Some cases from drug sweep reaching their ends
By Patrick McArdle
STAFF WRITER | May 07,2013
BENNINGTON — Two more defendants have been convicted based on their arrests during a drug sweep in Bennington County in January and Bennington County State’s Attorney Erica Marthage said her office had her office had been handling the increased caseload well.
More than 100 police officers participated in a drug sweep in Bennington County on Jan. 16 which was called the largest police action in Vermont’s history. After the arrests, there were more than 50 people to prosecute, many of them facing multiple charges.
“We’re not seeing really a great strain on the court system outside of the normal. We just have all these dockets that need to come back for calendar calls and discovery conferences and all of that kind of stuff,” Marthage said.
According to Marthage, the workload has been a little better than she expected.
On Friday, Melanie Muniz, 34, of Bennington, pleaded guilty to five charges: Two misdemeanor charges of possessing heroin and one misdemeanor count of possession of cocaine; and two felony counts, one for possession of heroin and the other for conspiracy to sell drugs.
When Muniz was arraigned on Jan. 16, she was charged with 21 felonies and three misdemeanors. Most of the charges involved possessing heroin or cocaine, selling drugs or conspiring to sell drugs. Under her plea agreement, most of the charges will be dismissed at Muniz’s sentencing hearing.
Muniz did not enter into a plea agreement with a guaranteed sentence but the state agreed not to ask for more than two to five years in prison, although all that time would be suspended and Muniz would be on probation. The state can also ask for a fine of up to $5,000.
Daniel McManus, Muniz’s attorney, is free to argue for a deferred sentence of five years for the felonies. If Muniz were to have no legal trouble during that five years, she would not have a felony record although attorneys on both sides agreed that her misdemeanor convictions would remain on her record.
According to affidavits filed in the cases against Muniz, she was part of several drug sales involving confidential informants. However, in most of the transactions described, Muniz was seen driving to and from the alleged sale and was not the person taking money from the confidential informant or handling the drugs.
No sentencing hearing has been scheduled in Muniz’s case because Judge Cortland Corsones ordered the Vermont Department of Corrections to complete a presentence investigation first which will include a sentencing recommendation. The sentencing hearing is expected to take place in about six weeks.
On Monday, John C. Lavigne, 28, also of Bennington, pleaded guilty to four charges from two separate cases. Lavigne entered a guilty plea to a felony count of conspiring to sell drugs, a felony count of selling heroin and a misdemeanor count of possession of heroin, all related to the drug sweep.
In a separate case, Lavigne pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of making threats by phone.
As part of a “global resolution” of all the charges, Lavigne entered a plea agreement which included the state dismissing five felony charges related to the drug sweep and a misdemeanor charge of stalking from the more recent docket. Lavigne was sentenced to serve three to five years in jail with all of the time suspended except for six months.
The drug charges against Lavigne were based on drug sales which took place in Bennington in December and January. In the more recent charge, Lavigne admitted to sending threatening text messages on April 15.
Lavigne was ordered to report to the Rutland jail by Wednesday at 5 p.m.
Michael Munson, who represented Lavigne, said his client was a “middleman” who was supporting his own drug habit.
Marthage said she’s not counting on the workload returning to normal. Instead, she’s hoping the successes will lead to more drug cases being prosecuted successfully in Bennington County.