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Press Release

Bethel Man Pleads Guilty to Conspiracy to Distribute Opioids

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, District of Vermont

The Office of the United States Attorney for the District of Vermont stated that on December 6, 2021, James Bannister, 57, of Bethel, Vermont pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute controlled substances, including the opioids Tapentadol and Tramadol, in connection with his involvement in an international drug trafficking operation.

According to court records and proceedings, from in or about 2019 through June 2021, Bannister and others used mailboxes in Vermont to receive shipments of controlled substances and misbranded pharmaceutical drugs sent from outside the United States.  Bannister also received international shipments of controlled substances and misbranded drugs at his residence, including pills containing the opioids Tapentadol and Tramadol, as well as Carisoprodol, a muscle relaxant.  After receiving the controlled substances, Bannister and others unlawfully redistributed them, typically by U.S. mail, to customers across the United States.  In June 2021, law enforcement executed a search warrant at Bannister’s residence and seized 14,449 pills containing Schedule II and IV drugs. 

Bannister faces a maximum sentence of up to 20 years of imprisonment, up to lifetime supervised release, and up to a $1,000,000 fine.  The Court will determine the sentence with reference to the Federal Sentencing Guidelines.  

Acting United States Attorney Jonathan A. Ophardt commended the collaborative investigative efforts of the Food and Drug Administration Office of Criminal Investigation, Homeland Security Investigations, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the United States Postal Inspection Service, and the Rutland City Police Department.  “The importation and sale of diverted and counterfeit pharmaceuticals feeds the opiate crisis with pills cloaked in fraudulent legitimacy.  The cost of addiction is borne by our communities, while the money pilfered from addicted individuals lines the pockets of foreign criminals.  I applaud our investigatory partners for targeting the facilitators who play a vital role in supporting these international criminal organizations.” 

“Misbranded and counterfeit prescription drugs that are smuggled from overseas can present a serious health risk to those who buy and use them. The drugs may contain unknown ingredients, may be made under unknown conditions, and may be used without the supervision of a licensed medical professional,” said Special Agent in Charge Jeffrey J. Ebersole, FDA Office of Criminal Investigations New York Field Office. “We will continue to investigate and bring to justice those who traffic in misbranded or counterfeit prescription drugs.”

“Bannister peddled opioids and other dangerous substances, bringing them across borders and into New England and the rest of the United States,” said Matthew Millhollin, Special Agent in Charge for the Homeland Security Investigations’ Boston Field Office, which covers all of New England. “Cases like these require strong partnerships and HSI is proud to work with our law enforcement partners to prevent the illicit flow of controlled substances into the country.”

“Responding to the increased prevalence of diverted or counterfeit pharmaceuticals in New England is among DEA’s highest priorities” stated Brian Boyle, DEA New England’s Special Agent in Charge.  “This Vermont based international drug smuggling organization shows that every corner of New England is being targeted by drug trafficking organizations for distribution of these deadly substances.  DEA and our federal, state and local partners are committed to bringing to justice, those who are fueling our country’s unprecedented opioid epidemic.”

“The U.S. Postal Inspection Service and our law enforcement partners will continue to dedicate the necessary resources to fight drug trafficking in our communities,” said Inspector in Charge Ketty Larco-Ward of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service’s Boston Division. “The Postal Service has no interest in being the unwitting accomplice to anyone using the U.S. Mail to distribute illegal drugs.”

Bannister is represented by Assistant Federal Public Defender David McColgin.  The prosecutor is Assistant U.S. Attorney John J. Boscia.

Updated December 7, 2021

Drug Trafficking
Prescription Drugs