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Tsarnaev friend pleads not guilty to drug, gun charges

Stephen Silva pleaded not guilty to charges that included seven counts of heroin distribution and conspiracy to distribute heroin, and one count of possession of a firearm with an obliterated serial number.Massachusetts Bay Transit Police/file 2013

A former UMass Boston student, who is a close friend of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, pleaded not guilty Wednesday to heroin-distribution charges and possession of a defaced pistol, which may link him indirectly to the shooting death of an MIT officer a few days after the explosions.

In a court hearing that lasted just minutes, Stephen Silva, 21, of Cambridge, stood expressionless as his lawyer, Jonathan Shapiro, waived Silva’s right to a detention hearing. As a result, prosecutors in US District Court in Boston were not required to say anything about the evidence they have collected, which would back up their request to keep Silva behind bars.


The US Attorney’s office has not said how they have linked Silva to the Ruger P95 9mm pistol, with a largely defaced serial number. A gun of that description was recovered in a Watertown neighborhood on the morning of April 19, 2013, when police exchanged gunfire with the Tsarnaev brothers, and the older brother, Tamerlan, died. Police later determined that the Ruger gun found in Watertown was the one used by the Tsarnaevs to shoot and kill MIT officer Sean Collier on the night of April 18.

The indictment says that Silva had possessed a pistol of that make and model in February 2013, but prosecutors have not given more details, or  said  when and how Silva may have allegedly provided the gun to the Tsarnaevs. His lawyer told the Globe that federal authorities have said that Silva’s gun charge is related to the Collier shooting.

As about 10 family members and friends looked on, some weeping, Silva pleaded not guilty to each of the charges he faced. Aside from the gun charge, the Cambridge Rindge and Latin graduate is accused of conspiracy to sell heroin and possession of heroin on six occasions in June in Medford.


The conspiracy charge is the most serious offense he faces, and comes with a minimum five-year prison term, as well as a maximum 40-year term. Silva’s next court hearing is scheduled Oct. 8.

The spectators included his identical twin brother, who has a similar name, Steven Silva, who sat in a back row with others who appeared to be relatives and friends. They left the hearing, declining all media requests for interviews.

A close friend of Stephen Silva, who attended the proceedings, said she could not help crying when she saw him emerge in court: He was dressed in a brown prison suit with his wrists tied in handcuffs, surrounded by guards.

“He does not belong in federal prison,” said the 20-year-old woman who knew Silva at Cambridge Rindge and Latin and at UMass-Boston. She asked to remain nameless because she doesn’t want to get involved in the criminal case.

She also said that Silva, who was studying political science, wanted to go to law school and become a public defender.

She and another friend, who also was a high school classmate of Silva’s, said they cannot imagine Silva as a heroin or gun dealer. They said he was a fun-loving, open person who could never have kept that level of criminal activity secret from close friends. They were aware, however, that he often possessed significant amounts of marijuana.

The drug dealing became known to MBTA police last year. Court records show that on Nov. 21, 2013, he was arrested at the JFK/UMass Red Line Station for having two packets of marijuana, $555 in cash, and a list of names, which police say appeared to be customers.


He was identified by MBTA police then as a “street-level” drug dealer, which is at the bottom of any drug-dealing enterprise.

Silva was arrested two weeks ago on the federal drug and gun charges. After Wednesday’s court hearing, Silva’s lawyer emphasized his client is not accused of having anything to do with the April 15, 2013, Boston Marathon bombings, which killed three people and injured more than 260.

“He has not been charged with anything related to the bombing,” said Shapiro.

Patricia Wen can be reached at wen@globe.com.