By Adam Federman, VTDigger
The kingpin of a major cocaine and heroin distribution ring in the Rutland area was convicted by a federal jury Friday, Dec. 23. Joell Joyce, or “Prince,” a 27-year-old African American from Brooklyn, was found guilty on charges of conspiracy to distribute more than 28 grams of cocaine base and heroin and possession with the intent to distribute 28 grams or more of cocaine. Joyce faces five to 40 years in prison.
U.S. Attorney Jonathan Ophardt said Joyce operated the drug network from his home in Brooklyn and had runners who would deliver the cocaine and heroin to three locations in the Rutland area. Local addicts were compensated in the form of drugs for the use of their residences. The homes were on State Street and Spruce Street in Rutland and Harrison Avenue in West Rutland, according to Ophardt.
“I would call this a significant drug distribution operation in the Rutland Area,” said U.S. Attorney Eric Miller.
The other individuals from New York who worked with Joyce have not been charged. According to Ophardt a few local facilitators who purchased drugs from Joyce in bulk and then resold them have been prosecuted.
“Mr. Joyce it was clear was the organizer and leader of the group,” Ophardt said. Joyce organized the importation and purchase of the drugs and arranged for sales in the Rutland area. Most of the profits ended up in Joyce’s pockets, Ophardt said including about $20,000 deposited in bank accounts in Rutland and Granville, N.Y., over a four-month period.
Joyce’s associates would usually travel up to Vermont by bus and he would come by rental car, sometimes staying several days. In early December 2014 Joyce and another individual were stopped by a police officer in Bennington for failure to stay right on a divided highway. Though no drugs or money were found in the vehicle, the two subjects had multiple cell phones and conflicting stories about what they were doing. Testimony from the police officer was later used in the conspiracy charge, which dates back to that 2014 traffic stop.
But it wasn’t until April 29, 2015, that Joyce was arrested and charged with possession of more than 28 grams of cocaine. According to Ophardt FBI and DEA agents had arranged to meet with a local dealer and user they planned to arrest that day. When she came into meet with them she immediately agreed to cooperate with law enforcement. The FBI and DEA agents arranged for a controlled purchase from her distributor, who also agreed to cooperate with the investigation.
The two individuals consented to searches at their residences and Mr. Joyce was found and charged with possession of 60 grams of cocaine. He pleaded not guilty to all charges. The FBI later obtained warrants to search the phones seized during the 2014 traffic stop, which formed the basis of the conspiracy charge.
Joyce, who testified at the suppression hearing, argued that the traffic stop was unlawful and that his request for a lawyer had not been granted. Judge Crawford dismissed both arguments.
Joyce’s attorney, David Williams, could not be reached for comment.
The jury in Mr. Joyce’s trial was selected on Dec. 19 and the verdict was handed down four days later. A number of individuals involved in Joyce’s drug operation testified against him. “All of them testified without promises from us, from agents or from anyone in government,” Ophardt said.
Possession of 28 grams or more of cocaine triggers a mandatory minimum sentencing of five years. After post trial motions are filed and ruled on, Joyce will be sentenced before U.S. District Court Judge Geoffrey Crawford. That is expected to take place in the spring.