Former probation chief busted for coke dealing

A booking photo of Milton Britton Sr. taken at the Dukes County Jail. — Photo courtesy of Dukes County Sheriff's Department

Members of the Martha’s Vineyard Drug Task Force Friday arrested Milton L. Britton Sr. of Oak Bluffs, the retired chief probation officer for the Massachusetts Probation Service, for trafficking cocaine.

Mr. Britton, 65, was arrested at approximately 4:45 pm 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.

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.

Lieutenant Williamson said that Mr. Britton was very cooperative. He has 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. He was brought to the Dukes County Jail, from which he was released by the bail commissioner that same day on personal recognizance .

Mr. Britton appeared in Edgartown District Court Monday morning for arraignment. The court set bail at $500 cash, $5,000 surety, and as a further condition of his release on bail required that Mr. Britton surrender his passport. A pretrial hearing is scheduled for April 22.

According to court documents Oak Bluffs police detective Nicholas Curelli filed in support of the application for a criminal complaint, the total weight of the cocaine police found was approximately 40 grams. Police also found cutting agents used to package the cocaine, a scale, less than one ounce of marijuana, and cash in the amount of $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.

Investigation continues

State Police Sergeant Stone said that at the time of that meeting the property was under surveillance and police did not want to tip their hand prior to executing a search warrant.

“Rather than compromise the whole investigation, we let that guy go,” Sergeant Stone told The Times in a telephone call. “Shortly after we saw that, we made entry.”

Mr. Britton’s customers, including the man police observed Friday, can expect a visit from police.

“We did get a list of customers, and we will be attempting to locate and question all people on his customer list in the future,” Mr. Stone said.

Asked to characterize Mr. Britton’s customer base, Sergeant Stone described them as a mix of Island people, “Some who were known to us and some who were not known to us,” he said.

Police were able to assemble a list of about 20 people, based on phone data and information found at the house. There is no evidence, Mr. Stone said, that Mr. Britton used his former position as a teaching assistant in the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School to sell drugs.

Sergeant Stone said that Mr. Britton has been on the police drug radar screen 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.

A colleague brought low

The fact that Mr. Britton retired to the Vineyard following a 30-year career in the probation system, during which he worked 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. “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 charged with 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.

Sergeant Stone said the investigation continues. He asked that anyone with information contact the task force at 508-693-0545.

Pension and benefits

Mr. Britton retired as chief probation officer assigned to the commissioner of probation in Boston on June 3, 2000, following a 30-year career in probation.

The probation office was the subject of a series of scathing reports last year in the Boston Globe (Patronage in the probation department) that detailed an agency that operated on patronage and fear. Former commissioner of probation, John O’Brien, resigned December 31, after an independent counsel detailed the system of “pervasive fraud” in which jobs went to politically connected candidates over more qualified rivals.

Mr. Britton’s son, Milton Britton Jr., is acting chief probation officer of Norfolk Superior Court.

Mr. Britton 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 currently receives approximately $49,000 annually in pension benefits, in addition to health insurance benefits, according to the state retirement board.

According to the state retirement board, the board will monitor the case as it progresses, to see if there is any action the board can take.

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, school superintendent James Weiss said.

Mr. Weiss said that Mr. Britton was unable to remain at the high school because he was limited in the number of hours he could work due to social security restrictions. He most recently worked as a substitute teacher.

Michelle Haynes, a spokesman for Cape Air, confirmed that Mr. Britton worked part-time for Cape Air as a member of the airline’s Martha’s Vineyard Airport ground crew as recently as Monday. In a telephone call Wednesday, Ms. Haynes said Cape Air takes a felony charge very seriously and the company would wait until the matter is resolved. She said Mr. Britton is no longer working at Cape Air.

Mr. Britton’s wife answered a telephone call to the Britton house Monday evening. She said her husband was still at work. A subsequent call was not answered. Mr. Britton did not return the call, in response to a message left on his telephone answering machine.