Vergennes police, VSP make heroin bust in Leicester

VERGENNES/LEICESTER — Vergennes police on Tuesday — with a major assist from Vermont State Police — arrested three people in Leicester and charged them with selling heroin after finding more than 350 bags of the drug, $3,670 of cash, marijuana, and a stolen firearm at a Fern Lake Road home.
Police said the street value of each bag ranged from $20 to $30 per bag, meaning the street value of the drug seized by police on Wednesday ranged from $7,000 to $10,500.
Vergennes Police Chief George Merkel said the arrests followed an investigation that stretched more than 18 months.
Two of those arrested were local residents, but Brian M. Cumberbatch, 31, of Brooklyn, N.Y., faces the most serious charge, trafficking of heroin, as well as marijuana possession. Police said the trafficking charge is punishable by a fine of up to $1 million, up to 30 years in jail, or both. 
Police allege Cumberbatch originally came to Vermont with 900 bags of heroin on Dec. 15. They said he had in the past visited the state for periods of time ranging from two days to a week, and during each visit he sold between $9,000 and $11,000  worth of heroin.
Merkel said the exact number of trips Cumberbatch has made to Vermont is not yet known, however.
“We know he’s been up here a couple times at least,” Merkel said.
Vergennes and state police also arrested Jill Smith, 30, of 650 Weybridge St., Middlebury, and Zebulon Brinkman, 29, of 17 New Haven Road, Vergennes. Police charged both with heroin sale and delivery, conspiracy to sell drugs, and possession of heroin. Merkel said the three suspects were arraigned in Addison County court last week, and that police expect to arrest a fourth suspect for heroin possession.
Police lodged all three at the Chittenden County Correctional Center after they were taken to VSP’s New Haven barracks for processing.
Merkel said it was a Vergennes police case because his department had first learned in 2011 that Smith and Brinkman were allegedly dealing heroin and had been working it since.
“We developed information on Smith and Brinkman from a ways back,” Merkel said. “We were tracking this and developing informants.”
According to his department’s press release on the incident, the investigation into the heroin trafficking had focused on Smith’s Middlebury residence as well as the residence in Leicester.
Merkel said all along VSP had also been working with Vergennes police on the case, and a recent VSP traffic stop gave law enforcement a break: The driver agreed to work with police.
According to a Vergennes police press release, the search warrant used to bust the trio “was obtained through information provided by a trooper out of the New Haven barracks, who had made a traffic stop and was provided information by the operator of the vehicle. The information was passed along to the Vergennes Police Department, who worked with the operator by making an undercover buy” from Brinkman and Smith.
Merkel said the buyer also worked with Vergennes police detective Jason Ouellette to time the execution of the search warrant so that Cumberbatch was present as well as Brinkman and Smith.
“Jay was instrumental in working on this case,” Merkel said. “We were hoping to get them with the supplier in the house.”
Police also provided information on the stolen weapon to the Shelburne Police Department because the firearm was stolen from that town, and said the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms is also investigating the theft of the weapon and its connection to the drug trafficking.
Merkel emphasized the investigation showed the teamwork that exists among the county’s law enforcement agencies. He said five VSP troopers and six members of his department worked on the case on Wednesday by executing the warrant in Leicester, making the arrests, taking the suspects to the VSP barracks or watching them there, or finally transporting them to jail.
“This was a cooperative effort between the state police and the Vergennes Police Department,” Merkel said. “Cooperation between agencies is key … There is no room for professional jealousy, and there is none.”
This story was corrected and expanded at 2 p.m. on Dec. 20. 
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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