Former state probation chief imprisoned on cocaine charge

The MV Seacoast Defense Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution will conduct a wreath-laying ceremony at the Vietnam War memorial monument in front of the Dukes County Courthouse on Main Street in Edgartown. – MV Times file photo

Dukes County Superior Court Judge Cornelius J. Moriarty had no sympathy for Milton L. Britton Sr. of Oak Bluffs. The retired chief probation officer for the Massachusetts Probation Service appeared before Judge Moriarty Friday, accused of trafficking in cocaine.

Spurning a plea deal that could have allowed the 66-year-old to serve just 18 months in the Dukes County House of Correction, Judge Moriarty sentenced Mr. Britton to three to five years in state prison.

The deal agreed upon between Mr. Britton’s lawyer, Robyn Nash, and assistant district attorney Laura Marshard called for Mr. Britton to plead guilty and receive a two and a half year sentence with 18 months to be served.

Instead, Judge Moriarty said he would convene Mr. Britton’s criminal trial on Monday. Three hours later, Mr. Britton chose to plead guilty and accept the longer sentence.

In imposing a prison term at least twice as long as the plea agreement had envisioned, Judge Moriarty said as a probation officer, Mr. Britton should be held to a higher standard of conduct, and that his behavior was disgraceful.

Mr. Britton was released from the courthouse, but ordered to surrender to authorities on Monday, April 9, at 9 am, to begin serving his sentence.

Long investigation

Members of the Martha’s Vineyard Drug Task Force arrested Mr. Britton on March 18, 2011, as he left the condominium he shares with his wife Ruth at 4 Quail Run Road in Oak Bluffs. Police found three bags of cocaine in his pocket.

“A subsequent search of the apartment and the adjoining storage unit yielded a large ziplock bag containing another 36 individually wrapped cellophane bags of cocaine ready for distribution,” Lieutenant Tim Williamson of the Oak Bluffs Police said in a press release issued at that time.

Officers assigned to the Martha’s Vineyard Drug Task Force, led by State Police Sgt. Jeff Stone and assisted by a K9 officer from the Barnstable Sheriff’s Department, executed a search warrant at the Sengekontacket condominium development, police said.

Mr. Britton had been under investigation for several years for involvement in cocaine distribution, the lieutenant said.

Police arrested Mr. Britton for trafficking cocaine in amounts of more than 28 grams. Police took him to the Dukes County Jail, from which he was released by the bail commissioner that same day on personal recognizance.

According to court documents, Oak Bluffs police Detective Nicholas Curelli, in a filing supporting the application for a criminal complaint, described the total weight of the cocaine police found as approximately 40 grams. Police also found cutting agents used to package the cocaine, a scale, less than one ounce of marijuana, and cash totaling $455.

“Britton advised this officer that the cocaine was intended for distribution,” Detective Curelli wrote.

Prior to the arrest, officers observed a “known cocaine user” leave the Britton property following a brief meeting with Mr. Britton. Mr. Britton later admitted he sold cocaine to that person, according to the police report.

Sergeant Stone said that Mr. Britton had attracted the attention of police for some time.

“Just recently we were able to uncover some facts that made it possible to obtain a search warrant for his house,” Mr. Stone said at the time.

The fact that Mr. Britton retired to the Vineyard following a 30-year career in the probation system working alongside law enforcement officers made his arrest all the more troubling for officers connected to the case and probation officials.

“We were surprised as could be,” Sergeant Stone said at the time of the arrest. “But I think he thought he was invincible because of his past and because of his age. I think he was very confident that he always got away with it and would continue to get away with it.”

As the head of the drug task force, Sergeant Stone is on the front lines of the effort to keep drugs out of the Island community. He said he and law enforcement colleagues were extremely disappointed that a retired member of the probation department has been convicted of bringing drugs into the community.

“We were disappointed in him, and we have heard from numerous people from probation departments on the Cape and islands who were also disappointed, but at the same time happy that he was brought to justice,” he said.

Mr. Britton retired on June 3, 2000, as chief probation officer assigned to the commissioner of probation in Boston, following a 30-year career in probation. He bought the Sengekontacket condominium where he now lives in May 1999.

The salary range for chief probation officers in 2000 was $61,000 to $81,000, according to the office of the Commissioner of Probation.

Mr. Britton worked as a teaching assistant for six years at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School. His job ended with the 2006-2007 school year.