MIDDLEBURY/HANCOCK — Three Hancock residents appeared at the Addison County Courthouse on Wednesday, Nov. 21, to plead innocent to drug-related crimes in connection with an alleged methamphetamine operation at a home at 2698 Route 125 in Hancock.
It is the first substantial meth case to be prosecuted in Addison County.
Michael Wood, 44, and Steven Arnold, 20, each face two counts of selling methamphetamine and one count of conspiracy in the sale of methamphetamine. All three charges are felonies and could net each of the men a combined total of up to 15 years in jail and/or fines of up to $300,000.
Also arraigned before Addison County Judge Helen Toor on Wednesday was Meegen Smith, 32, who was arrested in connection with the same investigation. Officials contend it was Smith who taught Wood — a former boyfriend — how to cook meth. Smith was in court to answer to a charge of violation of probation, and for being a fugitive from two New York state charges of possession of methamphetamine precursors.
Judge Toor ordered Wood and Arnold held on bail of $75,000 and $25,000, respectively. She ordered that Smith be held without bail on the violation of probation charge, and on $100,000 bail for the fugitive from justice charges.
Wood, Arnold and Smith were arrested on Tuesday, Nov. 20, following an extensive investigation spearheaded by the Southern Vermont Drug Task Force. Detective Jeffrey Stephenson, a member of the drug task force, was a leader in the probe, which took place over several days and included the participation of an informant who made two meth buys and wore a wire to help provide evidence in the case against the three accused.
The informant — cooperating with the investigation in exchange for possible leniency in a separate criminal matter — met with authorities on Nov. 9 to say he had information about “Mike Wood” making meth at his home off Route 125, according to court records. He told police that he had heard that Wood used to have a meth lab in the woods behind his house, but that it “blew up,” so he moved it indoors. The informant alleged that Smith had taught Wood how to cook meth, using pseudoephedrine derived from Sudafed medicine. When Smith and Wood ended their relationship, Wood began to make meth with Arnold, according to Stephenson’s affidavit.
On Nov. 14, investigators said they fitted their informant with a transmitting device and cash to make a meth purchase at Wood’s home. He bought $80 worth of the substance that evening, according to court records.
Authorities gathered additional information from another informant who allegedly was driven to a pharmacy by Wood and asked to purchase Sudafed, lithium batteries and Drano — items used in the manufacture of meth, according to investigators. That informant claimed to have seen Wood and Arnold cooking meth in a “large glass jar.”
On Nov. 19, police asked their informant to set up a second drug buy at Wood’s home, this time dealing with Arnold, according to court records. Again, investigators outfitted the informant with a transmitter and gave him cash to make the purchase. Police, through the transmitter, were able to hear Arnold describe the meth manufacturing process and the ingredients needed, according to court records.
Arnold also went into the history of the operation, saying he and Wood — and previously with Smith — had conducted multiple meth cooks on certain days, with the makers snorting much of the drug, according to the affidavit; Arnold said he had used meth so frequently that he could now sleep after using the powerful stimulant, and that he had cooked around 60-70 batches of the drug with Wood during the past six weeks.
“Arnold spoke about his first time manufacturing meth on his own and how he got a rush as the bottle began to swell up and he thought it would explode,” the affidavit states.
Arnold was also aware of the consequences of the crime, authorities said.
“(Arnold) stated that just having lithium batteries, Drano and Sudafed is enough to convict you,” he was heard saying, according to court records.
“Arnold explained that they were trying to clean up the evidence,” the affidavit states. “Mike Wood told him that he removed three contractor-sized garbage bags of meth waste product which was left over… Arnold also said there were two bags of meth waste left in the shed, but he had recently burned them, causing a small explosion with multi-colored flames.”
The suspects were also aware that according to state law, a person cannot buy more than three packs of Sudafed per month, according to court records. And Wood did not purchase the substance himself as he was the owner of the home in which the meth was being produced and therefore did not want to draw undue attention, according to the affidavit.
On Nov. 20, police executed search warrants at Wood’s home and that of Leslie Eramo, a Hancock resident who had also allegedly been participating in some of the meth cooks, according to court records.
Arnold and Wood allegedly confessed to making, using and selling meth during interviews with police on Nov. 20, according to the affidavit.
“Wood explained his manufacturing process in detail including the chemicals and which order and amount are used,” according to court records. Wood also allegedly told police that he had his mother buy Sudafed for him on one occasion, according to police
Authorities also interviewed Smith, who allegedly admitted to being a meth user but denied ever making the substance in Vermont. State police said that Smith will eventually be charged with conspiracy to manufacture methamphetamine.
The Southern Vermont Drug Task Force and the Vermont State Police Clandestine Lab Team were still processing Wood’s home as he, Arnold and Smith were being arraigned on Wednesday, Nov. 21. Vermont Assistant Attorney General Robert Menzel noted, in arguing for strict bail standards for Wood and Arnold, that the home in which they are residing is currently uninhabitable due to the meth making activities that had allegedly transpired there during the past several weeks.
Menzel requested bail be set at $100,000 for Wood. Judge Toor agreed that Wood’s past criminal record (which includes a warrant out of New Hampshire and violations of the conditions of his release from prison), coupled with the prospect of a 15-year jail sentence hanging over his head for the latest meth case, warranted “significant bail,” which she set at $75,000.
Toor also acknowledged the severity of the charges against Arnold, whose extensive comments were caught on the informant’s wire transmitter.
But Addison County Public Defender Jerry Schwarz, who is representing all three defendants in the case, noted that Arnold’s past record only included a few offenses for underage drinking. He said Arnold could live with his mother in Hancock, if he makes bail.
Toor set that bail at $25,000 for Arnold and agreed to Addison County State’s Attorney David Fenster’s request that Smith be held without bail on the violation of probation charge.
Toor added that the defendants will be expected to undergo substance abuse treatment if they are released from jail pending trial.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected]