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Lowville man acquitted of heroin sale charges

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LOWVILLE — A Lewis County jury on Thursday morning acquitted a Lowville man of charges that he sold heroin last December.

Jurors deliberated for about 20 minutes before finding Andrew Meda, 33, South State Street, not guilty on charges of third-degree criminal sale and possession of a controlled substance, according to Assistant District Attorney Caleb J. Petzoldt, who handled prosecution of the case.

Mr. Meda had been accused of selling heroin on Dec. 10 in the village of Lowville. He was one of 10 people arrested in April as part of “Operation Spring Sweep,” a two-year investigation by village, state and county authorities involving the sale of narcotics, most of them prescription drugs.

During closing statements, both Mr. Petzoldt and defense attorney Gary W. Miles agreed that the case hinged on the credibility of witness Nicholas M. Panarese, who said he bought the drug from Mr. Meda as part of a police sting.

Mr. Miles, who represented Mr. Meda with attorney Michael F. Young, immediately questioned that credibility, calling the convicted felon an “admitted liar” who participated in the operation to help get a lighter prison sentence, then tried to get out of testifying by altering his story.

The defense attorney also criticized members of the village Police Department and Lewis County Sheriff’s Department for their execution of the so-called controlled buy.

“What they had here was an uncontrolled buy,” he said.

By sending Mr. Panarese into the apartment building without a wire or accompanied by an undercover officer, police had no verification that he had actually purchased the drug from Mr. Meda and were not even certain which entrance he had used, Mr. Miles said. The attorney also suggested that a three-minute search of Mr. Panarese before he entered the building may not have been sufficient to determine that he didn’t have the drug beforehand.

Mr. Miles said police never determined whether Mr. Meda’s pickup truck was in the parking lot at the time of the alleged buy, noting his client claims that he left early that day for a class at Jefferson Community College in Watertown and was not even in the apartment.

“You deserve better evidence than was put before you yesterday,” he said.

Mr. Miles also asked jurors not to hold against Mr. Meda that he is a “pretty wealthy man through his family’s investments” and receives an allowance while taking college courses. The defense attorney added that in his experience, people tend to sell drugs either because they are an addict or they need money, and that Mr. Meda falls into neither category.

However, Mr. Petzoldt said, people also sell drugs if they get caught up in that particular lifestyle.

“They like running with that crowd,” he said.

Noting that Mr. Panarese apparently had visited Mr. Meda’s apartment several times, Mr. Petzoldt characterized the two men as more than just acquaintances.

“It’s a known associate,” he said. “How does he know him? And, more importantly, why does he know him?”

The prosecutor acknowledged his prime witness’s criminal record, drug addiction and self-serving attitude and suggested that Mr. Panarese had done so during his testimony, as well.

He said that Mr. Panarese — who is released under parole supervision after completing the state prison system’s Willard drug rehabilitation program — had a motive to help police at the time, but that there would be no reason for him to perpetuate the story if it wasn’t true.

Mr. Petzoldt noted that police had testified that a wire wasn’t used out of concern that the transmission could have been picked up by a scanner or baby monitor.

Acting Lewis County Judge Donald E. Todd presided over the 2-day trial.

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