Ex-pizza shop owner asks judge to toss guilty plea in heroin case

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RUTLAND — The former owner of a Bondville pizzeria who accepted a plea deal in August for his role in moving nearly 100 pounds of heroin from Guatemala to Manchester Center is now asking a federal district judge withdraw his guilty plea.

According to documents filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Vermont, Marco Antonio Lam Peralta, the former owner of Tony's New York Style Pizzeria, "was convinced by his attorney to enter in to a plea agreement" even though he had expressed his desire several times to see his case go to trial.

"[Peralta] was always extremely reluctant to plead guilty and was desirous of having a trial," wrote Mark Kaplan, of Kaplan and Kaplan in Burlington, who replaced Peralta's previous attorney, Bud Allen, of Stetler Allen & Kampmann, also in Burlington. "[Peralta] also continued to assert his innocence shortly after the change of plea. In fact, on or about the following day, he instructed [Allen] to file a motion to withdraw his plea of guilty."

Peralta and his cousin, Diego Walther Anibal Mejia Paredes, were arrested in October 2015 following an investigation of packages delivered to a Mexican restaurant in Manchester. In early October 2015, federal agents seized in Miami a shipment from Guatemala containing more than 40 kilograms of heroin. Agents tracked delivery of the package to Paredes, who was arrested in Manchester after he took possession of the drug.

According to court documents, while awaiting delivery of the package, Paredes was in phone contact with Peralta, and that while Paredes waited at the Manchester restaurant, Peralta contacted the shipping company twice. Additional investigation identified seven previous shipments — similar in size, weight, and customs declarations to the heroin-containing intercepted package — that were sent to addresses associated with Peralta in the Manchester area during the three months preceding the October 2015 arrest.

At the time of his arrest, Peralta, who is also known as Tony Lam, was living in South Londonderry.

Paredes also recently pleaded guilty. Both men were to receive a 10-year mandatory minimum prison term, and could be sentenced to up to life.

It is Peralta's belief, wrote Kaplan, that while Allen informed his client he had filed a motion to withdraw his guilty plea, "that did not occur."

Peralta's reluctance to accept the guilty plea was evident during his change of plea hearing, which was held on Aug. 14, wrote Kaplan.

"Are you satisfied with the representation [Allen] has provided?" asked Judge William Sessions during the hearing.

"I would say not really, but, you know, he has been a gentleman to me," responded Peralta. "It's just, I didn't know how the conspiracy thing works, and that — you know, I wasn't aware of all this laws that you guys have, but he explained to me what's going on, so ..."

Peralta also told the court that he wasn't "involved literally in any of this. ... I just asked ... why he [Paredes] had so much money in his pockets ...I was having money troubles, and he told me if I wanted to, you know, do something for him, and I was going to get paid for it. ... So he tell me ... just go pick up some money for him ... and that's what I did."

Kaplan also noted that on Aug. 15, Peralta left a message at Allen's office, requesting to withdraw his guilty plea. On Sept. 20, Allen filed a motion to withdraw as Peralta's attorney and in that motion, wrote Kaplan, Allen "rightfully concluded that substitute counsel would be the appropriate counsel to file a motion to withdraw his guilty plea ..."

Peralta's sentencing hearing is scheduled for Dec. 5.

Bob Audette can be contacted at raudette@reformer.com.


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