By: Tom Duggan – January, 2005
LAWRENCE – Wild nights of cocaine parties and binge drinking were not isolated to the Lawrence 911 Emergency Call Center at the Bodwell Street Fire Station (Fire Alarm), according to former civilian dispatcher Judy Brito.
Brito showed up at the front door of The Valley Patriot just days ago saying she wanted to speak “on the record” about the details surrounding her termination. She chronicled months of sex, drug and alcohol parties with Lawrence firefighters.
Freely giving the names of each Lawrence firefighter she allegedly witnessed taking drugs, both at the station and in her home, Brito said drug and alcohol use in the department was “well known” by officials in the department. “Everybody knows what’s going on. It’s no secret, but nobody wants to say anything because it’s too dangerous.”
She also recalled occasions when she accompanied a “friend” during cocaine deliveries to fire stations on Bailey Street, South Broadway, Park Street, Howard Street, and the Central Station on Lowell Street. Brito said she waited in the car as her friend would go into stations to make the deliveries. Brito states that it was this “friend”, who made cocaine deliveries to the various fire stations throughout the city, who later made the anonymous tip to fire officials and turned them in.
Brito was hired as a civilian dispatcher more than a year ago. She said she was using cocaine “recreationally” at the time. “I started using drugs at Fire Alarm at the beginning,” Brito confessed. At first, she said she was guarded and kept her habit concealed from fellow workers. “But,” she added, “when Cordero started working overtime with me, I started doing blow on the job, like every week. Every time he worked overtime, we partied. And we weren’t alone.”
Brito admitted she snorted cocaine at work (as many as 40 times in a night) on multiple occasions. She said the parties would start from the minute her shift began and lasted throughout the shift. Once drugs were brought into the call center, Brito said that other firefighters would show up during the six-hour shift to “get some.”
“We started doing it at the beginning of our shift. At 5 o’clock, as soon as I’d get in, I’d have a hit.” Brito says it was a firefighter who would bring the cocaine to Fire Alarm, but added, “…[his] stuff didn’t last very long, so once we ran out of [his] stuff, I would get a friend to bring something to us later on. There were nights when I snorted, like, 44 times.”
Public Placed At Risk
Brito said there were times when the drug and alcohol parties at Fire Alarm sometimes put the public at risk. She recounted how she covered for one firefighter who would sometimes take 911 calls and forget to dispatch emergency personnel. “I can still function when I’m doing drugs. [He] couldn’t function at all. He couldn’t send the firefighters out if he tried,” she alleged. “Once he started doing blow, he couldn’t even talk and I would have to take over the shift. Guys would call, my lights were sparkling (on the switchboard) and I’d pick up the phone and [the caller] would say ‘there are no firefighters here. I called over an hour ago. There’s no firefighters here.’ So I would have to send them out.”
The 25 year old mother of two was fired last month after being videotaped with firefighter Isidro “Junior” Cordero (and others) allegedly snorting cocaine and drinking beer while they were supposed to be dispatching emergency personnel to fires, accidents and medical emergencies.
Before becoming a civilian dispatcher with the fire department, Brito worked as a matron at the police station where she supervised female prisoners in their cells. She also worked as a confidential secretary for the City of Lawrence’s Personnel Department, where she said the casual attitude towards drug use made her believe it was safe to do what she did at Lawrence Fire Alarm. Brito denies she ever used drugs while previously working for the city.
Lawrence Mayor Mike Sullivan lamented that no arrests would be made as the result of the November 17th videotaped incident showing Brito, Cordero and civilians snorting cocaine. He said there wasn’t enough evidence to arrest anyone and was satisfied now that Brito and Cordero were no longer on the city payroll.
“The main concern to me was that these individuals were impaired while the people of Lawrence were depending on them for emergency help. They were taking serious accident, fire and medical calls. It’s just scary to think that someone could have been in trouble while this stuff was going on,” Sullivan said.
“The videotape shows them wiping down the console and getting rid of any cocaine residue before the end of their shift, so it’s very difficult for us to prove in court that they were breaking the law,” he said. “No charges will be filed.”
Essex County District Attorney Jon Blodgett said he was baffled by Sullivan’s public comments that no charges would be filed, saying, “Only the District Attorney can make that decision. I can tell you that we have an active and open inves-tigation, and we haven’t deter-mined as of yet whether charges will be filed. But that decision will be made by this office,” he said.
The case is now in the hands of Special Prosecutor Tom Donovan who is not only investigating the Brito/Cordero incident, but is looking into other allegations.
Drug Rehab for EVERYONE!
The former civilian dispatcher said firefighters and police officers routinely came to her house and used cocaine while off duty. “Sometimes I had [names withheld] over my house. I mean, I wasn’t dealing to them, but I could help them get it. I knew people who could help them get it, so they’d come over my house for that. Sometimes we would get blasted at the house.”
“What gets me,” she continued, “is that I was made out to be like a scapegoat. I lost my job, no questions asked, and all these other guys are doing it. I know. I was there. I used to work in Personnel at City Hall, and when these guys got caught using drugs or whatever, they got to go to rehab and still keep their jobs. What about me? No one is fighting for me. I know the union is fighting to help Cordero get his job back, but they won’t do nothing for me. It’s all very political.”
Brito said the EAP (Employment Assistance Program) was “a joke” because firefighters and police officers in the city who use drugs know that “if they get found out, all they have to do is say they have a ‘problem’ and the city sends them to rehab. I saw it all the time when I worked at Personnel. Nobody ever loses their job.” She said that once a city worker enters the drug rehab program at EAP, drug testing is randomly done.
Cops and fire fighters are not required to take a drug test unless they have been enrolled in a rehab program.
Brito listed several examples of firefighters, police officers and other city workers who had a “drug problem” and were sent to rehab to “get clean”. The Valley Patriot confirmed those individuals had indeed gone to the EAP rehab program for drug and alcohol abuse and are still working for the city.
Lawrence Mayor Mike Sullivan also confirmed that the city’s current policy was to send city workers to drug rehab but denied that city workers who are caught using drugs “on duty” would face anything less than termination.
“What Judy Brito did is a little different than a guy who’s missing work because he has a drug problem at home and comes to us looking for help,” Sullivan replied. “We have an Employee Assistance Program for those employees who need help. But, if we ever catch someone using drugs on the job, I’ll fire them immediately. It is absolutely unacceptable. I have a zero tolerance policy when it comes to that kind of thing. The only reason [firefighter] Cordero wasn’t terminated on the spot, and had a hearing, was because the union contract and civil service have certain procedures we have to follow.”
Mayoral Aide Myles Burke said that Civil Service regulations prohibit mandatory drug testing for fire and police, but added that the city can, with cause, ask a city employee to voluntarily take a drug test. “If they refuse, then there really isn’t much we can do. If a city employee comes to us and says they have a drug problem, we send them to rehab.”
Judy Brito says that several firefighters called her cell phone when word got out that a videotape existed showing drug use at the firehouse. One firefighter (name withheld), “kept calling and calling me. He kept telling me not to mention his name and not to get him involved,” she said. “They were all nice to me when it first happened. I was their friend and they all wanted to make sure I wasn’t going to name names. Then suddenly nobody would talk to me, and they were all blaming me for what happened. Guilt by association, you know. All of a sudden I was being talked about like it was all me. I’m like, ‘Don’t you guys remember all the times we did blow together? Now you act all outraged at what I did.’ What about these guys?”
How Many Tapes?
Brito also questioned whether police and fire officials videotaped only one night of “parties” at the Bodwell St. Fire Alarm. “They said the camera was there on Monday and Tuesday, but now they say they only recorded on Wednesday. I heard there were two other tapes at first,” she said. “But the only one they showed me was that night.” She suspects the other videos disappeared, “because other firefighters were using drugs on the two previous nights and are being protected,” she says. Brito admitted to allegedly delivering cocaine to firefighters at the Bodwell Street Fire Station the night before she was taped.
Mayoral Aide Myles Burke confirmed that the police videotaped more than one night, but claims that the only night drug or alcohol use was observed was the night Brito and Cordero worked together.
Lawrence Mayor Sullivan, unaware that we had spoken to Burke about the issue, contradicted both Burke and Brito saying that only one night was videotaped.
“We have all 16 hours of the uncut video; there was no splicing it at all except to take the 6 hours Brito worked with Cordero. When we were putting it together for the hearing, we took what we thought were the most damaging portions, but they never asked to see it,” he said. “But I assure you there was only one night that was videotaped.”
“When the anonymous tip came in we looked at the schedule to see when these two were going to work together because the caller said it only happened only when Brito and Cordero worked on the same shift. The camera was put in before their shift and we don’t have any damaging evidence on anyone else who works for the city. The only conclusive evidence we had was Brito, Cordero and the other people in the video who aren’t employees of the city. The chief and detectives are following up on their identities, but there really isn’t anything we can do to them.”
Asked if he thought this was an isolated incident, Sullivan said the city had no “evidence” of other firefighters drinking or using drugs on duty. He was quick to point out that Brito’s accusations “are just that, accusations.”
Sullivan was quick to point out that the entire incident came to light as the result of “a cooperative effort between Lawrence firefighters, police officers and officials in City Hall”
“I really want to compliment the Fire Chief, the Police Chief, the City Attorney, and the Personnel Director for doing this right. As soon as we got the anonymous tip, they did due diligence and they followed the procedures by the book. What I am concerned about is how this makes the city and the rest of the firefighters look.”
“Ninety nine percent of the cops and firefighters in this city are honest. They work hard and they do the right thing. It shouldn’t go without saying that we have one of the best fire and police departments around. Of course, there are always bad apples, but these guys handled the situation exactly right.”
Brito said she separated from her hus-band whom she met when he was nineteen and she was twelve years old. “He used to beat me so bad that I actually went into rehab [last] April just to get away from him,” she alleged. Even after leaving her husband, she said he continued to stalk and beat her. “I missed a lot of work because of it. Every-one thought it was because I had a drug problem. It wasn’t that at all. It was just to get away from him,” she added.
“I know what I did was wrong, and it was stupid,” she said. “I’ll take responsibility for what I did, but it wasn’t just me, and I’m being talked about like I was the problem. Like I was the big druggie. Because I’m not there anymore, they’re putting everything on me. I’ve had it rough, you know. I’ve overcome a lot and I’m trying to turn my life around now.”