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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
District of Vermont

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Castleton Man Sentenced to Five Years Imprisonment for Selling Heroin and Unlawful Possession of a Stolen Firearm

The Office of the United States Attorney for the District of Vermont stated today that Leon Russell, 36, of Castleton was sentenced to five years imprisonment by Chief Judge Geoffrey Crawford in U.S. District Court in Rutland. Judge Crawford also sentenced Russell to three years supervised release, which is a period of supervision by the U.S. Probation Office, which will begin upon Russell’s release from prison.

According to court records, Russell previously pled guilty to possession of a firearm by a felon and distributing heroin. The firearm charge stems from Russell’s theft of a .380 caliber Bersa semiautomatic pistol from a vehicle parked in a Fair Haven driveway on December 6, 2016. Later that day, Russell traded that firearm in exchange for four small bags of heroin from another heroin dealer in the Walmart parking lot in Rutland. The firearm was subsequently recovered. Russell was disqualified from possessing a firearm under federal law because he was previously convicted of a 2009 burglary of American Legion Post #50 in Castleton, Vermont. Possession of a firearm by a felon is subject to a maximum sentence of ten years. Federal law also makes it a crime to knowingly possess a stolen firearm, regardless of whether a person has a prior felony conviction. This offense is also subject to a maximum ten years imprisonment.

The heroin offense to which Russell also pled guilty, concerned Russell’s sale of a bundle of heroin (ten small bags) in Castleton on May 27, 2015. The maximum sentence for this offense is twenty years.

In July 2017, with the support of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the Court released Russell from jail to allow him to participate in residential drug rehabilitation and then the Federal Drug Court program in Rutland. If Russell had successfully completed the Drug Court program he would have received no further jail time; that is, a time-served sentence. In November 2017, however, Judge Crawford revoked Russell’s conditions of release based on the government’s allegations that Russell had resumed distributing heroin and crack cocaine and that he had continued to use drugs while in Drug Court.

At sentencing, the government argued that instead of proving through Drug Court that he could be trusted to be a law-abiding citizen, Russell proved just the opposite; that is, he remained a danger to the community. In sentencing Russell to 60 months imprisonment, Judge Crawford emphasized the potential dangerous consequences of trading guns for drugs.

U.S. Attorney Christina E. Nolan commended the collaboration of federal and local law enforcement in the investigation and prosecution of Russell, citing specifically the substantial contributions of the Fair Haven and Rutland Police Departments and the DEA and ATF. She added, “trading firearms to drug dealers is inherently dangerous and creates an unacceptable public safety risk. The U.S. Attorney’s Office will work closely with our law enforcement partners to prioritize identification and prosecution of those who mix unlawful firearms activity with the drug trade. Further, federal prosecutors will pursue appropriate sanction for those who brazenly violate Court orders, as occurred in this case.”

This prosecution is part of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Project Safe Neighborhood, a nationwide commitment to reduce gun crime in America. Led by the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Project Safe Neighborhood marshals federal, state and local resources to better locate, apprehend, and prosecute individuals who violate federal gun laws. For more information about Project Safe Neighborhood and Project Safe Vermont, please visit: http://www.projectsafeneighborhoods.gov/

This case was investigated jointly by the Vermont State Police Drug Task Force, the Fair Haven Police Department, the Rutland Police Department, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. This matter was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Joe Perella. Russell is represented by Richard Bothfeld, Esq. of Burlington.

Topic(s): 
Drug Trafficking
Opioids
Firearms Offenses
Component(s): 
Updated April 18, 2018