2 Arrested for $45,000 worth of Drugs found in Waterville Commons

Nestled in central Maine, Waterville may appear to be isolated from intense national issues. Yet a major drug bust last week proved that the city is acutely impacted by the widespread opioid epidemic facing the nation. On the afternoon of Sept. 27, Waterville police seized $45,000 worth of drugs and arrested two people at Waterville Commons after a joint investigation with the Augusta Police Department.

Waterville Police’s Deputy Chief Bill Bonney commended the teamwork of those involved with the months long investigation and stressed the relevance of the seizure.

“These two were definitely moving a lot of product,” Bonney said. “This was a significant seizure for this area.”

Ambrose Wan, 32, of New York, New York, and Toni Juliano, 30, of Canaan, Maine were apprehended by police as Juliano was dropping Wan off at Walmart in the Waterville Commons. While Juliano cooperated with police during the search, Wan took off on foot and was arrested after a brief chase.

Following searches of the car and a local hotel room, the police seized $38,000 in cash and more than 282 grams of heroin, fentanyl, cocaine, and seven sublingual Suboxone strips, which contain drugs used to aid recovery from opioid addiction.

Juliano was also involved in a second seizure in a different Waterville hotel on Sept. 6, where almost 390 grams of heroin, fentanyl and cocaine were seized. In the month of September alone, she was implicated in the seizure of more than 672 grams of drugs valued at over $100,000.

“Significant seizures like these are in keeping with the Waterville Police Department philosophy of aggressively enforcing the drug laws of the State of Maine against source level suppliers,” Waterville police Chief Joseph Massey stated in a press release.

Both defendants were charged with multiple felonies and misdemeanors. Juliano was denied bail, while bail was set for Wan at $150,000. They are both set to appear in court in November.

The major seizures in Waterville are consistent with rising opioid overdose deaths in the state of Maine.  According to statistics released by Maine’s attorney general, in 2016, there was an average of one death every day from an opioid overdose.

“We are right in the thick of this,” said Bonney, “In the first six months of this year, Maine had 185 drug overdoses, so it really hasn’t gone down and we are really sticking to that one-a-day death statewide overdose.”

With the goal of reducing the number of people impacted by opioid overdoses, the Waterville Police Department instituted Operation HOPE (Heroin Opioid Prevention Effort) in Jan. 2017. Bonney referred to the initiative as a “three-pronged approach,” focusing on enforcement, education and treatment.

The recent arrests represent the enforcement aspect of the operation. Police are focusing on apprehending the fourth level suppliers who bring large quantities of drugs into Maine with the intent of distributing them to smaller scale local dealers. 

“We have a drug unit here that constantly works drug cases,” said Bonney. “We have been pretty fortunate that we have had some great successes recently and over the past few years really targeting these source level suppliers and taking the big fish off the street as opposed to just going after petty dealers.”

“We are looking at taking out people who are actually importing this product into Maine from out of state,” continued Bonney.

For the local users and street level dealers, the police advocate a path of treatment through Operation HOPE. This allows individuals suffering from addiction to dispose of drugs without being charged and pairs them with “volunteer angels,” community volunteers who support the individuals as they seek help.

While it is too soon to gather significant data determining the overall effectiveness of the program, it has begun to offer resources to those struggling with opioid addiction in Waterville.

“We have seen 24 people since January, and we have been able to put most of those folks into treatment,” said Bonney.

The education aspect of the initiative partners with area non-profit Healthy Northern Kennebec to bring police officers to schools to discuss the dangers of opioids with local students.

“The goal is to prevent another generation of opioid addicts,” said Bonney. “In my mind if we can help one person not become an addict then it has been a huge success.”