increased since the United States took the Taliban, whose oppressive policies included a near total shutdown of opium poppy cultivation, out of power in Afghanistan. At the same time, drug manufacturers developed stronger and stronger prescription drugs to manage high levels of pain, many of which are opium derivatives themselves. The powerful prescriptions created more dependence among legitimate users, and also wended their way into the black market, increasing addiction.

Attempts to curb prescription drug abuse, together with the now greater supply of heroin, has led to more addictions and more overdose deaths. In 2014, Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick declared this to be a public health emergency, with at least 185 suspected heroin deaths in the prior six months and 363 opioid-related deaths in 2011, the most recent year for which figures were available for that broader metric.

Courtesy of Flickr's jimmywayne

Courtesy of Flickr’s jimmywayne

Another Salem witch, Sandra Wright, had a somewhat nuanced reaction to the news. Wright is a third-generation Salem resident who is High Priestess of Elphame coven. Speaking only for herself, she commented to The Wild Hunt, “Wiccan priesthood comes with responsibilities” Wright said:

People of the Priesthood of the Craft of the Wise should possess leadership ability. Not everyone is cut out to lead. . . . and they need to display integrity, wisdom, and most of all, compassion. Compassion is the one that can be hardest to maintain, especially when lines are crossed. So I myself failed to show compassion to Rick Watson when this story broke because I believe that even though he claims he was just allowing others to deal drugs out of his apartment and that he himself was not dealing the drugs, he was allowing people to poison the community he claimed to serve. He was serving as a conduit for an epidemic that has taken lives left and right in this city and the surrounding area. And if he was actually dealing the drugs, he is even more directly responsible for ruining the lives of others, nevermind his own. And for this reason, I find myself hard pressed to offer compassion.

At the same time, Wright said, “my compassion kicks in” as a reaction to the Trinacrian Rose Church removing his credentials … and the local community trying to disavow him as a Wiccan. And, as for the broader community reaction, she observed:

And now everyone … he was close to is scrambling to distance themselves from him, and distance him from Wicca, because they don’t want to be associated with a drug dealer. They are making him a pariah because they don’t want the rest of the world to think that Wicca sanctions this kind of behavior. Of course it doesn’t! No faith of any value would approve of capitalizing on the addicted and afflicted. Anyone who thinks Wicca has anything to do with Rick’s decisions doesn’t understand Wicca. Like the Pensacola murders, the mundane media is trying to sensationalize the story by including the buzzwords they think will rile people up. Well, we are riled.

Another Salem witch and High Priestess, Penny Cabot had only these few words. “I feel that the shameful situation speaks for itself, no words are needed,” she said.

Watson’s bail was set at $50,000, but Pena-Abreu’s was set at ten times that. In addition, his bail in the prior case was revoked, so he won’t be getting out of jail before the September 2 status hearing in any case. We will continue to follow the story as it unfolds.