Chilmark summer worker arrested in pot bust at harbormaster shack

Menemsha Harbor is crowded in the summer with recreational and commercial boats.
File photo by Nelson Sigelman

Menemsha Harbor is crowded in the summer with recreational and commercial boats.

Chilmark officials are examining Menemsha harbor operations, following the arrest last week of a summer employee who received a half pound package of marijuana delivered to the harbormaster’s shack and the discovery of the theft of daily dockage fees.

On August 21, Chilmark police, alerted by federal postal inspectors about a package containing marijuana addressed to the Chilmark harbormaster, arrested Emmett Ross, 19, after he took delivery of the pot.

In Edgartown District Court on August 23, Mr. Ross was arraigned on a charge of drug violations near a school or park — Menemsha Harbor is considered a town park — marijuana possession with intent to distribute, and larceny. The court released him on $2,000 bail.

Mr. Ross, a student at California Polytechnic State University and a resident of Madison, Wisc., also faces theft charges, after admitting to police during the course of an interview that he took dockage fees that were supposed to go to the town.

Mr. Ross told police he was not concerned that the package addressed to “Menemsha Harbormaster’s Office, Chilmark, Massachusetts,” might be discovered by harbormaster Dennis Jason or another town official, according to a police report.

“We asked if he was worried that the harbormaster would find the package,” police wrote in their report. “Ross stated that Dennis [Jason] is never around, and he wasn’t worried about him finding the package.”

In a brief phone interview Wednesday, Mr. Jason disputed Mr. Ross’s statement to police.

“That’s not accurate, but I really don’t want to discuss it,” Mr. Jason said. “It’s not correct. It’s his perception. That’s all I can really say, because it’s still under police investigation.”

During the investigation by Chilmark police, Mr. Ross admitted to pocketing $80 in dockage fees that should have gone to the town, according to the police report. Police Chief Brian Cioffi stressed that the investigation remains open and active, and police are investigating whether more funds are missing than Mr. Ross admitted to under questioning.

Reached by phone Wednesday, Mr. Ross was apologetic.

“It was a dumb mistake,” Mr. Ross said. “It was a dumb decision. I screwed up.”

He said he did not use any of the money taken from the town to purchase drugs. “No, it was like lunch money. I’d go down to Larsen’s, I’d get crab cakes,” he said.

Others resign

Two other summer workers resigned during a related disciplinary hearing, held Monday by the selectmen behind closed doors. According to a police report, Mr. Ross implicated town employee Ian Bardwell in the theft of dockage fees.

“Ross stated on a few occasions he did take some twenties totaling about $80,” according to the report. “Ross stated he shared the money with fellow employee Ian Bardwell and offered money to Trevor Maciel, but Maciel declined.”

Town officials said that although Mr. Maciel was not implicated in the theft or the possession of marijuana, they were disappointed that he learned of the thefts and did not report them to town officials or police.

In July, selectmen commended Mr. Maciel for rescuing a boater in distress in Menemsha Harbor, possibly preventing a serious injury. After his resignation, selectmen thanked him for his service.

Mr. Ross was not expected to attend the disciplinary hearing, and he did not. He is no longer scheduled to work at the harbor, while his criminal case is pending in Edgartown District Court.

In open session following the disciplinary hearing, selectmen directed that only Mr. Jason or assistant harbormaster Richard Steves handle cash for the rest of the summer season. They are reviewing accounting procedures and reconciling dock receipts to determine the scope of the thefts. They took no action against Mr. Jason.

Special delivery

According to the police report, postal inspectors notified Chilmark police that a K-9 unit trained and certified to detect drugs alerted them to a package sent from California, due to be delivered to Menemsha. Police said there was no name on the package. It was addressed to “Menemsha Harbormaster Office, Chilmark, Massachusetts.”

A postal inspector delivered the package, as Chilmark police and members of the Martha’s Vineyard Drug Task Force watched the harbormaster shack.

According to police, the sender had waived a requirement to sign for the package. Mr. Ross accepted and signed for the package, when asked by the postal inspector who delivered the package.

“Postal inspector Edward Phillips stated that Emmett was acting nervous and questioned why he had to sign for the package,” wrote Chilmark police Officer Sean Slavin in his report.

When police confronted Mr. Ross at the harbormaster shack, he retrieved the package from a shelf inside the shack. He told police someone called and said they were coming on a sailboat that evening and arranged to have the package delivered to the harbormaster’s office. He could not provide the name of the person, the boat, or a phone number.

At that point, police took him to the Chilmark police station for questioning. At first, police said, Mr. Ross stuck to the visiting sailboat story, but he later admitted something different.

“Ross eventually admitted that he had in fact had the box sent to him from his friend in California,” Officer Slavin wrote. “Ross stated there should be a half pound of marijuana in the box. Ross stated that he paid $1,900 for the half pound of marijuana and paid by electronic transfer from his bank account to his connection in California. Ross stated that he planned on selling enough of the marijuana to smoke for free.”

After getting consent from Mr. Ross, police asked him to open the package. Inside they found marijuana, as well as an X-box game controller.

“Ross stated that he was angry because the bag was not vacuum sealed like it was supposed to be,” according to the report.

When police contacted Mr. Jason, he told them he suspected Mr. Ross has been stealing fees charged to boaters for tying up to the town dock.

“Jason estimated that approximately $100 had been taken over the course of the summer,” Officer Slavin wrote. “Emmett Ross was questioned regarding this information, and he admitted to taking $80.”

At that point, police arrested Mr. Ross and took him to the Dukes County Jail for booking.

Accounting

Selectmen and police say Mr. Jason did not report any suspicions about thefts among his employees. The harbor uses a custom software system to record receipts for slip and dockage fees and to keep track of the size and descriptions of visiting boats.

“It tracks everything,” executive secretary Tim Carroll said in a phone interview on Tuesday. “The software is very restrictive and specific to the harbor department.” Town officials have determined that harbor department employees recorded some dockage fees for boats that tie up for more than an hour in the wrong category, so that fees that were not reported did not raise alarms.

Selectmen Warren Doty was reluctant to talk before the disciplinary hearing about the arrest of a town summer employee or the level of supervision by the harbormaster. He said Mr. Jason did not bring his suspicions about theft of dockage fees to selectmen.

“I’m not going to comment,” Mr. Doty said. “It’s unfortunate, and we’re trying to deal with it.”

Selectman Jonathan Mayhew, and selectman William Rossi could not be reached for comment.

Andrew Goldman, chairman of the harbor advisory committee, said he was upset about illegal actions. He pointed out that the harbormaster’s department is under the direct supervision of the selectmen.

“I think there are issues that are going to be discussed,” Mr. Goldman said. “Ultimately the selectmen are responsible for the harbor. If there’s a role to play that’s helpful or constructive, I’ll be happy to play it.”