Defendant charged with distributing 400+ grams of fentanyl will stay in jail despite girlfriend’s testimony

John Joseph Moakley United States Courthouse, Sept. 18 2019, Boston, MA. Photo by Chris O'Brien/BU News Service

By Stella Lorence
BU News Service

BOSTON — One of 35 defendants arrested in a Lawrence sweep last year on drug and firearm charges will stay in jail despite his girlfriend’s testimony Monday in U.S. District Court.

Johan Abreau, 24, a Dominican native living in Lawrence, was one of 35 people arrested on Oct. 4, 2018, in a Project Safe Neighborhood sweep that involved over 200 New England law enforcement officials, according to a Department of Justice release.

The investigation leading up to the sweep turned up 10 kilograms of fentanyl, according to the release. Abreau is charged with possession and intent to distribute more than 400 grams of the deadly drug.

Abreau had been on pretrial GPS-monitored release and residing with his girlfriend of almost three years, Janelle Lopez, when he was arrested earlier this month following a fight that sent police to the home, according to Abreau’s attorney John Swomley.

Abreau allegedly threw a picture frame that was meant as a gift for Lopez’s mother after Lopez and Abreau had a verbal argument outside of their house.  

A neighbor heard a “boom” and asked Lopez if she was okay, Lopez said. The neighbor’s wife called the police, who questioned Lopez and Abreau separately and then arrested Abreau. Lopez testified that Abreau did not throw the picture frame at her.

“I would dispute the notion that this was a physical altercation,” Swomley said. “It’s merely destruction of one’s own property.”

Swomley said on Abreau’s behalf that Abreau “has never put his hands on a woman,” but Magistrate Judge Marianne Bowler found it concerning that Abreau has had three restraining orders brought against him by three different women in three years.

“Even if Ms. Lopez didn’t call the police, it was a concerning enough incident that the neighbors called the police,” said prosecutor Philip Cheng.

Lopez testified that she wanted Abreau to return home with her despite her text to Abreau’s parole officer in September stating that she felt unsafe.

The text as read before the court said, “I am trying to reach you before I call the cops. Johan needs to leave the house tonight. I don’t feel safe here.”

“He’s a good person,” Lopez said in her testimony Monday. “I’ve never feared him since we’ve been together.”

Lopez confirmed that she and Abreau have verbal arguments about Abreau’s school and work habits, but that he has not physically harmed her during their relationship.

“I don’t believe that it’s the court’s job to determine what’s best for [Lopez],” Swomley said.

Bowler said she saw inconsistency in Lopez’s statements and that the text message along with Abreau’s prior history of restraining orders was troubling.

“This scenario plays out in courts all the time, where women recount their fears and it’s my job to make sure nothing happens,” Bowler said. “I am not sending him back to that residence.”

Bowler said she would consider Swomley’s proposal of an alternative residence for Abreau while he awaits his Jan. 6 sentencing hearing. Until then, he is to remain in custody.

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