, Newburyport, MA

July 8, 2011

Warrants issued for former chief

By Angeljean Chiaramida
Staff writer

SALISBURY — Warrants were issued yesterday for the arrest of former Salisbury police chief David L'Esperance on felony larceny charges related to thefts during his four-year tenure at the Salisbury Police Department.

L'Esperance, 51, formerly of Seabrook, now of Lynn, is charged in the warrants with two felony counts of larceny of property worth more than $250 and two misdemeanor counts of larceny of property worth less than $250.

According to court documents, one felony larceny count and both misdemeanor larceny counts relate to L'Esperance stealing items from two different crime scenes.

The arrest warrants — issued in Newburyport District Court from charges brought by Salisbury police — stem from information unearthed during two extensive investigations into the Police Department conducted by former Salem police Chief Robert St. Pierre, Salisbury Town Manager Neil Harrington said.

"At this stage, the town believes we have done our due diligence, and now the matter is in the hands of the criminal justice system," Harrington said. "I'm hopeful District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett and the powers that be will utilize whatever resources are at their disposal to prosecute the case to the full extent of the law."

On Jan. 18, in the midst of St. Pierre's first investigation, L'Esperance retired from police work, effectively resigning as Salisbury's chief. An attorney, L'Esperance has since reopened his law office in Lynn.

L'Esperance is charged with taking from an April 2007 crime scene a World War II-era detonator plunger device worth more than $250 (a felony), as well as a Hells Angels booklet worth less than $250, (a misdemeanor). Both items were taken from the former home of David Plonowski, 28 Pike St., Salisbury.

Plonowski was arrested on April 9, 2007, after numerous firearms, explosives, explosive parts, ammunition and other weaponry, some of which were vintage, as well as drugs, money, magazines and books related to weaponry, were found to be illegally stored at the Pike Street home.

According to court documents, L'Esperance kept the vintage detonator plunger on top of his desk in his police station office. Although both current Salisbury police Chief Richard Merrill and Detective Steven Sforza saw the item on L'Esperance's desk, neither realized it had come from the Plonowski home until Sgt. Robert Roy recalled observing the detonator in Plonowski's cellar during the course of the raid.

The Hells Angels booklet — with Plonowski's name in it — was found in L'Esperance's office desk after he resigned, court documents say. The booklet was also recognized by Salisbury Detective Sgt. Anthony King as being in Plonowski's house along with other Hells Angels material.

The other misdemeanor-level theft charge tied to a crime scene concerns an extension cord and assorted tools taken from the trunk of a vehicle belonging to a Lawrence man, Temmy Ortiz, in January 2007.

L'Esperance is also charged with a felony count of misappropriation of a vehicle that had been donated to the town by local company SPS New England.

According to court documents, L'Esperance in spring 2010 received Harrington's permission to ask SPS, a heavy construction company headquartered in Salisbury, to donate a truck to the town.

In June 2010, SPS owner Phil Capolupo agreed to the request, giving the town a 2001 red Dodge Dakota pickup truck with 387,000 miles on it. According to court documents, L'Esperance picked up the truck, drove it to the Salisbury Fire Department and parked it there, where it stayed for about two months. L'Esperance then drove it to his home in Seabrook, where it was soon picked up by Bryan Fleming, owner of Honks Martin Road Salvage in Amesbury.

According to court documents, L'Esperance gave the truck to Fleming for free without getting Harrington's permission. The vehicle has an estimated Kelly Blue Book value of approximately $2,500. According to court documents, donation of the truck without permission deprived the town of property of substantial value, resulting in the felony larceny charge.

Fleming sold the truck to Al Whitford of Rangeley, Maine, for $800, according to court documents. Whitford, after making some repairs, then sold the truck for $1,800 to the father of Todd Clark, who registered the car in Maine.

Allegations of criminal activity against L'Esperance became public late last year, and he was placed on paid leave Dec. 6. Harrington hired St. Pierre in mid-December to conduct an investigation into allegations that the former chief traded drugs for sex and favors. The allegations were made by individuals who had been charged with and since convicted for being part of an extensive regional theft ring.

To date, no charges have been brought against L'Esperance based on the original allegations.

St. Pierre's first review into wrongdoing in the Salisbury Police Department resulted in a report released Jan. 24. St. Pierre is currently preparing a report on his second review, Harrington said.

Harrington said the last seven months have not been easy on the town.

"I guess the most difficult part of the saga was the duplicity that abounded during the former chief's tenure of office, when he said one thing, but as a result of the investigations, we found what he said wasn't true," Harrington said. "I feel misled based on what I know now."

Harrington said there had been rumors concerning L'Esperance's behavior — both personal and professional — but the rumors were speculations with no hard evidence to back them up other than hearsay. Since the scandal broke in December, even more rumors surfaced, some of which proved to be untrue as a result of St. Pierre's investigation, he said.

"The hardest part for me was not to make any statements to the public while the investigation was going on," Harrington said.