LAWRENCE— Even though a court officer suspected his boss might be stealing prescription medications from prisoners at Western Worcester District Court in East Brookfield last year, he was still stunned when he discovered evidence that allegedly confirmed his suspicions.
Officer Francine Melanson, 46, of Ardmore Street, Worcester, was arraigned yesterday in Lawrence District Court on one count of larceny of property under $250. A not guilty plea was entered and her case was continued to Oct. 3.
Documents in a one-inch-thick court file indicate a lengthy investigation by state police that allegedly includes Ms. Melanson caught on video removing drugs from the cell block earlier this year.
The investigation began when a woman arrested by Leicester police in October 2006 claimed some of her hydrocodone pills were missing. The prescription drug is used for pain management.
State police installed a camera in the cell area of the court in November and, in a tape made on Feb. 13, 2007, allegedly saw Ms. Melanson with several pill bottles in front of her. According to a police report, she appeared to be reading the labels before selecting one bottle, pouring the pills into her hand and stuffing them in her pocket.
“She was clearly observed placing the pills from the bottle into her pants pocket,” the report states, adding that she then took similar looking tablets from another bottle and poured some into the empty container.
In an interview with state police, Court Officer Scott Marderosian said there had been talk among his co-workers, Court Officers Vernon “Gus” Chester and Dale Sheldon, and himself about the missing drugs.
In late September 2006, Court Officer Marderosian had counted oxycodone pills in a bottle belonging to a man charged with hurling items at vehicles on Route 49. He placed the prescription in a bag and filled out an intake sheet.
Later that day, Court Officer Marderosian said he noticed the bottle was in a different bag and had a new label — one filled out by Ms. Melanson. He counted the pills and found 8. That morning he’d tallied 18.
“I still couldn’t believe it was her,” he told state police when asked why he had recounted the pills. “I thought there was a problem and I couldn’t believe it was her.”
Court Officer Dale Sheldon said he’d talked with Massachusetts State Trooper Robert Benoit after another prisoner reported some of his medications were missing.
In his statement to state police investigators, Court Officer Sheldon said he spoke to a prisoner who returned to pick up his medications. The man allegedly told Officer Sheldon, “You have a junkie working with you.”
As part of their investigation, state police also looked into two reports that Percocet pills were reportedly taken from Ms. Melanson’s car in break-ins reported in 2005 and 2006. The first incident allegedly happened in July 2005 in Paxton and the second in November 2006 in Spencer.
In the Spencer incident, police did not find any evidence of someone forcing their way into the car, though Ms. Melanson allegedly said she was unsure if the car was locked.
When police went to Dudley District Court, where she also worked, in February to speak with Ms. Melanson, she told them she wanted to first speak to a lawyer.
Several days later, her lawyer called state police and said she would not be meeting with them because she had checked in to Gosnold Treatment Center in Falmouth and that “she has a substance abuse problem,” the report states.
Ms. Melanson was released on personal recognizance.
Her case was moved to Lawrence District Court to avoid any appearance of a conflict in Worcester County, where she worked.
She was relieved of duty earlier this year and was later placed on unpaid leave.
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