5 in custody were planning additional crimes
By JOHN DeSANTIS
Senior Staff Writer
The arrests of five people in connection with a daring Houma pharmacy theft thwarted a planned spree of similar crimes, said investigators, who are now looking for connections between the break-in and similar crimes in Terrebonne and other parishes.
Local pharmacists say the case had raised concerns among them. The thieves used an axe to break into a brick wall at the Houma Urgent Care’s pharmacy on Corporate Drive in Tuesday’s wee hours. New security measures at some pharmacies are already in place.
Detectives are not certain yet how the theft figures into Terrebonne’s complex and widespread illegal drug distribution operations, but the case now has several agencies – and agents of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration – taking a close look and seeing if there are dots that can be connected.
“It is unusual,” Terrebonne Parish Jerry Larpenter said of the entry method. “Normally it is a busted door. Through a brick wall is definitely unusual. I guess the need for money and the need for drugs led them to do this, and led them to getting caught.”
Alain Woods, of 114 Roland Henry St. in Montegut, Clifton Halloway, 18, of 257 Grand Caillou Road, and Diquan Woods, 22, of 306 Morgan St., were booked into the Terrebonne Parish jail on charges of burglary of a pharmacy.
Alain Woods’ girlfriend, Joann Cuccia, 22, of New Orleans,and Halloway’s girlfriend, Haley Nunez, 17, of Tennessee,were connected to the planning of the burglary and also charged. Prior to and after the burglary, the five suspects gathered at Alain Woods’ sister’s home on Goaux Avenue in Houma.
Led by Assistant Chief of Detectives Dawn Foret, investigators worked street sources, examined video from multiple surveillance cameras in the vicinity of the pharmacy, and also scanned videos from days prior to the incident during a feverish non-stop probe that began after the 3:30 a.m. burglary was reported.
They identified a red Dodge pickup in connection with the high-profile heist, and were alerted by informants that it was seen in east Houma Tuesday afternoon. Detectives fanned out and spotted the truck on East Street near East Main. And immediately closed in.
“We had put feelers out to confidential informants and other sources,” Foret said, explaining that once the truck was spotted there was no place for it to go. “We had two units coming up from Grand Caillou and another from the Main Street side.”
Detectives approached the truck and ordered all five of its occupants to the pavement, where they lay on their bellies as backup units arrived, and incredulous East Street residents gaped at what they described as a scene out of the movies.
Both Alain Woods and Cuccia had recently been released from St. Tammany Parish, where they were doing time for unspecified crimes. The investigation of their potential involvement now includes authorities from St. Tammany and New Orleans.
After the suspects were whisked away, the truck remained in the middle of the street where it had been stopped, guarded by a detective and a patrol officer. They directed curious motorists around the vehicle, prior to its being processed for evidence.
During questioning of the suspects, detectives confirmed that at least one similar heist was planned, but did not supply details as to which pharmacy was targeted.
A warrant was obtained for the Gouax Avenue house and Tuesday night detectives executed their search, coming away with a haul of illegal drugs. The gang had been living “pillar to post,” and detectives are comfortable that the woman whose home was used – who works full time – had no idea it had been turned into a crime nest.
Larpenter praised the work of his investigators, citing their combined and individual experience as the keys that unlocked the case.
“I don’t have any rookies out there,” Larpenter said. “All 26 of my detectives are seasoned, they know all the ups and downs. Our detectives know everybody involved with criminal activities. They have a strong network on the streets and a good rapport with the public.”