BURLINGTON >> Ten people are facing federal charges in connection with two drug distribution rings.
The federal sweep, which resulted in the arrests of nine people Friday, targeted people who allowed their homes to be used by traffickers for packaging and distribution of drugs, including heroin and crack cocaine. A tenth individual has been charged, but not yet arrested.
According to Eric Miller, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Vermont, the individuals, all Vermonters, functioned as a conduit between addicts in Vermont and out-of-state traffickers, providing them with housing, transportation and customers.
"These Vermont facilitators are absolutely crucial to the success of the illegal drug trade in Vermont, and targeting these Vermont facilitators is absolutely crucial to law enforcement's response to the drug crisis here," Miller said.
The larger of the two busts involves six houses within a three-block span on Malletts Bay Avenue in Winooski. Eight people are facing charges for making those residences available for drug activity, a charge that could come with a maximum sentence of 20 years.
Miller said that the prosecutor's office decided to bring federal charges in part because of the impact of drug distribution on the community.
"We really weighed heavily the fact that this sort of concentrated drug activity has a particularly corrosive effect on a single neighborhood in the heart of Winooski," Miller said.
Friday's bust is related to an investigation by the DEA into Michael Villanueva, nicknamed "Unc," who pleaded guilty in federal court last month to charges that he conspired to distribute over a kilogram of heroin and 280 grams of crack cocaine.
The eight Malletts Bay Avenue residents allegedly allowed Villanueva, who lived in St. Albans, to use their homes to traffic heroin, crack cocaine and other drugs in Winooski.
Seven people were arrested Friday morning, according to law enforcement: Aja Trieb, 33; Takorian Hackney, 31; Kerry Rivard, 36; Rachel Gentes, 37; Sarah Little, 47; Anne Weber, 32; and Tracy Korf, 53. Another individual, Cory Barnier, 27, has not yet been arrested.
Villanueva's drug activities have already been linked to several other arrests in Vermont.
Two Burlington residents were also arrested for their involvement with a different drug trafficking operation.
Peggy Marcelino, 55, allegedly worked with a New York City resident to distribute heroin, cocaine and crack, as well as to launder money. That individual, Arden Cadle, was arrested in March and pleaded not guilty earlier this month.
William St. George, 57, also of Burlington, is accused of allowing Cadle to use his Elmwood Avenue apartment for drug trafficking.
The busts together yielded two kilograms of heroin and 1.5 kilograms of crack cocaine, according to the Drug Enforcement Agency.
Miller said that individuals may cooperate with drug traffickers for several reasons, including for financial gain or because they are an addict and the relationship enables them access to drugs.
In some cases involving drug users, treatment is a more appropriate response than the criminal system, Miller said. He said that in the cases like those of the individuals arrested Friday, "we continue to believe that there is a law enforcement component to the solution."
Elizabeth Hewitt is the criminal justice reporter for VTDigger. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.