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Press Release

United States Attorney’s Office Announces Resolution of the Federal Forfeiture Action Against Rutland Boarding House

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

The Office of the United States Attorney for the District of Vermont stated today that the United States and the owner of 24 and 24.5 Cottage Street in Rutland have resolved the forfeiture action brought against this property. The property, commonly referred to as a boarding or rooming house, consists primarily of single room occupancy rental units.


As part of this resolution, Francesca Petruccelli, the out-of-state owner of the property, has sold this real estate to a Rutland area company, who has been notified of its obligation to take reasonable steps to monitor potential drug trafficking on the property. This company, 24 Cottage LLC, is located at Tenney Brook Court in Rutland. The primary members of the LLC are John Ruggiero and Sylvie LeBel. Meanwhile, the United States has filed a stipulation to dismiss its forfeiture complaint, without prejudice to re-filing the complaint in the future, if appropriate under the law.


In addition, as part of the resolution, 24 Cottage LLC signed an acknowledgment letter with the United States Attorney’s Office recognizing the legal duties federal drug forfeiture laws impose on property owners. These legal duties include taking “reasonable” steps to “terminate” the drug trafficking on a particular property. Such “reasonable steps” include: (1) giving timely notice to law enforcement of suspected drug trafficking or drug manufacturing violations; (2) making good faith attempts to evict those suspected of engaging in drug trafficking offenses; and (3) taking “reasonable actions in consultation with law enforcement to discourage or to prevent the illegal use of the property.”


The acknowledgment letter also contains the following guidelines: “Landlord assistance can include such actions as reporting suspicious activity to law enforcement, maintaining sufficient outdoor lighting around a property, restoring fencing, maintaining landscaping, towing abandoned vehicles, and installing video recording equipment in common areas and outdoor spaces. Even minor assistance, such as relaying tenant complaints of suspicious activity and high traffic, can be of assistance to law enforcement. Tenant screening and management is also important. All rental agreements should include an option of evicting any tenant who is dealing or manufacturing controlled substances in a rental unit.”


The United States brought the forfeiture action against the Cottage Street properties because of the repeated drug trafficking occurring there in 2013-14. The United States also prosecuted the son of the prior owners, Michael Petruccelli, who lived on the property and helped manage it, for drug distribution offenses. According to the government’s allegations, at times, Michael Petruccelli would accept crack cocaine as rent from drug dealing tenants. In November 2015, United States District Judge Geoffrey Crawford sentenced Michael Petruccelli to 48 months imprisonment for distribution of crack cocaine on the property. The forfeiture complaint alleged that multiple other drug dealers sold narcotics at the property in 2013 and 2014 and that the owners of the property did not take reasonable steps to stop the drug trafficking on the property, including by their son.


Acting U.S. Attorney Eugenia Cowles stated, “The Cottage Street forfeiture action, along with the previously settled Park Avenue federal forfeiture action, also in Rutland, demonstrate the important role landlords play in combatting drug dealing in Vermont.” Acting USA Cowles noted such cases should encourage all landlords to take reasonable, affirmative steps to deter drug trafficking on their rental properties and to notify law enforcement immediately if drug dealing occurs.


The underlying drug trafficking investigations related to this forfeiture matter were conducted by the Vermont State Police Drug Task Force, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, and the Rutland Police Department. The United States Marshals Service provided significant assistance during the forfeiture action.


The United States is represented in this matter by Assistant U.S. Attorneys James Gelber and Joseph Perella. The former property owner, Francesca Petruccelli (RFTJ Enterprise, Ltd.), is represented by Paul Kulig, Esq. of Rutland.

Updated May 31, 2017