The day after Thanksgiving, Edgartown Police arrested Brian W. Frost, 33, for possession of the powerful prescription narcotic Percocet — one pill. The arrest was the tip of a criminal iceberg for a miscreant whose career is a source of frustration to Island police, an embarrassment to the judicial system, and tracks what some consider an epidemic of prescription drug abuse that lies just below the surface of Island communities.
Mr. Frost, a familiar face in the Dukes County Jail, has a long record of drug crimes and weapons violations on Martha’s Vineyard. He has spent twice as much time in prison as out over the past decade. His record includes 55 adult and eight juvenile arraignments.
In September, Mr. Frost was one of four men indicted by a federal grand jury in Florida, on a charge of conspiracy to buy 5,000 tablets of oxycodone, another prescription narcotic. He posted a $25,000 bond and was released on conditions that included travel restricted to Massachusetts, except for travel to Florida for court, no possession of weapons, no use of narcotics, and drug testing on demand.
U.S. Marshalls took Mr. Frost into custody this week at the Dukes County Jail for violating the conditions of his bail in connection with the Florida indictments.
Mr. Frost, originally from Taunton, arrived on Martha’s Vineyard in 2001. Since he first stepped onto the Island, the Martha’s Vineyard Drug Task Force has investigated him continuously and arrested him multiple times. The only time they did not target him as part of their drug enforcement efforts was when he was in state prison.
“Over the years, he has definitely been a thorn in our side,” State Police Sgt. Jeff Stone, who heads the drug task force said. “It frustrates us. We figured he would have learned his lesson with the last lengthy sentence. Obviously he didn’t.”
Time and time again, police thought they had taken Mr. Frost out of the picture. But a court ruling that significantly reduced his most recent prison sentence, and a repeated ability to post high bail and then return directly to the drug trade, allowed him to continue his drug dealing on Martha’s Vineyard.
“We just try to put the best case forward we can,” Edgartown police Det. Sgt. Chris Dolby, who led the investigation that resulted in the latest arrest, said. “As it progresses through the court system, certain decisions are made that are out of our control. At some point it gets to be all they know. There’s a really good profit margin involved in those little pills. It’s easy money until you get caught.”
“An arrest like this benefits all citizens of the Island,” Edgartown police Chief Tony Bettencourt said. “This arrest shows our department’s commitment and aggressive approach to taking these dealers off our streets and keeping them away from our youths.”
Mr. Frost is well known to members of the Martha’s Vineyard Drug Task Force. They were alerted quickly when he began to make repeated trips to the Island recently from a mainland address.
“Over the past three months, I and other members of the Martha’s Vineyard Drug Task Force,” wrote Det. Sgt. Dolby, in his police report on Mr. Frost’s latest arrest, “have received information and made observations of Frost that indicate that he is once again very actively distributing narcotics, mainly Percocet pills, to and through the Island of Martha’s Vineyard.”
Police estimated that every week, Mr. Frost distributed 300 to 400 tablets of Percocet, a powerful prescription pain medication known among drug users as “Perc 30’s” or “Blue V’s”. Police said he employed a small group of Island residents to sell the pills for $40 to $50 each.
The Edgartown District Court issued a warrant authorizing police to search Mr. Frost. Shortly before 11 pm on November 25, task force officers closed in on Mr. Frost on Circuit Avenue Extension in Oak Bluffs. Det. Sgt. Dolby and officer Michael Snowden of the Edgartown Police Department, Sgt. Jeff Stone of the state police, Det. Nick Currelli, and officer Jeff Trudel of the Oak Bluffs police department took him into custody without incident. Police walked Mr. Frost across the street to the Oak Bluffs Police Department interrogation room, according to the police report.
“I recovered, from Frost’s possession, a large amount of U.S. currency, approximately $1,705, two cellular phones, and one four-inch spring-assisted folding knife,” Det. Sgt. Dolby wrote in his report. “I also recovered one blue Percocet pill from his right coin pocket.”
According to police, Buster, the newly available police dog trained to detect narcotics, alerted police during a controlled test of the money seized from Mr. Frost, giving police an indication that the currency was from drug transactions.
On November 26, the Edgartown District Court entered a not-guilty plea for Mr. Frost, on a charge of possession of prescription narcotics with intent to distribute. Edgartown police, acting for the Commonwealth, asked Dukes County District Court Associate Justice Lance Garth to set bail at $75,000 during Mr. Frost’s arraignment.
Judge Garth set bail at $100,000. Mr. Frost was held at the Dukes County jail.
A week later, at the request of police and Cape and Islands Assistant District Attorney Laura Marshard, Judge Garth reduced bail for Mr. Frost to $500. Judge Garth delayed his decision until police produced a copy of a new federal arrest warrant, ensuring that Mr. Frost would remain in custody. The bail reduction allowed federal marshals to arrest and take custody of Mr. Frost for violating the conditions of his bail in the Florida case.
“U.S. Marshals will come and get him,” Officer Snowden said. “We would rather have them come and take him to face the charges in Florida. We want him out of here.”
Career of crime
Mr. Frost has an extensive record of serious crimes on Martha’s Vineyard, including dealing heroin, cocaine, and prescription narcotics, as well as illegal possession of firearms, and assault.
Island police first encountered Mr. Frost when he was 21 years old. State police arrested him at the Vineyard Haven Steamship Authority terminal as he arrived on the Island with $12,000 worth of cocaine, according to police reports and court records. He had been out of jail on a previous charge for only three weeks.
According to court documents, Mr. Frost was indicted by a Dukes County grand jury following that arrest. In Dukes County Superior Court, he was charged with trafficking cocaine in the amount of 100-199 grams, an offense that carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years. In April of 2001, as part of a plea agreement, Mr. Frost pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of trafficking in cocaine in the amount of 14 to 28 grams, and was sentenced to the mandatory three years in state prison.
Shortly after he finished that sentence, according to police, he was back in the drug-dealing business on the Island.
In August of 2003, police arrested Mr. Frost and an accomplice in Oak Bluffs. A search of his vehicle yielded 60 grams of crack cocaine, 25 tablets of the prescription narcotic OxyContin, and more than $4,000 in cash.
While awaiting trial on those charges, Mr. Frost was arrested again. In October, he was arrested as police executed a search warrant on a Tisbury home. Police found marijuana, cocaine, cash, and two fully loaded handguns.
In 2004, while under indictment and awaiting trial on the previous drug arrests, he was arrested yet again, after a raid on a West Tisbury home. According to police, Mr. Frost arrived at the home as they executed a search warrant, and immediately tried to flee. He was apprehended and later charged with possession of heroin with intent to distribute, possession of cocaine with intent to distribute, and illegal possession of firearms.
In February of 2005, while free on $42,000 bail posted for the previous charges, Mr. Frost was arrested again, charged with trafficking in cocaine, after an accomplice was arrested transporting a brick-sized package of cocaine to Martha’s Vineyard aboard a ferry, according to police. He was ordered held without bail at his arraignment.
In October of 2005, a Dukes County Superior Court jury returned a guilty verdict against Mr. Frost on charges of dealing heroin, dealing cocaine, and illegal possession of a firearm, following a five-day trial. Judge Thomas E. Connolly sentenced Mr. Frost to eight to 10 years in a state prison for the heroin conviction. He sentenced Mr. Frost to seven to 10 years on the cocaine conviction, to be served after the first sentence was complete. In total, Mr. Frost was sentenced to spend at least 15 years, and as many as 20 years in state prison. He began serving his term at Cedar Junction, the state prison in Walpole.
Mr. Frost appealed both the conviction and the sentence over the next several years. In June of 2006, a three-judge panel of the Superior Court Appellate Division dismissed the appeal, ruling the sentence should stand.
In 2008, the appeal reached the state appeals court. The court affirmed the verdict in the jury trial, but vacated the sentence, and sent the case back to Dukes County Superior Court for resentencing.
That never happened, because in May of 2010, based on a sweeping Supreme Judicial Court ruling in a separate case, Judge Connolly allowed Mr. Frost’s motion for a new trial.
In a far-reaching 2009 ruling, Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts, the state’s highest court ruled that a defendant has a right to cross-examine the state drug lab chemists who test drug evidence. Until that ruling, the state drug lab could send a certificate to court verifying its findings, as proof of drug test results.
Along with his decision to allow a new trial, Judge Connolly ordered Mr. Frost held on $500,000 bail.
The trial never happened. Three months later, Associate Justice C.J. Moriarty accepted a plea agreement which called for a sentence of four to five years in state prison. The new sentence was deemed served, because Mr. Frost had already spent that amount of time in state prison. After paying some court costs, and $9,658 in restitution, Mr. Frost walked out of prison a free man. According to federal agents and local police, as he did after every arrest, conviction, and prison term before, Mr. Frost returned to dealing drugs, soon after he was released from custody. His latest arrest in Florida came less than one year later.
Police say they are still investigating the Vineyard-based drug ring operated by Mr. Frost, and expect to make more arrests. They have already made one arrest.
On November 25, after getting a search warrant from the Edgartown District Court, Martha’s Vineyard Drug Task Force officers, along with Buster, the drug-sniffing dog, searched the home of Richard Corwin, a second floor apartment at 50 Main Street.
“I located approximately 18 blue Percocet plills packaged in a plastic bag tucked inside of a Newport cigarette case,” Det. Sgt. Dolby wrote. “The evidence was discovered on the inside of Corwin’s black baseball hat that hung on his bedroom wall.”
Also during the search, Buster alerted on a dresser drawer. Police found a film tube with 1.5 pills inside, which they identified as suboxone, a prescription narcotic.
At the time police executed the search warrant, Mr. Corwin was free on $1,000 bail, following his November 5 arrest on drug charges. He was arrested behind the Stop & Shop grocery store in Edgartown, while making a drug sale, according to police reports. At the time of that arrest, police found him in possession of 11 Percocet pills and a large amount of cash. They say those pills were packaged exactly the same way, and also discovered inside a cigarette package.
Police say they are following other leads from evidence seized in the Frost investigation.
“This is investigation is still open,” Officer Snowden said. “This investigation is not over.”