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Father of missing Fitchburg boy arrested on drug charges

Jose Oliver (center) spoke to the media in December in Fitchburg.

Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe

Jose Oliver (center) spoke to the media in December in Fitchburg.

The father of Jeremiah Oliver, the missing 5-year-old Fitchburg boy, vowed to continue fighting for custody of his other two children despite his arrest Monday on drug charges in his Connecticut hometown.

Police in New Britain, Conn., said they received a tip that Jose Oliver, 41, was dealing drugs, so they set up an undercover sting, said Lieutenant Jeanette Saccente of the New Britain Police Department.

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Oliver agreed to meet with an undercover agent and was arrested Monday afternoon with 30 bags of heroin on a street corner near an elementary school, police said.

The arrest came just days after Oliver acknowledged a history of drug use during an interview with the Globe, but insisted he was clean now and should regain custody of his children.

The disappearance of his son Jeremiah has prompted massive searches in Massachusetts, where the boy had lived with his mother and her boyfriend.

Authorities were alerted to the child’s disappearance Dec. 2, when his 7-year-old sister told counselors at Reingold Elementary School in Fitchburg that she was being abused by her mother’s boyfriend and that she had not seen Jeremiah in weeks.

Authorities are treating Jeremiah’s disappearance as a potential homicide, and prosecutors have alleged that the boy’s two siblings were beaten by their mother’s boyfriend, Alberto Sierra Jr., 23. Sierra is being held without bail on assault charges in the case and is a suspect in Jeremiah’s disappearance. The child’s mother, Elsa Oliver, 28, has been charged as an accomplice and is also being held. Jeremiah’s sister and 9-year-old brother are in state custody and have been placed in a foster home.

Soon after word of Jeremiah’s disappearance became public, his father entered the public spotlight, helping lead search parties for the boy and vowing to go to court to fight for custody of his other two children.

Oliver did not return calls for comment Thursday, but his brother told the Globe that the father will continue his custody battle despite the arrest.

“Jose is a concerned and loving father who wants a resolution to the search and the finding of Jeremiah,” said Sandrino Oliver, Jose’s brother. “He will still be seeking custody of his daughter and his son.”

Sandrino Oliver declined to discuss the details of his brother’s arrest, but said he believes he will be vindicated when the arrest is discussed at the Jan. 10 custody hearing.

New Britain police said that Oliver was released on bond and has not been arraigned on the charges he faces: possession of narcotics, possession of narcotics with intent to sell, possession of narcotics within 1,500 feet of a school, and criminal attempt of sale of narcotics.

The boy’s disappearance has shaken the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families, which has fired three employees — the direct care social worker and two supervisors — for failing to meet their professional responsibility to the Oliver family. The department declined to comment on Oliver’s arrest or any potential impact it might have on his bid to gain custody of his children.

“Custody is determined by the court,” said Cayenne Isaksen, a DCF spokeswoman.

Lawmakers are planning to hold hearings on the Department of Children and Families’ handling of the Oliver family’s case later this month, although no date has been set, said Representative Kay Khan, a Newton Democrat who is House chairwoman of the Joint Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities.

“It’s a very serious case, and I feel that’s important for us to dig deeper here and find out what is going on,” Khan said Thursday.

Organizers of the many search teams that have hunted for any sign of the missing boy said they will continue to lead searches despite Oliver’s arrest.

“I’m not here to pass judgment as to Jose,” said Miguel Fleitas, a 46-year-old naval reservist with training in search and rescue, who has organized searches in cooperation with the family. “I’ll still give my services to the Olivers to help them find this boy.”

While his criminal record included an arrest for possession of heroin and a charge of assault and battery, Oliver insisted in a recent Globe interview that he was a changed man. Oliver acknowledged his history of drug use, but asked that state officials look beyond his past infractions and return his children to him.

“Don’t judge me on my past; people do change,” Oliver insisted in an interview with the Globe last week. “Everybody makes mistakes, man.

“There’s nobody perfect in this world,” he said. “The past is the past, let’s leave it there. I’m a new person. I’m older, I’m wiser.’’

Globe correspondent Daniel Adams contributed to this report. Wesley Lowery can be reached at wesley.lowery@ globe.com. Michael Levenson can be reached at mlevenson@ globe.com.

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