By THATCHER MOATS
BRANDON — A major sweep in Rutland County last week of more than three dozen people accused of drug-related crimes netted 10 Brandon residents and a handful of individuals from Addison County.
Brandon Police Chief Chris Brickell, whose department was one of 10 local, state and federal law enforcement agencies involved in the three-month-long effort dubbed “Operation Marble Valley 2008,” said on Thursday that he hopes the arrests will scare other drug dealers, preventing them from setting up shop in Brandon.
“We’re not foolish,” he said. “We know this isn’t the end, but we’re hoping yesterday was step one.”
Nine Brandon residents were arrested Wednesday and one on Thursday. Authorities also arrested or put out warrants for four Addison County residents in connection with the operation.
In addition to Brandon police, Operation Marble Valley included Vermont State Police, the Vermont Drug Task Force (VTDTF), Rutland police, the Rutland County Sheriff, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the Rutland County State’s Attorney’s Office, the Vermont Attorney General, the U.S. Marshals Service, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
The effort displayed the regional approach that Brickell was hoping for when authorities began clamping down on Rutland-area drug activity in February. He said he had been worried that focusing solely on Rutland would flush criminals out into surrounding towns.
While the Addison County State’s Attorney’s Office was not directly involved with the operation, they will be monitoring the court’s disposition of the cases. Addison County Deputy State’s Attorney Christopher Perkett said he does not anticipate this latest crackdown on drug activity in Rutland County will prompt a spike in such activity in other locations, like Addison County.
A total of 42 people were indicted in the operation on drug and firearm charges. Six were still wanted as of Friday, and a few were in custody prior to Wednesday’s sweep, according to VSP Lt. John Flannigan. Brickell said that many of those charged have been on the Brandon Police Department’s radar for a long time.
Four Brandon residents — David Silber, 41; Susan Evanoski, 40; Alan Joseph Evanoski, 57; and Wendy Pratt, 39 — face the most serious charges. They will be tried in U.S. District Court on charges of conspiracy to distribute more than 50 grams of crack cocaine. Also named in that indictment are Demetrius Manassa, 21, of Brooklyn, N.Y., Kajuan Woods, 21, also of Brooklyn and Michael O’Brien, 39, of Rutland.
They each face a potential penalty of 10 years to life in prison if convicted.
Evanoski faces some of the most serious jail time if convicted, as he also will be tried on a second federal crime of conspiracy to distribute more than five grams of crack cocaine, Brickell pointed out.
“He’s gone,” Brickell said.
The other Brandon residents indicted were:
• Michaela Breen, 22, who was charged with sale of heroin, three counts of aiding in the commission of a felony (sale of cocaine), and aiding in the commission of a felony (sale of heroin). She faces up to 35 years in prison, an $800,000 fine or both.
• Sandra Dyson, 50, sale of cocaine and faces up to five years in prison, a $100,000 fine or both.
• Chris Rantanen, 22, three counts of sale of cocaine and two counts of sale of heroin and faces up to 35 years in prison, an $800,000 fine or both.
• Lori Gould, 29, aiding in the commission of a felony (sale of cocaine) and faces five years in prison, a $25,000 fine or both.
• Tina Forrest, 52, conspiracy to distribute in excess of 5 grams of crack cocaine and faces five to 40 years in prison.
• Tara Stone, 34, same as Forrest.
Addison County residents cited were:
• Andrew Ouellette, 26, of Shoreham, for sale of heroin and faces up to five years in prison, a $100,000 or both.
• Justin Wedge, 23, of Middlebury for two counts of sale of heroin and faces up to 10 years in prison, a $200,000 fine or both.
• Jared Lilly, 46, of Bridport, for aiding in the commission of a felony (sale of heroin) and faces up to five years in prison or a $100,000 fine, or both.
Marisha Morgan, 22, of Salisbury, was listed as still wanted as a result of being among seven people charged in United States District Court in a seven-count indictment returned on May 21, 2008 by a federal grand jury sitting in Rutland with, among other offenses, conspiracy to distribute in excess of 5 grams of crack cocaine and faces five to 40 years in prison if convicted.
Aside from the suspects listed as Brandon residents, nine others charged in the investigation have close connections to the town, Brickell said, including some who have lived here previously. The chief added that many federal agents and others in the VTDTF were “surprised” with the number of Brandon connections.
Jim Mongeon, the Rutland County state’s attorney, said the effort shows there’s no place drug dealers can operate in the region without risking arrest.
“It shows there’s no safe haven in Rutland County,” he said.
50 OFFICERS INVOLVED
Last Wednesday’s sweep began in the early morning hours and involved more than 50 law enforcement officers. Brickell said police fanned out across the county in teams of two or three with arrest packets that included a photo and the charges. Four canine units were involved in the sweep and, according to officials, the arrests went smoothly and they encountered little resistance from suspects.
Arrests occurred in a variety of places as suspects were arrested wherever they were found.
He said suspects were arrested on Carver Street, Maple Street and on Birch Hill Road in Brandon Wednesday. Much of the actual drug dealing that took place during the investigation occurred in Brandon-area parking lots or other public places, Brickell said.
Brickell said no drugs or firearms were seized in Brandon last week, because police did not have search warrants. He said search warrants target specific items at specific locations and Wednesday’s operation was focused on rounding up as many people as possible based on evidence obtained over the previous three months. And though Brickell said seizing drugs and getting them off the streets is positive, arresting the dealers and those harboring them gets more to the root of the problem.
An important aspect of the operation from Brickell’s standpoint was to crack down on Brandon residents who give out-of-town dealers a place to stay. Four of those caught up in last week’s police dragnet were from Albany, N.Y., and two others were Brooklyn, N.Y., residents.
“One of the big issues for us in this is people hosting other people from out of town,” Brickell said. “At least two residents were hosting those main players … maintaining their habit while feeding a real enterprise.
“You can’t lay all the blame on out-of-towners,” he added. “The community bears some responsibility. But the product is manufactured and comes in from out of state, so a key is to stop people from bringing large quantities in.”
Operation Marble Valley was spurred by drug violence in Rutland that climaxed in February with the shooting death of Carlos Vasquez. Rutland Mayor Chris Louras convened a meeting with the Rutland City Board of Aldermen, which then led to a “mini-summit” of law enforcement personnel, and the operation was put in motion.
The law enforcement agencies worked closely on joint investigations, meeting weekly to review cases, according to a VSP press release.
Brickell said the operation’s collaborative approach was essential to the success of Operation Marble Valley, in part because no one agency had the manpower or funding to pull it off.
“As a six-person department, we can only do so much,” Brickell said.
He said the VTDTF had the funds to pay for overtime and do undercover work, including buying drugs. And the narcotics charges revealed Wednesday were based largely on sales to undercover operators, Brickell said.
KEEPING THE PRESSURE ON
The state police and sheriffs department have funding to do lots of traffic stops, which Brickell said is a way to keep the pressure on suspected dealers. He also pointed out that there will be much information gathered from the recent arrests. He said informants who agreed to work with police after previous arrests figured prominently in last week’s charges.
“They’re all connected, and hopefully they’ll start to question each other’s loyalty,” he said.
Ten of the 11 U.S. marshals assigned to Vermont took part in the operation. Marshal John Edwards said these agents will be important in tracking down any suspects who flee or may already be out of state.
“U.S. marshals are good at running down fugitives,” he said. “If those on the arrest list abscond, we’ll bring them back to Rutland County to face the music.”
Law enforcement officials last week were quick to point out that the drug sweep was not the end of a major crackdown on drugs, but a beginning.
“We truly hope this a beginning,” Brickell said.