Police have linked a rash of burglaries targeting New England cannabis dispensaries to a trio of suspects in Massachusetts, according to a report from the Portland Press Herald. Law enforcement officers say that a man from New Bedford, Massachusetts and two brothers from Boston are suspected in the string of burglaries of licensed cannabis enterprises going back to 2020.
Police began connecting the crimes after a burglary at a cannabis grower in Gorham, Maine in October of last year. In that caper, three individuals wearing face coverings, hats and long sleeves cut their way through an exterior wall of the business located in an industrial park while a fourth person stood watch outside. The three burglars inside the building moved cautiously from room to room, trying to avoid detection by motion sensors. When the team finally left a couple of hours later, they took 30 pounds of cannabis and 500 THC vape cartridges with them.
During their investigation, police reviewed video from the cannabis cultivator’s security cameras. One camera caught the image of the Massachusetts license plate of a pickup truck that entered the parking lot two hours before the crime. And inside the building, one of the camera’s microphones recorded the burglars talking to one another.
“Where the (expletive) is Dario?” one burglar clearly said to another.
“He’s putting the trunks in the truck, ” the accomplice replied.
Investigation Yields Three Suspects
The license plate led law enforcement officers to Dario Almeida, a 21-year-old man with an address in New Bedford, Massachusetts. When Gorham police Detective Stephen Hinkley called New Bedford police, they gave him a cellphone number for Almeida, who had had a recent contact with the department.
A week later, police in New Bedford contacted Hinkley via email to inform him that Almeida and his brother Rafael were suspects in a similar burglary of a cannabis cultivator in Warwick, Rhode Island, where the same pickup truck was also caught on video. Police believe that the brothers are from South Boston and a third suspect is from New Bedford, according to Mass Live.
After reaching out to other New England law enforcement agencies, Hinkley learned of seven similar burglaries that had occurred in Maine since June of last year. Another Gorham cannabis business was also burglarized by criminals who cut through an exterior wall on Thanksgiving night in 2020. Burglars also targeted a cannabis business in South Portland, Maine. In January, a Portland, Maine judge issued a search warrant for evidence including location data from one of the suspect’s cell phones for the times that two of the burglaries occurred. No arrests have yet been made, and the case is still being investigated.
Police in South Portland and Warwick did not reply to reporters’ questions about the burglaries. Gorham Police Chief Christopher Sanborn also declined to comment on the rash of burglaries.
“This is an open investigation that we are currently working on,” Sanborn said. “I’m sorry, but I cannot comment any further at this time.”
Maine’s cannabis regulatory agency, the Office of Marijuana Policy, requires licensed cannabis businesses to report burglaries, robberies and other crimes. But David Heidrich, a spokesperson for the agency, said that many businesses are not familiar with the procedure to submit such reports. The reports the regulator has received are confidential and an analysis of the information they contain has not been conducted by the agency.
“We are not a law enforcement entity, and our role in regulating cannabis is to ensure licensee and registrant compliance with Maine’s adult and medical use of marijuana laws,” Heidrich wrote in response to a request for information on crime reports at cannabis businesses. “Thefts and burglaries are crimes, and the best source for information about criminal activity is and has always been law enforcement.”
An executive at Tetrapoint LLC, a South Portland-based cannabis security firm that transports pot and cash for cannabis businesses, told the Portland Press Herald that many companies are lulled by Maine’s reputation as a low-crime state into being complacent about security. But he said that the threat to cannabis businesses still exists.
“The tendency is to say, the bank’s only a half-hour away, why would we pay people to drive there?” said the executive, who requested anonymity to prevent being targeted for robbery while he’s on the job. “We have clients who are next door to a bank, and they still utilize our services.”
The executive also noted that despite pot’s continued illegality at the federal level, many local police departments are treating cannabis businesses just like other crime victims.
“In several different communities, we’ve found that local law enforcement are very friendly because it’s driving new business,” the security executive said. “Some folks may not be particularly happy about the industry, but it’s here, it’s now and it’s happening.”