U.S. Attorney Eric Miller is joined by local and federal law enforcement officials during a press conference in Burlington.
Federal authorities on Friday charged eight people living in a three-block stretch of Winooski with helping out-of-state drug dealers set up a large heroin and cocaine distribution ring.
The defendants, seven of whom were arrested Friday, allowed dealers to use their apartments along a stretch of Malletts Bay Avenue, just a few blocks from the downtown Winooski traffic circle, authorities said.
U.S. Attorney Eric Miller said that law enforcement is increasingly focused on arresting "local facilitators": Vermonters who provide housing, transportation, links to customers and other support to out-of-state drug dealers who set up shop in local communities.
"That facilitating is absolutely critical to the success of the drug trade in Vermont," Miller said during a press conference in Burlington.
A map of apartments in Winooski where several residents allegedly facilitated drug trafficking.
The following people were charged with making their homes available for the drug trade, a charge that carries a 20-year maximum sentence:
Aja Trieb, 33; Cory Barnier, 27; Takorian Hackney, 31; Kerry Rivard, 36; Rachel Gentes, 37; Sarah Little, 47; Anne Weber, 32; Tracy Korf, 53.
Police are still searching for Barnier. The other seven defendants were arrested Friday morning.
In total, authorities said they seized two kilograms of heroin and 1.5 kilograms of crack cocaine during the arrests. Six different homes were involved, authorities said.
The charges grew out of an investigation into Michael "Unc" Villanueva, who operated a large drug distribution ring in Vermont before he was arrested in September 2015. Villanueva, who pleaded guilty in June to federal drug dealing charges, lived in St. Albans but operated out of the Malletts Bay Avenue homes controlled by the people arrested. When sentenced, Villaneuva faces life in prison and a minimum 10-year sentence.
The stretch of Malletts Bay Avenue where the arrests were made is heavily populated with families and children. It includes a library, community center and a YMCA, and is a short walk from the Winooski Police Department.
In a statement announcing the arrests, Miller noted the "cumulative and concentrated impact of drug distribution activity at so many homes along one street in the heart of Winooski." The investigation lasted more than a year, authorities said.