FALMOUTH - The 23-year-old blonde posing as a high school senior sidles up to another student in the wood shop and asks to score some weed.
The next night, after a cell phone call, Kaitlin Keane meets Falmouth High senior Chad Wiernicki outside his house on Sidewinder Road, where he's smoking a cigarette. She pulls over and Wiernicki walks to the driver's side window to hand over a plastic bag.
"I took some of your weed and smoked it last night," Wiernicki tells Keane, who had paid him $40 the day before for an eighth of an ounce of marijuana. "We can blaze this weekend to make it fair if you want. The weed came out to like 2.7 grams."
Keane is noncommittal. "I'll let you know, but I have to go pick up my father right now. Thanks for getting me this."
The alleged drug buy March 29 is one of several detailed in court records.
Nine days later, Wiernicki would get an early wake-up call from Falmouth police arresting him and charging him with two counts of possession of marijuana with intent to distribute and two counts of selling marijuana. He pleaded not guilty and was released on $500 cash bail. He is due back in court April 25.
Wiernicki is one of nine students who bought Keane's story. Three other 17-year-olds - Adam Hey, Scott Theirault and Ryan Tripp - face charges as adults. In all, police say 32 drug buys were made during the nearly four-month investigation and 20 of those were made at the high school. Five juveniles, including one girl, are also charged. At one house, officers reportedly found $3,500 in cash and more than $6,000 worth of marijuana. They also seized smoking pipes, clips and other drug paraphernalia.
The undercover sheriff's department employee told "classmates" her mother was dead and her father was serving in the military in Iraq to gain the trust and sympathy of her classmates.
Local defense attorney Drew Segadelli, who isn't representing any of the teens, said he's surprised there isn't more outrage about the methods used to snag them. It's not too difficult to understand why the adolescents went out of their way to help a pretty girl looking to score drugs, he said.
"If a good-looking girl wants something, I would jump off the Bourne Bridge to help her," he said.
The police tactics used in the Falmouth High case spawned a flood of letters to the Times objecting to the use of the undercover officer.
But among some parents of high school students, the sting is getting high marks. "We're glad they're taking a serious look at this and they're taking action," said the mother of a Falmouth senior who asked that her name not be used to protect her daughter.
Falmouth Supt. Dennis Richards agrees. "Generally, the reaction's been very positive," he said.
So is it good police work, or preying on the emotions of hormone-charged teens?
Putting Students on Notice
Falmouth Detective Kent Clarkson dismisses those railing against the use of a female undercover officer with a sympathetic tale to tell. The teens were given a choice, he said, and made the decision to deal drugs.
"She went in cold," Barnstable County Sheriff James Cummings said. "You have to work your way in. ... She did a good job."
It's not the first time Falmouth police and school officials have used the undercover approach at the high school, although in 2001 it was a male, youthful-looking sheriff's department employee who worked his way in. He posed as a senior for one month and helped police charge 13 people - both students and non-students - with several drug charges including possession of cocaine and marijuana. That investigation was prompted by administrators after a high school student overdosed on heroin.
Clarkson was also involved in the 2001 probe and says it worked as a deterrent. "Am I saying that I never saw any of those kids (arrested) again? No."
Retired Falmouth Supt. Peter Clark, who still lives in town, said the 2001 sting didn't result in many convictions, but it did raise awareness and put students on notice. "It was a strong statement the school was concerned and would take action," he said.
Peter Manning, a criminal justice professor at Northeastern University, said it will be an uneasy last few weeks at Falmouth High this school year for drug dealers and users, but the undercover sting won't have a lasting impact.
Manning believes it could actually backfire on the police department. "It reduces the trustworthiness of police and creates divisions and anger," he said.
Some of that is evident on the MySpace.com sites of Falmouth High teens. "Yo that sucks how u got hit by the po-po," writes one teen to Wiernicki using instant messaging jargon. "Do u have probation or anything?"
Others make light of the bust. One girl, a slight blonde, writes that her friends accused her of being "the narc." And another teen links a Channel 7 news report to his page because he was interviewed by a reporter.
John Butler, a junior at Falmouth High, said the arrests do have students looking over their shoulders. "It's just not appropriate to send cops into the schools," he said.
But that's not the reaction you'll get from most parents around town who are largely supportive of the operation.
"Hopefully, it shines light on a problem and wakes people up," said the mother who wanted to remain anonymous.
Police went to administrators with the idea because of increased drug activity and violence at the school.
"A lot of the violence in town, like the recent home invasions, has to do with drugs," Clarkson said. "Eighty percent of the violence in town goes back to drugs."
Some of the teens' actions could have gotten them hurt if they weren't dealing with a controlled sell to an undercover officer.
Hey, for example, only came up with $20 worth of drugs for Keane, but she had given him $40. Throughout the investigation, Hey was asked to return $20, but told her he had his wallet stolen, according to court records. "I'm poor and I don't have a job, but I'll get the money back to you eventually," he said.
If it weren't a controlled sell to an undercover agent, Hey could have been getting himself in real trouble, Clarkson said. "That person would either have to produce the drugs or the money," he said.
Robert Nolan, a local attorney representing Hey, said he is a good student who was recently accepted to several colleges. His mother is the pastor at the North Falmouth Congregational Church.
Hey, who has no juvenile record, faces the most serious charge of selling drugs on school property, which carries a mandatory minimum of two years in prison and could result in 15 years behind bars. "He is not guilty and we plan to put up a vigorous defense," Nolan said.
The other suspects either could not be reached or refused to comment.
Sting Not Illegal
In light of Keane's story and her looks, some wonder if police nabbed a few kids under the influence of lust rather than drugs.
"People may find it scandalous and illegal, but it's not," Manning said of the undercover probe. Courts find it acceptable for undercover officers to sell drugs and to use sex or other forms of deception, so they won't have a problem with a woman using her looks and a sob story.
And entrapment, as the parent of one of the accused teens suggested in the hours after the drug bust, won't be a workable defense, Manning said.
For parents concerned with police tactics instead of what their kids were doing, Clarkson urges them to do some self analyzing. When police arrived at one house, the officers could smell burning marijuana as a parent tried to block their entry into the home. "Instead of diverting attention and casting blame, look at yourself and deal with the issue," Clarkson said.
Judges don't usually care for the type of operation used in Falmouth, Manning said. He doesn't like it either. He takes particular issue with officers knocking on doors in the early morning hours and making a big scene by alerting the media to the arrests. He said there was no need to embarrass the families.
Law enforcement officials aren't fazed by the criticism.
Falmouth police have teamed up with the schools before and they will do it again if necessary, Clarkson said. He said this shouldn't be mistaken as a Falmouth High problem. Drugs are something all high schools on Cape Cod are wrestling with, but Falmouth police are taking a bold approach, he said. The idea is to get at the root of the problem - more arrests or charges could be coming - and send a strong message drugs won't be tolerated at school.
"If I had my way, I would have plucked them right out of the school," Clarkson said.
FOR THE RECORD
Some of the alleged drug buys detailed in court records:
We are careful not to duplicate the efforts of other organizations, and as a grassroots coalition of prisoners and social reformers, our resources (time and money) are limited. The vast expertise and scope of the various drug reform organizations will enable you to stay informed on the ever-changing, many-faceted aspects of the movement. Our colleagues in reform also give the latest drug war news. Please check their websites often.