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Small Vt. community deals with drugs, guns, gangs - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Small Vt. community deals with drugs, guns, gangs

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CHESTER, Vt. -

Chester is one of those picture-perfect towns. But police say even this quaint community is now forced to deal with big city crime.

"It's certainly a sizable drug bust for this area and probably a sizable drug bust for the state," Chester Police Sgt. Mark Phelps said.

Tuesday, police arrested 10 people for allegedly selling drugs out of Eric Hale and Kaleena Smith's Chester apartment. Investigators say $20,000 in cash was stashed in the toilet, VCR and their child's bedroom. Police say they also seized $30,000 in drugs. They believe Vermonter Ryan Bartley as well as seven New Jersey men were helping the couple sell crack cocaine, heroin and OxyContin to hundreds of customers in the greater Springfield area.

"They're all coming up from the city, have made some local connections here and have basically moved in, taken over an apartment and have been using it for their distribution network," Phelps said.

"I'd watch them walk in with duffle bags," said Rodney Hart, the property manager at Pleasant Brook.

Hart says he and his neighbors were terrified by the revolving door of characters living in C-3. Background checks revealed many of the men have violent criminal histories.

"Meanwhile, there's a lot of kids here and I think that is what bothered me," Hart said. "They're right there in the middle of it."

Police say Smith used her 3-year-old son as a shield when armed officers raided her home. Now that the crew is in custody and the little boy is in the state's care, Hart says he can finally sleep soundly.

"Relieved. Safe," he said.

You'd think that a large group of out-of-state drug dealers would stick out in a small town like this, but police say they were adept at staying out of sight. And it wasn't just their alleged dealing that made them so dangerous.

"It's our understanding in talking with the Jersey City task force that a lot of these gentlemen have blood connections to the Blood street gang down there," Phelps said.

Police say Vermont addicts are trading the alleged gang members guns for drugs. They admit this roundup is only a short term solution.

"It's going to make the drugs in the region a lot harder to come by. But in the long run they'll come back in, they'll set-up and they'll be back in business," Phelps said.

All 10 suspects pled not guilty. They could face decades behind bars and the possibility of federal charges.

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