BENNINGTON — A Brooklyn, N.Y., man is being held on $100,000 bail after police said they stopped him in a taxi in Bennington on Thursday before he could deliver more than 11 grams of heroin.
The drugs were said to have an estimated street value of $5,000 to $8,000.
Shamel L. Alexander, 25, who was listed in court records as homeless, was arraigned in Bennington criminal court Friday on a felony count of heroin trafficking.
The charge, to which Alexander pleaded not guilty, carries a maximum penalty of up to 30 years in jail and a fine of up to $1 million.
In an affidavit, Cpl. Andy Hunt of the Bennington Police Department said local police had learned in the spring from members of the Vermont Drug Task Force that illegal drugs might be coming into Vermont from New York by taxi. A Main Street restaurant parking lot was identified as a site where people might be bringing the drugs.
Hunt said he was contacted Thursday around 7 p.m. by a member of the task force who said a taxi driver, coming from Albany, N.Y., had asked him how to get to the Main Street restaurant.
According to the affidavit, Hunt was able to find the taxicab and stopped it because the vehicle had an obstructed windshield.
Hunt said Alexander told him he was from Brooklyn. He has no criminal record.
During the stop, Hunt said, he spoke to the cabdriver, who said he had picked up Alexander at the bus station in Albany, N.Y. The driver said he thought it was odd that Alexander asked to go to a restaurant at a particular place in Bennington but didn’t know the restaurant’s name.
While Hunt said Alexander was initially reluctant to allow him to search his belongings, he said Alexander agreed after Hunt asked the Vermont State Police to send a police dog.
Hunt said he found a plastic bag containing marijuana and a “brick” of heroin. According to Hunt, he had seen that kind of package before and believed it contained wax bags of heroin.
When the brick was taken to the Bennington Police Department, police counted 401 wax bags with about 11.8 grams of heroin inside.
The substance was field tested and returned a positive result for heroin, police said.
Thursday night, Alexander was held on $100,000 bail at the Rutland jail. During Alexander’s arraignment Friday, Bennington County Deputy State’s Attorney Robert Plunkett asked that the same amount of bail continue to be set against Alexander.
Plunkett argued that Alexander had no connections to Bennington or Vermont and had come “simply in order to deliver drugs.”
“He has a great incentive to flee, facing a 30-year sentence and based on his utter lack of ties to the area (and) the very hefty sentencing he’ll be facing. The $100,000 that was imposed after his arrest is the appropriate bail amount,” he said.
According to Plunkett, a police officer had given him an estimate of the drug’s street worth, which he put at $5,000 to $8,000.
Frederick Bragdon, who represented Alexander, said his client was not the person who would get the most financial benefit from selling the drugs and called Alexander “what would commonly be called a mule.”
A drug “mule” is someone who transports illegal drugs from place to place. The mule is generally not the owner of the drugs and generally does not sell them to users.
Judge Cortland Corsones said he agreed to the state’s request, despite Alexander’s lack of a criminal record, because Alexander would have a strong motivation, because of the potential for a long jail sentence, not to return to Vermont to face the charges and because he had no ties to the area.
Alexander is being held in the Rutland jail. He is scheduled to return to court Aug. 14.
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