Mugging, drug sales net prison sentence
By ERIC FRANCIS
CORRESPONDENT | November 11,2013
PHOTO BY ERIC FRANCIS
Amanda Bernier, 26, will serve up to five years in jail after admitting to selling drugs in Springfield and for helping steal a wallet from a 90-year-old man in Springfield.
WHITE RIVER JUNCTION — Saying that spending the past five months in jail away from her two young children “has been an eye-opener,” a woman arrested in this summer’s “Operation Precision Valley” sweep struck a plea agreement last week.
Amanda Bernier, 26, of Charlestown, N.H., was sentenced Thursday to two-and-a-half-to-five years in jail after she admitted to helping a friend mug a 90-year-old man a year ago at the Springfield Dam and to dealing drugs around the town this spring.
“She was linked to the gang known locally as ‘The Jersey Boys’,” Vermont Assistant Attorney General Bob Menzel said to Judge Karen Carroll, adding that Bernier’s case, which was originally charged as seven felonies carrying more than 70 years of jail time, was “challenging,” because, Menzel said, “Through surveillance we know that Ms. Bernier wasn’t just selling. She was addicted.”
Menzel was quick to add that he felt Bernier’s conduct, “went beyond the basics of addiction.”
“She was significantly involved in drug trafficking in the area (and even though) she doesn’t have a significant prior criminal history she sort of jumped in with both feet,” Menzel said, adding, “She was involved in seven different (undercover) transactions with the drug task force during the five months, while they were intensively targeting drug dealers in Springfield and Ludlow. She’s pleading guilty to four of those (sales) today which ranged in size from a $100 bag of crack rocks up to one where she sold 40 bags of heroin.”
In addition to the drug sales convictions, Bernier also plead guilty to violating court-ordered conditions of pre-trial release and to aiding in a larceny from another person for her role in the September 2012 theft of a wallet containing several hundred dollars from Bernard Crosier, 90, at the dam.
“The crime against Mr. Crosier was nothing short of pathetic. It shows the level of desperation on Ms. Bernier’s part,” Windsor County Deputy State’s Attorney Rhonda Sheffield told the court Thursday, describing how Bernier and her friend Holly Bates, 25, first approached the elderly resident at the post office with a fictitious story, begging for gas money so they could drive to visit a sick child in a distant hospital. After Crosier gave the pair $40 they spotted him a short time later at the dam and, with Bernier driving, pulled up and asked him if he could make change for the money he’d just given them. Crosier later told police that when he got his wallet out for the second time Bates wrestled it away from him and the women drove off.
“He was violated in such a direct way,” Sheffield said as Bernier watched from the nearby defense table. “It’s so rare in Vermont that we get folks who step it up and steal from someone face-to-face,” Sheffield added.
“Judge, here’s a Springfield guy who has probably watched his community fall to heck in a hand basket…(but) he has taken the high road,” Sheffield told the judge. “All he has ever wanted was for both of the ladies to get treatment.”
Addressing Bernier from the bench, Carroll asked what she had been doing before she ran afoul of the law.
“I was with my kids a lot but when I got on drugs I gave custody of them to my mom,” Bernier said, explaining that she hadn’t been able to see either her 4-year-old or her 1-year-old since her arrest, “but I talk to them every night,” on the phone at the jail.
Carroll accepted the plea deal with a recommendation that Bernier be enrolled in the Department of Correction’s “Tapestry” program which could see her furloughed to a drug treatment facility in Brattleboro in a matter of months.
“There’s been a lot of talk in the media (suggesting) we are treating drug addicted people inappropriately by sending them to prison but sometimes I think we forget the impact this behavior has on the public,” Carroll told Bernier. “Here we have an elderly gentleman who was seriously impacted by your use of substances.”