A close friend of the surviving Boston Marathon bombing suspect — who was taken into federal custody this week on heroin and gun charges — was also arrested eight months ago for dealing marijuana in Dorchester, and told police then, “I smoke a lot of weed every day because my best friend was the bomber.”
Stephen Silva’s charges for peddling marijuana at an MBTA station at JFK/UMass preceeded his appearance in federal court on Tuesday on heroin trafficking and gun charges, including allegations that in February 2013 he possessed a Ruger gun, which had an obliterated serial number and matched the model of a pistol allegedly used in the shooting of MIT police officer Sean Collier.
Collier was allegedly shot by Marathon bombing suspects Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and his older brother, Tamerlan, while they were on the run from authorities on the night of April 18, 2013.
Federal law enforcement and MIT officials have declined to say whether the gun charge that Silva faces is related to the shooting of Collier, however a Cambridge police official acknowledged that federal prosecutors briefed top officers in the department about Silva’s arrest.
Silva, 21, of Cambridge, was charged this week with dealing heroin on six occasions in June in Medford in addition to the gun charge. A grand jury had indicted him on the heroin and gun charges a week ago, however he was not arrested until Monday night. He is currently being held by federal authorities.
A longtime Cambridge friend of Silva’s, who saw him as recently as last week, said it was well-known among many friends that Silva dealt marijuana. But this friend said he was “stunned” that Silva was involved with selling heroin or possibly providing guns to others. The friend, who asked to remain anonymous because he does not want to get involved in the criminal case, said Silva was part of a group of friends from Cambridge who enjoyed getting high, enjoying rap music, and cracking jokes.
“We were just chilling and smoking,” the friend said. “It’s summertime - we just chill.”
He said the subject of guns never came up in conversations, and he never saw Silva or any of his friends with weapons.
“I’ve never seen any of these dudes with guns,” said this friend.
He also said that Silva, whose family is from Cape Verde, did not have a summer job as far as he knew, and he often seemed low on cash.
One fall day last year, however, Silva allegedly carried extensive amounts of money while at an MBTA stop in Dorchester, records show.
Silva was arrested on Nov. 21, 2013 at about 12:45 p.m. at the JFK/UMass Red line station, records say. MBTA transit police officers apparently smelled a strong odor of marijuana as Silva walked around the station and spoke on a Virgin Mobile cellphone. Police questioned him, and Silva allegedly consented to a search. Officers said they found at least two packets of marijuana, $555 in cash and a piece of paper with a list of names, which appeared to relate to Silva’s marijuana-buying clients, according to the court record.
While waiting to be booked, records say, Silva told officers that he smoked copious amount of pot because “my best friend was the bomber.”
Five days later, police investigators applied for a search warrant for the messages, phone calls, photos and videos on Silva’s Virgin Mobile cellphone, saying it might provide important information on his suppliers and a larger drug-trafficking operation. Officers said that even if Silva was a “street level” drug dealer and “near the bottom” of a drug-dealing enterprise, his cellphones could provide police with his higher-level contacts.
In the application, officers noted that Silva also had an iPhone, but they concluded it was for personal use, and they only requested records related to the Virgin Mobile phone, which they believe was used for drug transactions.
Court records suggest that police obtained permission for the search, and records from that cellphone were given to police in early December of last year.
Silva attended Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School with Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and also worked with Tsarnaev as lifeguards at Harvard University’s pool. Silva also has an identical twin brother with the very similar name of Steven Silva, who was even closer to Tsarnaev, according to several friends. Steven Silva and Tsarnaev attended UMass-Dartmouth together.
A supervisor at Harvard’s Blodgett pool said he was surprised to hear that Stephen Silva was arrested on charges of heroin dealing and that he possibly provided a gun to Tsarnaev. The supervisor said he knew the Silva twins and Tsarnaev for at least two years, when they worked part-time at the pool. He said after Tsarnaev’s arrest in connection with the bombing, the twins started routinely missing shifts of work and “they drifted off.”
The supervisor, who asked not to be named because he is not authorized by the university to speak publicly, said he is aware that after the bombing, the FBI questioned the twins extensively, and even examined their cellphones and computers. Both twins were aware they needed legal advice given the scrutiny on them as close friends of Tsarnaev.
The supervisor said he recalled Steve Silva as being closer to Tsarnaev. While in high school, Steve Silva converted to Islam, the same faith as the Tsarnaev family. The Silva twins apparently grew up in a Catholic household.
The supervisor said he happened to run into Stephen Silva two weeks ago in Harvard Square. He said they chatted, and Silva said he was continuing his studies at UMass-Boston. The supervisor said Silva said he was not working as a lifeguard anywhere, and did not mention any summer job. He said Silva mentioned possibly visiting Brazil soon.
The supervisor said he left Silva in Harvard Square that day, saying, “Glad to see you’re staying out of trouble.”