Caraballo collaborator pleads guilty to drug charge
By Brent Curtis
STAFF WRITER | January 30,2013
A man who federal prosecutors say sold cocaine and heroin on behalf of accused murderer Frank Caraballo pleaded guilty to a drug charge Tuesday as part of a secret agreement with the U.S. attorney’s office.
Douglas Radcliffe, 30, of Bennington, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Rutland to a charge of conspiring with Caraballo to sell drugs in southern Vermont.
Judge Christina Reiss ordered Radcliffe jailed until his sentencing hearing in May because he tested positive earlier this month for narcotics in his system.
Radcliffe faces up to 20 years in jail on the federal charge but may get some considerations from prosecutors at his sentencing hearing due to the fact that he accepted a plea deal.
The specifics of the plea agreement are unclear — Reiss sealed the agreement on Jan. 22.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Perella declined after the hearing Tuesday to say whether Radcliffe would be called on to testify in Caraballo’s pending murder case.
Caraballo, 29, pleaded innocent in September to killing his girlfriend, 31-year-old Melissa Barratt. The Holyoke, Mass., man has already been sentenced to a 16-year jail term for convictions on five federal counts of cocaine distribution.
In addition to charges related to the killing of Barratt, who was shot off East West Road in Dummerston in July 2011, Barratt also faces charges of conspiring to distribute heroin and cocaine.
Based on comments made during Radcliffe’s change of plea hearing Tuesday, the Bennington man may have insight into all of the pending charges against Caraballo.
Perella said that from March 2011 to the end of July that year, Radcliffe sold cocaine and heroin for Caraballo.
The prosecutor said that part of the reason that Radcliffe sold the drugs was to support his own opiate drug addiction.
“The drugs were fronted to him with the understanding that he would pay Mr. Caraballo back,” Perella said.
But Caraballo rarely dealt directly with Radcliffe, Perella said. Instead, he would send either Barratt or Joshua Makhanda-Lopez, a co-defendant in Caraballo’s drug cases, to deliver drugs and collect money from Radcliffe.
Perella asked that Radcliffe be allowed to stay out of jail before his sentencing hearing and he cited the Bennington man’s efforts to deal with his drug addiction.
“He’s made efforts to get on the right track,” Perella said. “He deserves an opportunity.”
But while she said she would consider releasing Radcliffe if a urine test he provided at court Tuesday was clean of drugs, Reiss said a failed urinalysis earlier this month warranted holding him in jail.
“The extreme recent use knowing that this hearing was coming up is troubling,” she said.