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Michael Moore / Sentinel Staff 

Leo Patenaude of Patenaude’s Pool Plasterers in Hartland, Vt., makes repairs to the Robin Hood Park pool in Keene recently with his fellow workers Caleb Harrington, Ryan Blake and Troy Miller. With the work completed, the pool is scheduled to open for the summer today.

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Vermont is lucrative place for drug traffickers, official says

BURLINGTON, Vt. — Five people have been sentenced in federal court for their roles in a drug-distribution operation active in the Brattleboro area between late 2014 and early 2016.

The Office of the U.S. Attorney for the District of Vermont announced the sentences in a news release Friday.

Two Springfield, Mass., residents, Joaquin “J.J.” Diaz-Alicea and Andrew “Tone” Cruz, were each sentenced to 10 years in federal prison. Another Springfield resident, Jonthony “Little Tone” Maldonado, was sentenced to 2½ years.

All three pleaded guilty in 2017 or 2018, but the final sentencing hearing was not until June 19, when Diaz-Alicea was sentenced.

Two Vermont residents also pleaded guilty in the case, in late 2016, and were sentenced months later. Steven Miller of Vernon was sentenced to one year in prison, and Laura Frankiewicz of Brattleboro received a sentence of time served.

A sixth person, Anthony Serrano, was charged in the case before dying in a shooting in Springfield, according to the news release. Police said at the time that the shooting appeared to be gang-related, according to a report in The Springfield Republican.

According to the U.S. attorney’s office, Serrano and Cruz led the operation, which sold heroin and cocaine base, and Diaz-Alicea was “immediately subordinate to Cruz.” The news release calls Maldonado “the drug trafficking organization’s ‘apprentice’ ” but does not further describe his role.

Miller and Frankiewicz sold heroin and cocaine base and also provided the three Springfield residents with housing in exchange for drugs, according to the news release.

Source cities, local towns

It’s not uncommon for drug dealers from an out-of-state “source city” like Springfield, Mass., to set up shop in Vermont, First Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin Doyle said.

“They can make more by selling it in areas with less supply generally,” Doyle said. It’s a particular problem in southern Vermont, he said, because the area is not far from Springfield and connected via Interstate 91.

Out-of-state dealers often rope in local drug users, who make sales or give the dealers a place to crash, according to law enforcement officials. “They’ll stay with the locals because it’s less liability on their end,” said Vermont State Police Detective Sgt. Christopher Lora, who oversees the state’s drug task force. “There’s nothing tying them to an apartment or to a hotel room.”

In exchange, local residents typically receive quantities of the drugs they’re addicted to, according to Doyle and Lora.

Other times, the drug distributors are based locally but have an out-of-state supplier. “We also have locals who realize that there’s money to be made,” Lora said. “And most of the locals that we have are users themselves, so they’re buying enough quantity to support their own habit. They’ll sell what they need to support their own habit, and then they’re making money off it as well.”

Recent federal drug cases focused on the Brattleboro area have involved charges against people with ties to New York, Massachusetts and Connecticut, as well as numerous Vermont residents.

In one 2016 case, prosecutors alleged a Brattleboro woman with a drug addiction allowed a group to use her Western Avenue apartment for its drug-selling business in 2014 and 2015.

It’s not clear from publicly available court documents whether the group had previous ties to the area — one member had a Vermont ID, another’s was from New York. Their suppliers included sources in Springfield, Mass., and Connecticut, according to one of the government’s filings in the case.

At some point in 2016, the group shifted its operations from Brattleboro to a house in Putney, according to prosecutors. “They met drug customers at this location and allowed local addicts to stay in the basement in exchange for doing household chores and other tasks associated with the drug business,” a prosecutor wrote in the filing.

In August 2016, according to prosecutors, two “Vermont addicts” picked up one of the dealers in Connecticut and drove him to the Putney house, expecting to receive $30 worth of crack cocaine in exchange.

An argument over the expected payment devolved into a shootout, which left no one injured but led to multiple arrests.

More recently, a former Hartford, Conn., resident living in Brattleboro was arrested in February and faces federal drug distribution charges as well as assault and other state charges.

And at an April news conference in Brattleboro — framed as a warning to drug dealers and their collaborators — authorities announced more than a dozen arrests in several separate investigations.

They included a New York man and a Connecticut man arrested in Vermont; a man arrested in Holyoke, Mass., who was alleged to be supplying large quantities of heroin to someone in Vermont; and multiple Brattleboro residents facing various drug-related charges.

Vermont is lucrative for drug traffickers in part because it’s at the end of an international supply chain, raising prices, said Lora.

“There’s so much money to be made off the drugs, that you’ll see gangs from out of state that typically won’t get along,” he said. “… But in the state of Vermont, the profits are so lucrative that they actually kind of have an agreement where — ‘You take this town or you take this part of town, and we’re good, and everybody’s making money.’ ”

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First set of Democrats take debate stage tonight in Miami

Tonight, almost all of the sprawling field of more than two dozen Democratic presidential candidates will be in Miami as the party holds the first of back-to-back debates.

Seeking to avoid the perils of the so-called jayvee or undercard debates from the 2016 Republican primary, the Democratic National Committee opted for two nights with a semi-randomized split of 10 candidates for each two-hour debate.

To qualify, candidates had to either register at 1 percent in three national polls or secure 65,000 individual donors. Then, the field was split at random, with a caveat of dividing the highest polling candidates evenly among both nights.

University of New Hampshire political scientists Dante Scala and Andrew Smith spoke with The Sentinel Tuesday to offer some insight and suggestions on what to look for.

“If you haven’t been keeping up on all of the candidates, you haven’t been out to see anybody — I think, from the viewer’s perspective, relax,” Scala said. “... Chances are that a number of the people on stage may not even be serious candidates when New Hampshire is ready to vote.”

Smith said he uses the analogy of a snow globe to put the early primary debates in context.

“You shake things up, and the little snowflakes float up in the air, and then they sink back down to where they were before,” Smith said. “As a candidate, you just want to hope that you’re a little bit further to the top of that pile than you were before.”

Both Scala and Smith said most of the candidates, aside from a few front-runners like Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders — who are both in the second debate — will be looking to simply introduce themselves to voters.

Others, the professors noted, will be aiming to find a “viral moment” through which they can gain support — and more small-dollar donors to qualify for the next debate — by landing a zinger at a rival or coming across in an authentic way that either pulls at the heartstrings or rallies the base.

But, Scala cautioned, candidates gasping for such a moment may overestimate the rewards of going on the attack and may underestimate the risk of coming across as foolish or committing a gaffe.

Here’s a brief introduction and guide to the 10 on stage tonight, along with the occasional “professor’s note.”

Cory Booker

Background: Junior U.S. senator from New Jersey and formerly the mayor of Newark. A Rhodes scholar and graduate of Stanford University — where he played tight end on the football team — Booker’s background has been in community organizing since attending law school at Yale University.

Visits to the region: Two, once as a declared candidate in May at a house party in Keene and once during his exploratory-committee phase in December, with another house party in the city.

Early campaign focus: Uniting the country, positive rhetoric and addressing generational inequality with proposals such as “baby bonds,” a family-income-adjusted nest-egg program Booker discussed in depth on The Sentinel’s Pod Free or Die politics podcast.

Professor’s note from Scala: “[Booker] tends to be very positive, so he’s freed up to draw contrasts [with his opponents].”

Bill de Blasio

Background: Mayor of New York City, previously served as New York City public advocate (an elected ombudsman position) and ran the tri-state region of the Department of Housing and Urban Development under President Bill Clinton.

Visits to the region: One, in Antrim in March, before declaring his candidacy.

Early campaign focus: Taking on big corporations and universal pre-K are some of de Blasio’s staples in his unabashedly progressive campaign, which he says will make government “serve working people.”

Julián Castro

Background: Former secretary of HUD under President Barack Obama and former mayor of San Antonio.

Visits to the region: One, an April visit to Keene State.

Early campaign focus: Immigration reform and affordable housing. Castro has been the first candidate to propose an immigration plan and was also the first to call for President Donald Trump’s impeachment.

John Delaney

Background: Former congressman from Maryland, founder of two companies publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange.

Visits to the region: At least five, including a March double-header in Peterborough. Delaney is also scheduled to sit down with The Sentinel’s editorial board on July 3.

Early campaign focus: Hitting the trail; Delaney has made 98 trips to New Hampshire since launching his campaign in July of 2017, according NBC Boston’s candidate tracker. He has also proposed a national service program and a mandate that the president address Congress every quarter.

Tulsi Gabbard

Background: U.S. representative from Hawaii, who is the first Hindu and first Samoan-American member of Congress. Gabbard also served in a combat medical unit in the National Guard in Iraq.

Visits to the region: At least three, two of which came before her official campaign launch. Gabbard was one of the earliest current candidates in the field to come to the Monadnock Region ahead of the midterms with a stop at Keene Middle School, where she gave an address at a progressive organizing summit with Jerry Greenfield, of Ben & Jerry’s fame.

Early campaign focus: Ending regime-change wars and reducing the United States’ military interventions abroad.

Amy Klobuchar

Background: The senior U.S. senator from Minnesota, Klobuchar was previously the Hennepin County attorney before becoming the first woman elected to one of Minnesota’s Senate seats.

Visits to the region: Two, an April visit to Peterborough’s Waterhouse Restaurant and a May speech as the keynote speaker of the Cheshire County Democrats’ annual spaghetti dinner in Keene.

Early campaign focus: Addressing the “rural-urban” divide with better access to broadband and giving a sense of executive priorities with a 137 bullet-point agenda for what would be her first 100 days in office.

Professor’s note from Scala: “Klobuchar, like [Tim] Ryan, is trying to appeal to a more moderate Democrat, so they won’t have the Biden shadow hanging over them [in tonight’s debate], so they can just make a pitch to voters on their own terms.”

Jay Inslee

Background: Governor of Washington; previously served in Congress.

Visits to the region: None.

Early campaign focus: Climate change. Inslee has put forth a lengthy proposal to address carbon emissions and has advocated for a primary debate focused exclusively on climate change.

Beto O’Rourke

Background: A former three-term congressman from Texas and member of the El Paso City Council, O’Rourke rose to national prominence in his unsuccessful bid to unseat Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz.

Visits to the region: One, a town hall event at Keene State in March.

Early campaign focus: Taking time to visit non-early primary states, as well as rolling out plans on climate change and caring for veterans.

Tim Ryan

Background: Nine-term U.S. representative from Ohio, who earned his law degree from the Franklin Pierce Law Center in Concord [now the University of New Hampshire Franklin Pierce School of Law] before serving in the state Senate in Ohio. Also unsuccessfully challenged House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for the minority-leader position in 2016.

Visits to the region: None.

Early campaign focus: Introducing himself to the electorate and appealing to Midwestern Obama-Trump voters.

Elizabeth Warren

Background: Senior U.S. senator from Massachusetts; previously a Harvard Law School professor of bankruptcy law and adviser to federal oversight programs.

Visits to the region: One, a Keene State College town hall in April. Warren’s campaign also opened one of its four New Hampshire field offices in Keene last Friday.

Early campaign focus: “Warren has a plan for that” has become a campaign slogan, with the candidate earning plaudits for consistently rolling out detailed policy plans on a wide range of issues. As with much of her earlier career, reducing wealth inequality has been a recurring theme.