By MARK HAYWARD
July 21. 2017 10:01PM
One-time criminal defense lawyer Paul J. Bennett faces three felony-level drug dealing charges.
LAST WEEK’S SWAT raid at 47 Linden St. wasn’t an ordinary Manchester drug bust.
• The 2½-story, landscaped colonial sits in the neighborhood east of the Currier Museum of Art, hardly drug central in this city.
• Police found no assault rifles or handguns. They found more precious metal — $2,500 worth of gold and silver — than cash.
• They found about 28 grams of crystal methamphetamine, a drug relegated to rerun status while opioids occupy prime time.
• And the house was owned by Paul J. Bennett — a one-time criminal defense lawyer now sitting in Valley Street jail facing three felony drug-dealing charges.
When the media ran Bennett’s photo last week, it shocked the legal community, former clients, and a tightly knit community of gay men in southern New Hampshire.
“When I saw it on the news they showed his picture and both my partner and myself looked at each other because he looked so awful,” said Brian Swanson, who lives in Hooksett. Swanson said he hired Bennett as an attorney in the past and saw his downward spiral.
“I felt he was like my family,” said Manchester resident Sara Beth Beaudry, who hired Bennett in 2012 when issues arose over a foster daughter. He was as much a counselor as a lawyer, Beaudry said.
Bennett, 54, grew up in Chester with three sisters and graduated from Pinkerton Academy, his friends say. He received a law degree from the Vermont Law School and started his law practice in Manchester in 1988.
“He always struck me as a normal guy. Nothing jumped out,” said Arthur Gatzoulis, a Manchester defense lawyer who remembers Bennett from the early 2000s.
Bennett sat on the board of an AIDS task force in Nashua. In 2009, he entered into a civil union with Mike Amichetti, a union that converted to full marriage the following year.
Back then, the Linden Street house was beautiful, and the couple seemed content, Swanson said. But earlier this decade, things changed.
In October 2013, Bennett lost his bar license for two years, after the paycheck to his legal secretary bounced and she told authorities of accounting irregularities.
Bennett and Amichetti divorced in 2015.
“Once he started moving young guys into the house …Mike got mad and left,” Swanson said.
Last year, Manchester police arrested Bennett and charged him with two counts of selling meth to a Manchester police informant out of his house. When Bennett appeared in court, the one-time criminal lawyer had to apply for a public defender.
According to his financial affidavit, Bennett made $400 a week working at Macy’s. He owed $70,000 in student loans, $6,500 to the IRS, and $265,000 for his house.
Bennett’s lawyer did not return a telephone call, nor did the uncle who posted bail on the 2016 charges.
The 2016 charges remain pending. Earlier this year, Bennett attended and then withdrew from a California recovery program, citing an unspecified medical problem. Then on July 10, he allegedly sold $50 worth of meth. Once again, to a police informant. Once again, outside of his house.
Police have said there is no indication that anyone manufactured the drug on Linden Street.
It was obvious that drugs were being sold out of the house, said Drew Stock, who lives across the street. Cars lined up outside; customers made quick visits.
“I thought it was weird people were out there landscaping a drug house,” Stock said.
If this story has a villain, it is meth. AMC’s “Breaking Bad” television series romanticized it, but it remains a highly addictive, dangerous drug that is becoming a scourge among young gay males, according to a Power Point presentation on the Association for Addiction Professionals website.
Today, the house is basically open, after police knocked down the door and broke windows in the raid.
A woman who said she was familiar with Bennett said parties at the house got wild. She said six men lived at the house before the raid. They were good looking and in their 20s, and she thought they were taking advantage of Bennett and his open-door policy.
“He was more addicted to the lifestyle,” she said, “than the drugs.”
Mark Hayward’s City Matters appears Saturday in the New Hampshire Union Leader and UnionLeader.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.