By Elizabeth Hewitt, VTDigger.org
RUTLAND—Dozens of Vermonters are facing drug-related charges after an operation involving multiple law enforcement agencies this week. In total 20 defendants have been arrested and cited to appear in Bennington or Rutland Superior Court facing a variety of state-level criminal charges. Ten more defendants are facing federal drug charges and will be prosecuted by the United States Attorney’s Office as a result of arrests that took place during the past several weeks.
As of Wednesday afternoon, one suspect had not yet been arrested.
U.S. Attorney Eric Miller said the arrests are the latest development in an effort over the last several years to crack down on a “loosely affiliated group” that has been bringing “a lot of heroin and a lot of crack” to Vermont from out of state. Miller said the network has two components: traffickers who bring drugs in from out of state, and residents who support them with housing, other resources and connections to customers.
“We think we’ve made a significant dent in the organizations through these joint efforts,” Miller said at a news conference Wednesday, Feb. 17. “Unless we continue to go after both of those groups, we’re not going to be effective in combating this crisis,” Miller said.
Most of those arrested this week are Vermonters, according to authorities.
The Vermont Drug Task Force coordinated with the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and local and county police agencies on the sting.
At the news conference Wednesday, Feb. 17, leading figures in Vermont law enforcement lauded the cross-agency cooperation.
“Not only can we not treat our way out of this epidemic that we have in Vermont, we also cannot arrest our way out of this problem,” Public Safety Commissioner Keith Flynn said. “The path to getting to a better Vermont and reducing this epidemic is a combination of both.”
Flynn said the sweep was part of an ongoing effort to root out and disrupt drug distribution infrastructure around Vermont. “This sweep is not the end of a process, it is a continuation of a process that we have going throughout the state,” Flynn said.
Col. Matt Birmingham, director of the Vermont State Police, said it is difficult to say how much impact these arrests will have in the long run.
“It’s extremely hard to quantify the drug problem,” Birmingham said. Anecdotally, he said that communities where there have been sweeps in the past have experienced “a positive energy” that spurred a community response to drug use, pointing to Rutland’s Project VISION.
The market for drugs tends to die down immediately after a major bust in a particular area, he said, “but it will come back up slowly, and we will be monitoring that and we hope that we can keep the market at bay longer each time.”
Rutland County State’s Attorney Rose Kennedy said she will consider each case individually, weighing the nature of the charge and whether addiction is involved. Some cases may be diverted into drug court or pretrial services. Suspects facing federal charges could see a sentence of up to 20 years in prison, though that will likely vary depending on the process in court and determination of the judge.
Of the defendants facing state charges, 12 are accused of single or multiple counts of selling heroin: Robert S. Grady, 34, of Rochester; Timothy B. Euber, 38, of Rutland; Anthony Courcelle, 21, of Rutland Town; Cassie Morse, 26, of North Adams, Mass.; Candi Peters, 36, of Bennington; Shari Perras, 24, of North Adams, Mass.; Andrew Onorato, 31, of Bennington; Spencer Mumford, 23, of West Rutland; Christopher Nadeau, 26, of Rutland; William Manfredi, 36, of Rutland; and John Mason, 33, of Pownal. The twelfth, Richard Winnie, 42, of Bennington, has not yet been arrested.
Sheri Fitzgerald, 52, and Chelsea Hill, 24, both of Rutland, face charges of selling and conspiring to sell heroin. Casey Clifford, 22, also of Rutland, faces charges of selling heroin and fentanyl.
Carlos Vasquez, 42, of Bennington, faces charges of trafficking heroin.
Several others face charges of selling cocaine: Colleen M. Keefe, 43, of Rutland; Kevin Scully, 25, of Ludlow; and Felicia Ackley, 28, of Rutland. Jerry Crandall, 46, of Bennington, is accused of selling both cocaine and oxycodone.
Daniel Pyne, 30, of Bennington, is accused of selling oxycodone.
Two people were arrested this week on federal charges. Kevin Williams, 42, of Rutland, faces three counts of selling heroin, and Jason Tiraboschi, 27, of West Rutland, faces a charge of possessing a firearm.
Eight others have been arrested since Dec. 31 and indicted on charges related to heroin.
The defendants are due to be arraigned later this month and in March.