16 Individuals Charged or Arrested as Part of Joint Law Enforcement Effort
On November 14, 2019, the United States Attorney for the District of Vermont announced a multi-agency, multi-jurisdictional law enforcement effort that focused on drug trafficking in the areas of Newport and Saint Johnsbury, Vermont. During the month-long operation conducted by federal, state, local, and county officers, and federal and state prosecutors, law enforcement arrested or charged 16 individuals, searched 3 residences, and seized approximately 700 bags of fentanyl and heroin, 100 grams of cocaine base, 2 firearms, and $4,000 in drug proceeds.
Those charged in federal court include:
• Jen Thompson, 39, of Newport, Vermont, for maintaining a drug-involved premises and distribution of cocaine base.
• Juliana Graves, 49, of Newport, Vermont, for possession with intent to distribute heroin, fentanyl, and cocaine base.
• Elijah Wheeler-Watson, 23, of Clinton, Massachusetts, for possession with intent to distribute cocaine base and heroin.
• Adis Djozo, 26, of Essex Junction, Vermont, for possession with intent to distribute heroin.
• Alicia Parenteau, 36, of Newport, Vermont, for distribution of cocaine base.
• Chakeshia Watts, 40, of St. Johnsbury, Vermont, for maintaining a drug-involved premises.
• Jerry Watts, 62, of St. Johnsbury, Vermont, for maintaining a drug-involved premises.
• Randy Devoid, 50, of St. Johnsbury, Vermont, for distribution of cocaine base.
• Shaquille Carter, 26, of New York, New York, for possession with intent to distribute cocaine base and heroin.
• Christina Thompson, 42, of Lyndonville, Vermont, for distribution of cocaine base.
• Morgan Cleveland, 39, of Newport, Vermont, for possession with intent to distribute fentanyl.
Those arrested on state warrants and violations include:
• Soloman Little, 26, of St. Johnsbury, Vermont, who was arrested and cited for fraud.
• Christopher MacKay, 52, of St. Johnsbury, Vermont, who was arrested on an extraditable warrant for violation of probation in Maine, and multiple failures to appear in Vermont court proceedings.
• Mark Houston, 30, of St. Johnsbury, Vermont, who was arrested twice in the same day for violating the conditions of his release by breaking curfew restrictions.
• Michael Barry, 26, of St. Johnsbury, Vermont, who was arrested for failure to appear in Vermont court proceedings.
• Michelle Churchill, 34, of St. Johnsbury, Vermont, who was arrested for violating conditions of furlough and returned to correctional custody with the Vermont Department of Corrections.
Defendant Carter is currently a fugitive. Defendant Cleveland is at large. All other defendants were arrested during the operation.
The charges against the defendants are only allegations. The defendants are presumed to be innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.
This operation stemmed from careful planning and collaboration by Vermont law enforcement at all levels. The enforcement surge involved the participation of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, the Department of Homeland Security - Homeland Security Investigations, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the United States Marshals Service, the Vermont Drug Task Force, the Vermont State Police, the Saint Johnsbury Police Department, the Newport Police Department, the Lyndonville Police Department, the U.S. Border Patrol, and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection - Air and Marine Operations. Crucial support was provided by the Office of the Caledonia County State’s Attorney and the Office of the Orleans County State’s Attorney. United States Attorney Christina E. Nolan thanked each agency for its teamwork and invaluable contribution to the operation.
United States Attorney Christina E. Nolan added: “Today, as we did earlier this year in Brattleboro, we announce the results of a team effort by law enforcement to combat drug trafficking in one of the hardest hit areas of the state. The Northeast Kingdom is suffering greatly under the weight of the drug crisis, and we deployed a sustained surge of enforcement resources to bring consequences to those selling deadly drugs in the area. The messages are simple. Out-of-state dealers should not come to Vermont; if they do, they will face serious consequences, no matter where in the state they do business. Those addicted Vermonters involved in the drug trade will also be held accountable. Today, we urge those Vermonters to turn in their dealers and seek treatment. We want them to have their lives back.”
“Far too many people across Vermont have first-hand knowledge of family members or friends whose lives have been destroyed or lost due to opioids,” said Jason J. Molina, Acting Special Agent in Charge, Homeland Security Investigations. “HSI and our law enforcement partners will continue to be relentless in pursuing the organizations that are distributing opioids and other dangerous drugs into our communities.”
“The Caledonia County State’s Attorney’s Office is very fortunate to be able to work cooperatively with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in addressing the drug trade in our community. We would like to thank Chief Tim Page of the St. Johnsbury Police Department for his persistence in helping make this surge happen as well as the other dedicated law enforcement offices that assisted. We truly appreciate your service to our community,” stated Interim Caledonia County State’s Attorney Jessica Zaleski.
“Opioid abuse is at epidemic levels in Vermont,” said DEA Special Agent in Charge Brian D. Boyle. “Let these arrests serve as an example to those who distribute poisons like fentanyl and heroin to the citizens of St. Johnsbury, that DEA will aggressively pursue and hold you accountable. This investigation demonstrates the strength of collaborative law enforcement efforts in Vermont and our strong partnership with the U.S. Attorney’s Office.”
“The opioid epidemic continues to ravage Orleans County at an alarming rate,” stated Orleans County State’s Attorney Jennifer Barrett. “This county has been fractured by the opioid epidemic. The number of families torn apart and who have lost loved ones is a monumental tragedy. The Office of the Orleans County State’s Attorney commends the hard work of local and federal law enforcement agencies in their dedicated investigations. The Office of the Orleans County State’s Attorney continues to be committed to the aggressive prosecution of the drug dealers within our community.”
“The Vermont State Police and the Vermont Drug Task Force recognize the importance of combining federal, state and local law enforcement agencies into a concentrated team effort to combat drug trafficking in Vermont,” said Major Dan Trudeau. “Utilizing best police practices in response to violent crime, the opiate crisis, and drug trafficking will result in safer Vermont communities.”
“The success of this initiative is a testament to the hard work and dedication of all the law enforcement professionals in the region working in a truly collaborative fashion,” said Kelly D. Brady, Special Agent in Charge of ATF’s Boston Field Division. “We could not ask for a better group of professionals to work with toward the shared goal of reducing violent crime in the City of St. Johnsbury and throughout Vermont.”
“These arrests send a clear message that drug traffickers have no place in our community,” said James N. Hendricks, Special Agent in Charge of the Albany Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). “Thanks to the incredible collaboration between our federal, state, and local partners, 700 bags of heroin and 100 grams of crack were taken off the streets. The FBI, along with our law enforcement partners, remains focused on stopping the movement and sale of drugs on our streets and ensuring that our neighborhoods are safe.”
St. Johnsbury Police Chief Tim Page added, “The St. Johnsbury Police Department would like to thank the U.S. Attorney’s Office, DEA, Homeland Security, FBI, U.S. Marshals and the Vermont State Police for their efforts in the recent actions against those suspected of drug activity in St. Johnsbury. A cooperative and sustained initiative sends a strong message that such activity will not be condoned or tolerated. Members of the St. Johnsbury Police Department remain committed to holding those responsible accountable.”
“As made evident by the successes of past and present joint law enforcement operations, the focus and commitment of our public safety community is remarkable,” stated U.S. Marshal Bradley J. LaRose. “The relentless pursuit of those who act to threaten the well-being of our citizenry will undoubtedly continue. The Marshals Service is committed to contributing the resources necessary to support the zealous collaborative efforts of those who pursue justice as we move forward.”
The Assistant U.S. Attorneys handling the operation and subsequent prosecutions are AUSAs Nicole Cate, William Darrow, Michael Drescher, Andrew Gilman, Nikolas Kerest, Jonathan Ophardt, Joseph Perella, and Gregory Waples. Defendant Jen Thompson is represented by Assistant Federal Public Defender David McColgin, Esq. Defendant Graves is represented by Devin McLaughlin, Esq. Defendant Wheeler-Watson is represented by Karen Shingler, Esq. Defendant Djozo is represented by Paul Volk, Esq. Defendant Parenteau is represented by Richard Bothfeld, Esq. Chakeshia Watts is represented by the Office of the Federal Public Defender. Defendant Jerry Watts is represented by Robert Katims, Esq. Defendant Randell Devoid is represented by the Office of the Federal Public Defender. Defendant Christina Thompson is represented by Edward Kenney, Esq. Defendants Shaquille Carter and Morgan Cleveland have not yet appeared in court.
On Monday, November 18th members of local, state, county and federal law enforcement in partnership with treatment and recovery providers, the Caledonia and Orleans State’s Attorneys and the United States Attorney will hold a forum to discuss the drug and opiate challenges facing Northeastern Vermont. This forum will include a panel presentation and an opportunity for the public to ask questions of the panel. The public is invited to this event which will begin at 6:30 p.m. at the St. Johnsbury Middle School in St. Johnsbury, Vermont.
The public is encouraged to report criminal activity in their community by using the following link https://vsp.vermont.gov/tipsubmit. Individuals can choose to remain anonymous when submitting a tip.