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NH TV team sacrifices to put drug documentary on Boston TV

By KEVIN LANDRIGAN
New Hampshire Union Leader

January 13. 2018 9:51PM
Binnie Media headquarters in Concord closed down its television news network, NH1, in February of 2017. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)



The members of a former award-winning New Hampshire television team spent their layoff checks to uncover and then produce an hourlong documentary airing Sunday, Jan. 14, on Boston television that traces the Caribbean source of the drug epidemic affecting the Granite State.

Weeknight anchor Celine McArthur of Pelham and chief videographer Freddy Wheeler had made all the foreign travel arrangements when NH1 News Network owner Bill Binnie abruptly shut down the independent television station last February, selling the broadcast rights of WBIN-TV in a Federal Communications Commission auction for $68 million.

"We were going to take our own vacation time to do this, all the elements were in place when the station closed, but we were determined to still go after this story," McArthur recalled.

Wheeler now is working as a videographer with one Washington, D.C. TV station and starts with a second later this month, WTTG, the Fox 5 affiliate in the nation's capital.

"This was just a story we felt strongly about, finding out where the drugs were coming from," Wheeler said. "We pooled our severance checks, we worked together to find some cheap flights, got a cheap hotel room."

"We brought granola bars to eat so we didn't have to spend money on food."

The result: "Beyond the Border: The Opioid Pipeline," which airs at 2 p.m. on WCVB-TV, the ABC affiliate in Boston.

The moving program begins with a scene of an overdose victim in a Manchester cemetery and reveals how easy it is for massive amounts of drugs to make their way from the shores of the Dominican Republic and airports in Puerto Rico into Boston and onto the streets of New Hampshire.

The show profiles some of the cutting-edge ways the Drug Enforcement Administration, the New Hampshire and the Massachusetts State Police and U.S. Customs and Border Protection are using to make a dent in the massive shipments of cocaine, heroin and synthetic opioids into the region.

"I am proud of it; it was eye opening, to say the least," McArthur said.

"It made me appreciate all that law enforcement does. They are working really hard but working against an opponent with unlimited money and manpower. It's tough."

Wheeler said the easy shipments, which police can't possibly shut down, are all about the geography.

"They can't control it in country because there is so much coastline," Wheeler said. "Then you can bring anything you want on a one-way plane ride from Puerto Rico to Boston."

Law-enforcement professionals praised the final product.

"It is an accurate reflection in the game of chess we play on a daily basis to keep drugs off the street of the United States," said Mickey Hohol, aviation enforcement agent with U.S. Customs, Caribbean Air and Marine Branch.

"I do not want to forget to mention the contributions of Celine's photographer, Freddy Wheeler, whose talent behind the camera makes it all possible. He adds an emotional dimension to the documentary through the viewfinder that cannot be paralleled."

Retired DEA Deputy Administrator Jack Riley chipped in, "This is one of the only reports to hit the problem head on and confront what we're up against. From start to finish, this is everyone's fight. 'Beyond the Border: The Opioid Pipeline' is excellent, a home run."

McArthur and Wheeler approached but got no interest from executives at WMUR-TV in Manchester to air the program.

When McArthur's agent suggested WCVB, the two went to the New England TV Emmy Awards, where Wheeler first stalked station President Bill Fine in the men's room.

"We can't thank Bill Fine enough for agreeing to air this. It's an important story to tell and we're thrilled New Hampshire's largest newspaper wants to inform its readers about it," McArthur added.

The video can be viewed at https://vimeo.com/243601610.

klandrigan@unionleader.com


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