Case against suspected drug traffickers crumbles
By ERIC FRANCIS
CORRESPONDENT | December 10,2012
WHITE RIVER JUNCTION — With a whoop and a yell of “freedom” an ecstatic Henry Caledron of New Jersey punched the air and walked out of the Windsor County courthouse in downtown White River Junction on Friday afternoon.
Caledron became the fifth of 10 suspects to be released this past week. All 10 were originally arrested during a dramatic multi-agency drug raid of a downtown Chester apartment that took place Oct. 2.
After police bashed in the door to the residence of Eric Hale and Kaleena Smith, they reported finding a group of out-of-state men from places like New Jersey and New York who had extensive criminal records, a long list of known aliases and little in the way of explanation as to why they were in Hale’s apartment. Officers turned up a cornucopia of heroin, crack cocaine and cash all throughout the residence, but in the weeks following, it became apparent the state could not make its case against those men who were standing in the rooms near where the drugs were hidden when the raid took place.
Caledron pleaded guilty Friday to a misdemeanor charge of providing false information to police because he originally gave a fake name, but the much more serious felony heroin trafficking charge that had originally been filed against him was dismissed by Vermont Assistant Attorney General Bob Menzel.
On Wednesday, another suspect, Jose Sanchez, struck the exact same plea deal and on Nov. 30 the state issued outright dismissals of the felony trafficking charges filed against Yder Castillo, Xavier Benitez and Jason Artega, setting them free as well.
The pair of Chester residents at the heart of the investigation, Hale and Smith, remain incarcerated on what the state believes is the strongest of their remaining cases since the apartment was theirs and thousands of dollars of cash was found stuffed inside everything from their VCR to socks that were in their young child’s bedroom.
An inventory of the contraband discovered during the search of the apartment included more than 600 individual bags of heroin, much of it packed into 50-bag “bricks” that appeared to have been packaged for sale, several bags of crack and over $8,000 in cash, much of it in hundred dollar bills.
Eric Hale is still being held without bail and faces the most charges of the remaining suspects, three felony trafficking charges that carry a maximum potential penalty of up to 65 years in prison if convicted.