Plea lets jailed man face parole
NASHUA - An alleged gang member who police charge began carrying a pistol and dealing cocaine after moving to Nashua from New York City was sentenced Tuesday to 1-1/2 to five years in prison. Police began eyeing Robert "Bless" Quinones, 26, after an informant told them he was selling $50 bags of cocaine "on a 24-7 basis" from his former home at 10 Warren St., Assistant Attorney General Karin Eckel said. Quinones was arrested in March 2007, after he twice sold small amounts of cocaine to undercover detectives, she said. Searching his home, police found a loaded .38-caliber pistol and eight bags of cocaine, totaling about 3.5 grams, as well as a scales and packing materials. Quinones has been jailed since, unable to post bail, and on Tuesday he pleaded guilty to charges of selling cocaine, and possession with the intent to sell it.The 527 days Quinones has already spent in jail will make him eligible for parole within a week or two of his arrival in prison, but Hillsborough County Superior Court Judge William Groff recommended that he be paroled directly to a residential drug treatment program. Quinones has arranged to be accepted into the next available spot in the Farnum Center's 28-day residential program, his lawyer, Richard Monteith, said. After completing the Farnum program, Quinones has arranged to enter an outpatient transitional living program at Keystone Hall, Monteith said. Because he has a prior marijuana conviction, Quinones could have faced up to 7-1/2 to 15 years in prison on each charge, rather than the usual 3-1/2 to seven years for a small amount of cocaine, if convicted at trial. In exchange for his guilty pleas, Eckel recommended 2-1/2 to seven years in prison, and a $500 fine. "The defendant is a prolific drug dealer," she said, adding later, "Hopefully this sentence would send a clear message that there is no safe haven for drug dealers in New Hampshire." Quinones sold drugs only to support his own habit, however, Monteith argued. He urged that Quinones remain in the Hillsborough County jail until a spot opens in the Farnum Center and then be released to the program. "He doesn't want to get back out on the street and start using again, and then start selling again," Monteith said, adding later, "He knows he's going straight to prison if he gets caught dealing drugs again." Groff settled on prison, but with release as soon as the parole board and treatment center can arrange it. Quinones will also have consecutive prison sentences of one to five years to remain suspended so long as he stays out of trouble. Quinones said he will; he hasn't enjoyed his time in jail. "I will do whatever I need to do to avoid coming back," he said. "I will not fail myself, my family or this court . . . it will be the first and only chance I get." Quinones initially had been charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm, but prosecutors were unable to get enough details on his prior criminal record in New York to support that charge, Eckel said. Though Quinones had a substantial record, it appeared that his prior convictions were all misdemeanors, Monteith said. "It's really being blown out of proportion here," Monteith said of Quinones' prior record. At the time of his arrest, police described Quinones as a "dangerous kid," saying he was a former member or associate of the Crips street gang in New York, and had aligned himself with the Gangster Disciples in Nashua. In addition to the cocaine dealing charges, Quinones was arrested for possession of marijuana, breaking a fire sprinkler head in the police station, and escape, for running away after police had stopped him. Those charges were dropped as part of his plea bargain, however.