Twelve People Charged with Heroin Trafficking After Statewide Multi-Jurisdictional Investigations
The Office of the United States Attorney for the District of Vermont and Vermont’s federal, state, and local law enforcement officials today announced federal criminal charges against 12 individuals accused of trafficking heroin in Vermont. The charges resulted from three long-term investigations characterized by a high level of cooperation among federal, state, and local agencies. In total, the three investigations seized the equivalent of 20,000 bags of heroin with a street value of approximately $200,000.
United States Attorney Eric Miller praised the agencies that assisted in the investigations and arrests, which included the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the Vermont State Police Drug Task Force, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), Customs and Border Protection (Plattsburgh Air Branch), the Burlington Police Department, the Rutland Police Department, and St. Johnsbury Police Department. Miller pointed to the recent criminal charges as examples of the cross-jurisdictional cooperation necessary to combat heroin trafficking in Vermont, saying, “We will continue to achieve these meaningful results only by sharing information, expertise, and personnel across federal, state and local agencies.”
All of the charges announced today will be prosecuted by the United States Attorney’s Office’s Heroin Trafficking Team. First organized in January 2015, the Heroin Trafficking Team is an effort by the United States Attorney’s Office to focus federal prosecutorial resources in a manner best designed to disrupt the flow of heroin into and within Vermont. The Team consists of four prosecutors, each of whom is assigned to one of the four quadrants of the State for purposes of initial charging decisions and information gathering. They conduct weekly conference calls with the officers and agents performing the on-the-ground police work in those quadrants. Together, the prosecutors, officers, and agents prioritize targets and discuss strategic and legal issues surrounding each investigation. The Team members also meet regularly to share information about their quadrants.
The United States Attorney’s Office has charged 87 defendants with heroin-related federal crimes in the first eight months 2015, compared to 56 defendants during that same period last year, an increase of nearly 60%. Those increases are directly attributable to the combined work of law enforcement officers and prosecutors.
State, federal, and local officials have made clear their commitment to continuing their high level of coordination in response to Vermont’s heroin crisis. “DEA is committed to investigating and dismantling Drug Trafficking Organizations (DTO), like those operating in Vermont,” said Special Agent in Charge Michael J. Ferguson. “DEA will aggressively pursue trafficking organizations or individuals who are coming from out of state to distribute illegal drugs — in this case heroin and cocaine — to areas of Vermont in order to profit and destroy people’s lives, and wreak havoc in our communities. This investigation would not have been a success without the continued commitment of our state and local law enforcement partners.”
Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin added, “I want to thank the United States Attorney’s Office and all of the state, federal, and local law enforcement officers who worked together to bring these individuals to justice. Their coordinated efforts to keep this poison out of Vermont are a key part in our battle against addiction. We’re all in this one together—prosecutors, judges, law enforcement, health care providers, policy makers, and others. Everyone has a part to play as we work to find new and better ways to confront a problem affecting every state in America.”
A brief summary of each investigation and the resulting allegations is provided below. Documents related to each investigation are attached to the electronic copy of this press release posted on the website of the United States Attorney’s Office.
The Allegations Regarding Miguel Zayas, Lamar Carter, and Others
On September 10, 2015, a federal grand jury returned a fourteen-count indictment charging eight people with a large-scale heroin and crack cocaine trafficking conspiracy based in Caledonia County. Miguel Zayas, Lamar Carter, Karen Schumann, Derek Dawson, Ryan Farnham, Thomas Newman, Taylor May, and one other not yet arrested, are charged with conspiring to distribute heroin and crack cocaine in Vermont from early 2014 through August of this year. In filings with the court, the government has alleged the following with respect to the defendants: The drug ring – which trafficked mainly in heroin – was supplied by Zayas, 30, of New Jersey City, New Jersey and, his partner, Lamar Carter, age 24, who is from Brattleboro and also has ties to New Jersey. The remaining six defendants named in the indictment are Vermonters who reside in Caledonia County and served as the local infrastructure for the Zayas-Carter heroin business. These local facilitators are Schumann, age 37, of St. Johnsbury; Dawson, age 25, of St. Johnsbury; Farnham, age 24, of St. Johnsbury; Newman, age 35, of Barnet; and May, age 19, of Lyndon, along with one other defendant who is still at large. Earlier this year, two other Vermont facilitators of the Zayas-Carter heroin business, Sue-Ann Christie, age 46, of St. Johnsbury, and Jacob Isham, age 28, of Lyndon were charged in separate indictments with distribution of heroin. Also yesterday, Lamar Carter’s mother, Jacobina Carter, 39, of Brattleboro was arrested for an unrelated heroin distribution she allegedly committed in Brattleboro earlier this year.
The Zayas-Carter investigation was a long-term multiagency effort spearheaded by the Vermont State Police Drug Task Force. Other agencies involved in the investigation include the FBI, HSI, and the St. Johnsbury Police Department. The Drug Task Force and FBI took the lead in conducting controlled buys and interviewing witnesses. The FBI and HSI played an instrumental role in obtaining federal search warrants for the targets’ cell phone coordinates and electronic devices, as well as for residences of local facilitator defendants in St. Johnsbury and Barnet, Vermont. The St. Johnsbury police department played a key role in assisting with execution of a search warrant at the St. Johnsbury residence of Karen Schumann, who is charged not only with the heroin conspiracy, but with making her residence available for drug use and distribution.
The United States Attorney’s Office emphasizes that the charges against the defendants are only accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until they are proven guilty.
The Allegations Regarding Michael Villanueava (aka “Unc”)
In January of this year Tyrone Dixon was found by the Department of Homeland Security in Vermont with approximately 80 grams of crack cocaine hidden inside a loaf of bread. In June, he pleaded guilty and admitted in Court to having that drug while working with a man known to Dixon as “Unc.”
In February of this year, the Vermont State police stopped a Vermont-registered jeep on the interstate and discovered approximately 600 bags of heroin in the center console. The vehicle was registered to Sarah Ellwood. Building on some of the intelligence developed from these two cases by the Vermont Drug Task Force and other agencies, in July of this year the DEA obtained warrants to search a hotel room registered in the name of Sarah Ellwood, in Williston, as well as the Ellwood residence in Saint Albans.
In connection with these operations, DEA found approximately 216 grams of heroin, and approximately 250 grams of crack cocaine, a handgun, and a significant amount of cash. The grand jury subsequently indicted John and Angela Hoffman and Dorsey Hunt with conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine and heroin. As alleged in court filings, the Hoffmans and Hunt admitted to working with and at the direction of “Unc” in connection with their drug distribution activities.
Earlier this month, following up on another tip, DEA obtained a warrant to search a hotel room in South Burlington. In connection with this operation in which Burlington and South Burlington Police participated, DEA found approximately 223 grams of heroin and 280 grams of crack cocaine, resulting in charges against three additional persons: Michael Villanueva (whose nickname is “Unc”), Sarah Ellwood, and Felicia Livingston.
The United States Attorney’s Office emphasizes that the charges against Villanueva, Ellwood, Livingston, Hunt, and Hoffman are only accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until they are proven guilty.
The Allegations Regarding Troy Barnes
Troy Barnes of Rutland was arrested on August 20, as law enforcement executed a warrant obtained by the Vermont Drug Task Force authorizing the search of Barnes’ Rutland residence. Police found approximately 200 grams of heroin — nearly half a pound — at Barnes’ residence. They also found a loaded handgun in the same kitchen pantry where Barnes allegedly kept part of his stash. This operation was conducted by the Vermont Drug Task Force working closely with the DEA, the FBI, ATF, the Rutland Police Department and other agencies. On August 26, the grand jury in Rutland returned an indictment charging Barnes with possessing more than 100 grams of heroin with the intent to distribute it.
The United States Attorney’s Office emphasizes that the charges against Barnes are only accusations and he is presumed innocent unless and until he is proven guilty.