Mass. man convicted of selling drugs in Brattleboro

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BURLINGTON — A Springfield, Mass. man, who officials say was part of a major drug conspiracy to distribute heroin and crack cocaine to addicts in the Brattleboro area in 2015, has been found guilty in U.S. District Court in Burlington. The jury deliberated about three hours before convicting John Jones, 31, on charges of being part of a conspiracy to distribute the two drugs between early 2015 and July 13, 2015.

The jurors also found Jones guilty of one count of distribution of heroin on July 7, 2015, and one count of possession of 28 grams or more of crack on July 13, 2015 with intent to distribute it.

Jones faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison. Besides deciding the three felony charges, the jury also was asked if the conspiracy count and the possession count on July 13 each involved 28 grams or more. They voted unanimously on each of those counts, which carry the mandatory 10 year minimum.

Testimony during the trial revealed Jones and one of his co-conspirators — Childlove Gelin, 25, of Brattleboro — tossed out 67 grams of crack while fleeing from police during a 130-mile per hour chase down Interstate 91 that ended near Deerfield, Mass. on July 13, 2015. A surveying crew found the crack, valued at $6,700, four days later and turned it over to Massachusetts State Police.

Jones, also known as "Champ" had pleaded guilty on Dec. 15, 2016, to a single charge of conspiring with Gelin and others to distribute the two drugs, records show. As his sentencing date approached Jones learned about the mandatory 10-year minimum sentence. He asked to withdraw his plea and take a chance with the jury on whether there was enough evidence showing he exceeded the 28 gram level in distributing crack.

Jones also was provided a new lawyer at taxpayer expense for the trial.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Christina Nolan had maintained in her opening statement the government would establish — even without the discarded crack — that the conspiracy had distributed at least 28 grams of crack. Burlington defense attorney Richard Bothfeld had told the jury the ownership of the drugs found on the side of Interstate 91 could not be proven.

The jury, in its written findings, agreed with Nolan's assessment that the conspiracy and possession counts each involved at least 28 grams. Nolan explained to the jury that Jones was part of a major conspiracy using the Brattleboro apartments of four women, who were addicts, as a base for the sale of heroin and crack two years ago. Two apartments were on South Main Street and two were on Canal Street, she said.

About 30 witnesses were called to the stand, including several customers of Jones. Among the others testifying were Vermont State Police Detective Sgt. Chris Lora, supervisor for the Southeast Vermont Drug Task Force, Detective Jonathan Whiteman and Lt. Robert Perkins of the Brattleboro Police, and Wendy Alger and Rebecca Mead from the Vermont Forensic Lab.

Gelin received a 5.5-year federal prison in May. Once freed from prison Gelin will spend four years on federal supervised release. When he was arrested investigators found 44.7 grams of cocaine base and $2,871 and they said he also possessed a handgun during the case, the U.S. Attorney's Office said.

Gelin, also known as "Rome" and "Haiti," pleaded guilty to distributing heroin and cocaine.

A third defendant, Joshua Heathman, also known as Eric, received a three-year prison sentence in May after pleading guilty to possession with intent to distribute crack. The sentence will be followed by three years of supervised release. No date has been set for the sentencing. Chief Federal Judge Christina Reiss noted an earlier Presentence Investigation Report was prepared on Jones before he withdrew his guilty plea in December. She said the report will just have to be updated from when it was drafted.

Jones remains behind bars at the Northwest State Correctional Facility in St. Albans Town.

Testimony revealed that Lora, while doing surveillance on a drug sale, spotted two African American men come out of the apartment and get into a Connecticut-registered maroon Chevrolet Malibu. Lora said the out-of-state car headed south on I-91 and he alerted State Police in Massachusetts. He asked them if they could stop the car and identify the two suspects.

Lora followed the vehicle until he saw a marked Massachusetts State Police cruiser in a U-turn and that the trooper began to follow the suspect car. When the marked police cruiser activated its emergency blue lights, the suspect car sped off, Lora testified.

The two men eventually were caught when they pulled their car off the Interstate and drove behind a barn in a cornfield, officials said.

During her opening statement, Nolan told the jury the July 7, 2015 sale involved 90 bags of heroin for $350.

She said digital scales were found in the car after the chase. Traces of crack cocaine were found on the scales and had the same cutting agent that was used during the drug sale in Brattleboro shortly before the chase. Also found in the car were four cellphones and cash.

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