Law officials' message to drug dealers: 'Do not come to Vt.'

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BRATTLEBORO — During Tuesday's press conference to discuss a recent drug sweep in Brattleboro that resulted in the arrest of 16 people, U.S. Attorney Christina Nolan noted that out-of-state drug dealers were on her radar, too.

"I am intensely familiar with how this community suffers from the destruction wreaked by for-profit drug dealers who make the short 45-minute drive from the Springfield, Massachusetts, are up here to the Brattleboro area to sell drugs to addicts," she said. Before being appointed the U.S. Attorney for the District of Vermont, Nolan was assigned to investigate and prosecute drug cases in southern Vermont as an assistant attorney in the U.S. Attorney's Office.

"We have some messages for those Springfield, Massachusetts, dealers: Don't come here. Do not come to Vermont," said Nolan, during the hour-long press conference held at the Brattleboro Police Department. "If you are on Interstate 91 North and heading for Brattleboro or St. Johnsbury or anywhere else in the state with drugs, turn around and go home. It is not going to be worth your while. We are after you and we intend to seek serious sanctions for your callous conduct. And by that, I mean jail time."

During the press conference, Nolan mentioned one such suspect, Jose Fontanez, of Hartford, Conn., who was indicted on March 21 on a charge that he conspired to distribute more than one kilogram of heroin, 40 grams or more of a substance containing fentanyl and 500 grams or more of cocaine. Fontanez was also indicted on a charge that he "attempted to aid and abet another person in the possession with the intent to distribute heroin ... and ... fentanyl."

According to documents filed with the U.S. District Court for the District of Vermont, a cooperating individual, working with the Vermont Drug Task Force and the FBI, made multiple recorded phone calls in late 2018 to Fontanez, conducted primarily in Spanish.

The CI worked with law enforcement "with the hope of earning consideration related to a pending criminal charge. The CI has seven felony convictions, including a controlled substance offense, a weapon-related offense, a sexual assault, and multiple larceny offenses."

The CI told investigators of an agreement to pay back a drug debt and to purchase 1,500 bags of heroin/fentanyl from Fontanez, drugs the CI would "re-distribute ... to customers" in Burlington and Brattleboro.

The CI agreed top meet Fontanez at the Cracker Barrel in Holyoke, Mass., on Nov. 26, but Fontanez was met by law enforcement agents instead.

Fontanez and his passenger were removed from the vehicle and a K-9 alerted to the presence of controlled substances in a black plastic bag in the vehicle.

"Inside was a clear, heat-sealed package which contained approximately 1490 individual bags of suspected heroin/fentanyl," noted the court documents.

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Investigators also found a number of mobile phones in the vehicle. A search warrant was requested and granted to look for "forensic data" on the phones, which might include photos of drugs and contact information for others possibly involved in the illegal drug trade.

According to the U.S. Attorney's Office, Fontanez was released on conditions.

Another alleged out-of-state drug dealer that was named during the press conference on Tuesday was Luis Duprey, 24, of Holyoke, Mass. According to court documents, Duprey was identified by a person who was arrested on April 8 for distribution of heroin. The person, working with investigators, arranged a purchase of 500 bags of heroin from Duprey

Duprey was arrested with the requested heroin by DEA agents in Holyoke. Duprey was charged with using a mobile phone to facilitate the commission of a drug felony for his attempt to distribute the heroin. He is currently in federal detention.

"We are also keenly aware that some Springfield, Massachusetts, dealers have their Vermont customers come down to Massachusetts to buy drugs from them," said Nolan. "This strategy will not insulate them from prosecution. They are still going to find themselves in Massachusetts or Vermont courtrooms."

During the Tuesday press conference, Nolan mentioned that law enforcement would not only seek prison terms for those involved in the distribution of illegal drugs, but would also file forfeiture notices against the property of suspects. Federal forfeiture tools also allow law enforcement to take other things such as houses and cars, said Nolan, that are acquired with drug proceeds or used to facilitate the distribution of illegal drugs.

"We are aware that many drug dealers already have criminal drug records and to be frank some don't much care if they incur another criminal conviction," she said. "And there are some who don't actually worry about doing some jail time. But I will tell you many worry about having their cash and their assets taken from them. We are coming after your blood money. .. We are going to take the goods and the cash ... that you acquired on the backs of suffering addicts and their families."

But the main message was for Vermonters who are dealing drugs, said Nolan.

"Whether they are dealing to support their own habits or some other reason ... you are an integral part of this drug crisis," she said. "This vicious business model which is causing grievous harm to our state cannot work without you. ... You are going to be held accountable."

Bob Audette can be contacted at 802-254-2311, ext. 151, or raudette@reformer.com.


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