ROCKLAND – Pool hall owner Craig Simmons Jr., 33, of Rockland was arrested Thursday evening after drug agents, police officers and a drug-sniffing state police dog searched his business and home, allegedly seizing 31/2 ounces of cocaine, an unspecified amount of cash and drug paraphernalia.
Simmons was taken to Knox County Jail, where he was charged with one count of aggravated trafficking in cocaine, a Class A felony. Simmons has several prior drug trafficking convictions, according to an agent, which is the reason for the “aggravated” or more serious charge of trafficking.
The city man, who owns Homeport Billiards, had been fighting with city officials and the state liquor bureau for months, trying to renew his liquor license and other licenses to keep his pool hall open. City councilors, however, refused to reissue his liquor, billiard room, amusement device and victualer’s licenses – which are required to do business – because of drug trafficking activities that allegedly had occurred at or near his pool hall.
When contacted Friday, Simmons said that, contrary to information from a Maine Drug Enforcement Agency spokesman, none of the cocaine was found at his place of business.
He declined further comment.
In 1998, an undercover sting operation was conducted by MDEA and Rockland police, which resulted in the conviction of three men for drug trafficking.
In his pleas for his licenses, Simmons argued that he was not connected to the men and that the drug deals were set up by law enforcement officers.
After an administrative court hearing in July, a judge fined Simmons $1,023 for “allowing” the sales of cocaine at or near his business, but did not support the state’s effort to revoke his liquor license. That ruling is still pending an appeal. Simmons claims he knew nothing about the drug deals.
It was just two weeks ago that the state Bureau of Liquor Enforcement upheld the City Council’s decision to deny Homeport Billiards a liquor license. Simmons planned to appeal that decision, too.
Bureau Director Lynn Cayford had said that his agency could find no reason to overturn the city’s ruling because it was based on justifiable cause.
In November, the bureau held a courtlike hearing in Rockland where testimony revealed that Simmons had more criminal convictions than he previously disclosed in his license applications.
After the state’s Dec. 13 ruling, Simmons’ temporary license was to expire in 30 days.
The investigation, which led to Simmons’ arrest Thursday, began about two months ago and was aimed at zeroing in on cocaine distribution in the Greater Rockland area, according to MDEA agents.
The probe culminated Thursday with the execution of two search warrants – one at Simmons’ Knott Street residence and the other at Homeport Billiards on Winter Street.
Cocaine was found at both locations, according to an MDEA agent, but the majority of the illegal substance was discovered at the home. The street value of the 3.5 ounces of cocaine is estimated at $9,000.
District Attorney Geoffrey Rushlau said that if a person were convicted of aggravated trafficking in scheduled drugs, the mandatory minimum sentence would be four years. The maximum sentence for a Class A crime is 40 years, but for a drug conviction, it would likely yield a maximum of 20 years, he said.
Rushlau noted that he is not familiar with Simmons’ case. A representative at the Attorney General’s Office could not be reached.
According to jail Administrator Richard Robbins, Simmons was released on $10,000 cash bail after his arrest. He is scheduled to appear in Rockland District Court Feb. 6 on the charge, he said.
The case remains under investigation and more arrests are expected, according to an MDEA agent, who added that there has been a noticeable increase in the availability of cocaine, heroin and illegally diverted pharmaceutical drugs in the midcoast area.