ST. ALBANS — As a morning-long drug sweep wound down Tuesday, the Vermont State Police barracks was filled with the activity of about 80 law enforcement officers celebrating their efforts and congratulating each other for the operation’s success.
Law Enforcement officials Tuesday lauded the collaborative effort in a multi-agency drug sweep that netted 37 arrests of alleged drug dealers in Franklin and Grand Isle counties. About 13 suspects were still at large, as of this morning, and officials are seeking the public’s help asking any information that could lead to additional arrests.
St. Albans City Police Chief Gary Taylor said two of the 37 arrested were apprehended his morning. One, Cory Tedford, turned herself into Franklin County Court in St. Albans, while Stephanie Robtoy was arrested at a St. Albans residence, said Taylor.
As of press time, Taylor said he didn’t know whether any other suspects were apprehended last night or this morning. He said his fellow law enforcement agencies were just getting back to work when he spoke with the Messenger.
Sixteen cooperating state, local and federal agencies conducted the large-scale sweep of narcotics dealers — primarily those selling prescription drugs, heroin and cocaine — after six months of investigation.
Taylor reiterated other officials’ comments regarding the sweep’s impact on the area. Today he said people involved in drug dealings and substance abuse issues will often take a moment to reflect on their activity after a widely publicized crackdown occurs.
“Oftentimes along the way, more information is communicated to the law enforcement community,” Taylor said. “There is a ripple effect. I do think there are some immediate impacts in the community.”
During a Tuesday afternoon press conference, Vermont’s Commissioner of Public Safety Keith Flynn invited Dr. Bill Roberts of Northwestern Medical Center to discuss the immediate impact of making large amount of narcotics unavailable in the area. Roberts said family members might start seeing a change of behavior in addicts who no longer have access to drugs.
While the media questioned officials about the effect of a sudden unavailability of illegal narcotics, Roberts urged addicts to seek immediate help. He also stressed that family members, friends and neighbors should take this opportunity to help those who are addicted to narcotics.
“I would ask you to call either your primary care doctor to seek care, or to communicate with our staff at the comprehensive pain management program,” he said. “Ask them openly, ‘Is there something we can talk about?’ ”
The number at the Northwestern Interventional Pain Management program directed by Roberts is 524-8809.
Taylor said area law enforcement agencies have a great working relationship with the medical community when it comes to addressing substance abuse issues and addiction — what Roberts called a disease.
Roberts stressed the importance of recognizing where narcotic addiction begins. He said children as young as sixth-graders develop habits by recreationally using leftover prescription drugs in their homes.
Families are the first line in defense against substance abuse issues, Flynn said after the press conference. He said starting a dialogue with children around the age of 10 is a huge step in preventing future drug problems.
Swanton Police Chief Leonard Stell agreed that family life plays a large part in the prevention of substance abuse problems. He said the recreational use of pills often develops into heroin use.
Stell said there is a need for more education about the proper disposal of prescription drugs. He said not only do local law enforcement agencies accept prescriptions for disposal, but the local health communities also can direct people to leftover drug collection sites.
“We’re strengthening our communities by working on prevention and recovery,” Stell said. “That is the first step.”
Flynn said the war on drugs has shifted to battle the issues surrounding substance abuse problems that fuel criminal activity and the sale of illegal substances. While the arrests mark a victory for the law enforcement community, the sweep is just the beginning of an effort to battle substance abuse-related crimes in the area, he said.
“You’re now looking at a war on addiction,” he said. “We cannot arrest our way out of this problem.”
A common theme among the law enforcement officials was that the arrested and suspects still being sought have been taking advantage of people with addiction issues.
The arrested individuals all face at least one felony charge, with some ranging up to seven counts for the sale and distribution of illegal substances. While police didn’t identify one “ring leader” in the sweep, VSP Col. Tom L’Esperance said all the arrests were substantial.
“I don’t consider anybody a little guy,” L’Esperance said.
The arrests Tuesday were “mostly uneventful,” L’Esperance said.
While past drug sweeps in Vermont – others were conducted in Bennington and Springfield earlier this year — have largely focused on dealers coming from out of the state, recent investigations have found in-state dealers purchasing large quantities of drugs and setting up their operations at home, L’Esperance said.
State’s Attorney Jim Hughes said he was surprised that most of the arrested individuals had zero or little in the way of criminal backgrounds. Although some of the suspects did have extensive records, those who are facing their first serious charges are in for a tough time in their futures, Hughes said.
“It’s a real tough way to start your activity in the criminal system,” Hughes said.
Besides the few arrested individuals who were on furlough on other charges, those arraigned Tuesday were released on conditions, Hughes said. He said there are strict conditions that require the defendants remain in Vermont and do not have access to non-prescribed medications, among other stringent requirements. Most were released on bail bonds.
Anyone with any information regarding this investigation or having knowledge of illicit drug activities is asked to call the Vermont State Police St. Albans Barracks at 524-5993, or their local municipal law enforcement agency.