U.S. Attorney Reminds Skilled Nursing Facilities Not to Refuse Treatment to People with with Substance Use Disorder
The Office of the United States Attorney for the District of Vermont stated today that three Rutland County residents have pled guilty in three separate cases to violating the federal “crack-house” statute. The convictions arise from the defendants’ conduct in hosting out-of-state heroin dealers in their residences. Sheri Fitzgerald, 54, of Rutland; Wayne Oddo, 54, of Poultney; and Richard Webster, 60, of West Rutland, have all pled guilty to the federal law, commonly referred to as the “crack-house statute,” which prohibits making available a place, such as a residence, for the purpose of manufacturing, storing, distributing, or using any controlled substance. This statute imposes a maximum sentence of twenty years’ imprisonment, up to a $500,000 fine, and up to three years of supervised release to begin after any term of imprisonment is served.
These three cases represent a renewed commitment by the U.S. Attorney’s Office to deter Vermont residents from assisting larger-scale out-of-state drug dealers by providing them with a local shelter or “base camp” for their drug trafficking operations in Vermont. Often, the individuals who house the out-of-state dealers are themselves addicts who receive payment in the form of drugs.
U.S. Attorney Christina Nolan stated:
“The heroin crisis in Vermont requires a multi-faceted law enforcement approach aimed at reducing supply, which will complement statewide efforts to reduce demand through prevention initiatives and by making drug treatment more accessible to addicts. As part of our continued vigorous prosecutions of large-scale drug dealers, it is also necessary to target those Vermont residents who enable out-of-state dealers by providing them with in-state bases of operation – that is, a place to stay, to store their product, and to conduct drug trafficking activities. Oftentimes, these Vermont facilitators will host a succession of out-of-state drug dealers, and perform drug deliveries to their customers. Vermonters who engage in this conduct play an essential role in larger drug trafficking organizations and contribute substantially to the overall opioid epidemic by helping suppliers avoid detection, connecting them with customers, and reducing their cost of doing business in the Green Mountain State. Facilitators must understand that such conduct will be met with felony charges. Indeed, prosecuting the in-state hosts and shutting down drug safe houses is a critical component of our strategy to dismantle drug pipelines and create a hostile environment for those who profit from the opioid addiction epidemic. In appropriate cases, such as when the owner of the property is aware of the drug dealing and fails to take reasonable and safe steps to stop it, such as by contacting law enforcement, the U.S. Attorney’s Office may also utilize federal forfeiture law to seize and forfeit the property.”
According to court documents:
Sheri Fitzgerald lived in a Granger Street apartment in Rutland City in March 2016. At that time, she allowed an out-of-state heroin dealer to stay at her residence for multiple days. This dealer stored heroin in her residence and sold it from her residence. Fitzgerald assisted him by arranging and completing these drug sales. She received heroin in exchange for letting this drug dealer stay at her apartment.
Wayne Oddo lived at Morse Hollow Road in Poultney in the winter of 2016-17. At that time, he allowed Richard Torruellas (a.k.a. “Scoobs”) and Francesco Escribano (a.k.a. “Brisco”), also known as the Jersey Boys, to stay there overnight on multiple occasions. Oddo knew at the time that both of these individuals were distributing heroin and crack cocaine in Rutland County. They also occasionally sold these drugs at Oddo’s residence. In exchange for letting them stay there, the Jersey Boys would give Oddo small, personal use amounts of drugs. When Oddo was arrested on March 15, 2017, he admitted that he moved the body of Alexandra Rooker, who had overdosed a week earlier, to his shed and had not called anyone about her death. Her body was subsequently recovered from the property. During the execution of a federal search warrant, the ATF seized eight firearms (four shotguns and four rifles) from Oddo’s residence. The U.S. Attorney’s Office has worked in close concert with Rutland County State’s Attorney Rose Kennedy and her office, which is also prosecuting Oddo in a case relating to the death of Alexandra Rooker.
Richard Webster lived on Harrison Avenue in West Rutland in the winter of 2017. At that time, he allowed Torruellas to stay at his residence during the daytime. Torruellas stored his heroin and cocaine base and coordinated his trafficking from Webster’s residence during the daytime, and would often stay at Oddo’s residence in Poultney at night. Webster received heroin from Torruellas. Torruellas and Escribano recently pled guilty to a conspiracy to distribute heroin and crack cocaine and agreed to a 54-month sentence.
During the pendency of their cases, after relatively short periods of incarceration, the Court allowed all three defendants to be released into residential drug treatment programs to address their respective substance abuse issues. In addition, the U.S. Attorney’s Office has recommended that Webster and Fitzgerald participate in the Federal Drug Court program in Rutland. The Rutland Federal Drug Court program offers treatment and rehabilitation under the supervision of the Court. Defendants who succeed in this one-year program are eligible for a probationary sentence in lieu of additional imprisonment. U.S. Attorney Nolan emphasized the importance of the Drug Court as a mechanism for promoting treatment and recovery for appropriate federal defendants, with the involvement of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the United States District Court, and the United States Probation Office. The sentencings for Webster and Fitzgerald are postponed until after their participation in the Drug Court program. The sentencing for Wayne Oddo is scheduled for July 5, 2018 at the U.S. District Court in Rutland.
“ATF will continue to work with its federal, state and local law enforcement partners by detecting and stopping the illegal flow of narcotics which jeopardize the safety of our communities,” said Acting Special Agent in Charge Larry Panetta.
Rutland Police Chief Brian Kilcullen added, “The pleas announced today should send a strong message to those who engage in any capacity in the illicit drug trade that they will be held accountable for the social harm they bring to our community. This collaboration of local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies ensures those responsible for such harm to our city will be prosecuted using all available resources to ensure the most appropriate outcome for all involved. The City of Rutland thanks U.S. Attorney Nolan, her staff, the Vermont State Police Drug Task Force, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives and the Rutland State’s Attorney Office for their commitment to combatting the heroin crisis in Vermont.”
These cases were investigated at the federal level by the Vermont State Police Drug Task Force, the Rutland City Police Department, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Nicole Cate and Joseph Perella are prosecuting these cases on behalf of the United States. Sheri Fitzgerald is represented by John-Claude Charbonneau, Esq. of Rutland. Wayne Oddo is represented by Steven Barth, Esq. of the Federal Public Defenders Office. Richard Webster is represented by David Williams, Esq. of Burlington.