Hampton, N.Y. man described as major Rutland drug dealer
By Brent Curtis
STAFF WRITER | March 08,2013
When he was arrested at the Howe Center in Rutland a week ago, there was little to distinguish Justin Billings from the majority of people charged with dealing heroin in the area.
But documents filed in federal court this week to support detaining the 25-year-old resident of Hampton, N.Y., show the quantities of guns, drugs and money allegedly found during a raid at his home last summer were anything but typical.
When federal agents raided Billings’ home July 22, they say they found more than 6,000 bags of heroin, about $90,000 in cash and 10 firearms — including a pistol strapped to the headboard of his bed.
“Six thousand bags of heroin is a lot of heroin,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Craig Nolan who is prosecuting the case against Billings and three men who allegedly distributed drugs for him in Vermont.
Billings was identified as a major drug supplier during the course of a high-profile and highly visible federal operation in Rutland code-named “Fed Up.”
That initiative, which included cooperation among multiple federal law enforcement agencies, Vermont State Police and Rutland City Police, led to the arrest of more than a dozen people as law enforcement focused on crimes involving guns and drugs in the city.
City Police Chief James Baker said Thursday that during the course of the operation, agents witnessed a drug sale and made an arrest that eventually led police to the source of the heroin supply — Billings.
“That’s the most significant case we’ve had to date since the federal agencies and city police began the operation,” Baker said. “In general terms, that’s a significant amount of heroin off the street.”
Billings was first arrested in July after he allegedly tried to sell 399 bags of heroin to an unnamed co-conspirator, according to federal court records.
Federal prosecutors say that Billings admitted to selling heroin since August 2011 and that between the spring and summer of 2012 he picked up about 10,000 bags of heroin from his supplier at least 10 times and maybe as many as 20 times.
Billings’ 2003 Ford Expedition was equipped with an “electronically controlled hiding compartment,” according to federal investigators.
Those bags were supplied by the hundreds each day to two other men who distributed the heroin, according to court records.
Two out of three of Billings’ co-conspirators named in court live in Rutland County and distributed the heroin allegedly supplied by Billings in Vermont.
The alleged conspirators living in Vermont are Jeffrey York, 42, of Castleton and Benjamin Whitney, 27, of Rutland.
Both men were arraigned and pleaded innocent last month to federal charges of conspiring to distribute heroin. York and Whitney are both free on court ordered conditions of release.
A third conspirator, 28-year-old Kenneth Alger who federal prosecutors said formerly lived in Whiting, was arrested recently in the Orlando, Fla., area on a charge of conspiracy to distribute heroin. He was released in Florida but is expected to appear for arraignment in Burlington on Monday.
Billings pleaded innocent Friday to charges of conspiracy to distribute heroin and possessing a firearm in furtherance of a drug-related crime.
He was jailed following a detention hearing in federal court Wednesday.
Billings was originally released for “investigatory reasons” and told to stay in contact with investigators following his arrest in July.
Nolan said he couldn’t comment on the reasons why Billings was released last summer.
While Billings did what investigators told him to do at first, according to court records, he ceased all contact with authorities in mid-December.
It wasn’t until March 1 that federal investigators obtained information on his whereabouts — an undisclosed residence in Rutland City.
Federal agents conducted surveillance on the home and approached him when he tried to leave last Friday morning.
Billings allegedly tried to flee on foot but was caught on the train tracks inside the Howe Center.