Selling steroids to high school students

We are nearing the final chapter on the saga of the steroid ring that was selling steroids to high school students WITH PROTECTION FROM LOCAL POLICE!

Don

The first of four co-defendants in a major Greater Danbury marijuana ring is scheduled to be sentenced in federal court Tuesday.

But I doubt the public will learn much in the proceedings about how the ring worked or who was buying and selling.

And that is so frustrating and a downright shame.

When the four men were arrested on drug charges 14 months ago, the case initially shook local communities with explosive and exceedingly disturbing accusations.

One of the four — Mark Mansa, a 47-year-old Bethel businessman — was also charged with selling steroids. In a bond hearing, a federal prosecutor said that the steroids were sold to local high school athletes, among others, and that Mansa had boasted of protection through connections in at least three police departments.

Danbury, New Milford and Wilton were named by the prosecutor, quoting Mansa.

The steroid and marijuana rings go back to at least early 2007, law enforcement officials said, and continued until the arrests in February 2011. Potentially, a lot of young people could have been affected — and harmed — in that time.

Were steroids pedaled to high school athletes, who bought them and injected? Were contacts within police departments protecting the very criminals they should have been pursuing?

The answers are not likely to be forthcoming in federal court any time soon.

Three of the four men have agreed to change their not-guilty pleas to guilty of lesser charges through the plea agreement process that avoids an open trial.

Such a process is surprisingly typical. Ninety-seven percent of the cases in state Superior Court are resolved through the pre-trial process, judges told journalists in an informative session March 1 called “Behind the Chamber Door: Negotiating the Criminal Plea Bargain.”

The session was presented by the Connecticut Judicial-Media Committee at the Connecticut Bar Association offices in New Britain.

“Plea deals, or plea bargainings,” had a bad name as seeming advantageous to the defendants, state Superior Court Judges Susan Handy and David Gold said. Judges prefer the term “plea agreement,” which connotes advantages for both sides.

The state, or federal, government gets guaranteed punishment. The defendants receive lesser charges. Victims are spared testifying in court.

The process, closed to the public, is more than a negotiation. It also lays out the strengths and weaknesses of the prosecution and the defense, and considers any prior record of the accused along with the severity of the charges.

The federal pre-trial process leading to a plea agreement differs from that of the state in several ways, including that judges are not involved, said Attorney Stanley Twardy Jr., a former U.S. Attorney.

What is similar is that the examination of the case is behind closed doors. In open court at the time of changing a plea from not-guilty to guilty, and at the time of sentencing, the particulars of the case are not explored.

The public must rely on the judge to deliver a detailed explanation of how he or she derived the sentence.

Superior Court Judge John Blawie did this brilliantly last month when sentencing Danbury businessman Joseph DaSilva Jr. to 18 months in prison for the death of Luis Encalada in 2009.

I hope that the federal judge will do the same on Tuesday when sentencing Richard Sciacchetano, a 63-year-old Florida man charged in the widespread marijuana ring.

Sciacchetano, who a federal prosecutor said has ties to the Bonanno organized crime family, Mansa and Glenn Wagner, a 49-year-old Brookfield man, all changed their pleas to guilty of a single count of conspiracy to distribute more than 100 kilograms of marijuana. The charge that carries a minimum five-year sentence and a $180,000 fine.

Only the fourth member of the ring, Kevin Lubic, 49, of Salem, N.Y., and a reputed Hells Angel associate, has not changed his plea. Yet.

The steroid charges against Mansa were dropped in the December plea agreement. He is scheduled for sentencing on May 2.

Because the investigation is continuing in the drug-ring cases — as it should — files are sealed from public view. Information is sketchy on the thrust of the investigation, but this newspaper has reported that FBI officials have been to the New Milford Police Department.

I understand the sensitivity of ongoing investigations. I understand the reasoning behind the plea agreement process. But I want answers, and more information given to the public.

When we have a federal authority saying high school-aged athletes bought and used steroids and that connections in three police departments protected the dealers, we must know more.

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