The Hoosick Falls, Cambridge/Greenwich and Bennington police departments said Thursday they have recovered more than 900 marijuana plants, hypodermic needles, mushrooms, rifles and thousands of prescription drugs believed to be stolen from area pharmacies. The drugs were seized from a Bennington motel room, a vehicle in the motel's parking lot and a Hoosick Falls residence after police executed several search warrants.
Bennington Police Officer Camillo Grande arrived with two other officers Wednesday around 2 a.m. at Room 116 of the Apple Valley Inn in Bennington. They found a "chaotic" scene, and 28-year-old Jessica Stratton, of Pownal, Vt., lying unconscious on the floor. Her breathing was labored and she was unresponsive, Grande said.
Police: Drugs in plain view
Another person in the motel room, 23-year-old Jason Seifert of Hoosick, was able to explain to police what drugs Stratton had ingested, and also admitted to injecting morphine himself, according to Grande. He said officers could see "in plain view several items of interest," including syringes, both new and used, laying around the motel room. They eventually confiscated thousands of dollars worth of pills, and both Stratton and Seifert were transferred to the Southwestern Vermont Medical Center for treatment.
The investigation took a sudden turn when Bennington detectives came on duty around 5 a.m. They quickly realized that Seifert and Stratton were likely in possession of drugs recently stolen from pharmacies in Cambridge and Hoosick Falls.
"It just so happened to be that the people involved in the overdose were persons of interest in the burglaries," Bennington Police Detective Peter Urbanowicz said. "It doesn't take a rocket scientist."
"We reached out to (Cambridge/Greenwich Police) Chief (George) Bell, and within an hour they were at our station along with the Rensselaer County Sheriff's Department," he added.
Police quickly obtained a search warrant for a residence on Breese Hollow Road in Hoosick, N.Y. Hoosick Falls Police Chief Robert Whalen said police arrested David Oakes, of Shaftsbury, Vt., and Michael Stratton, 25, of Hoosick as they attempted to drive away from the residence.
Threw pills out
Whalen said Oaks and Stratton began tossing packages of pills out of the vehicle's windows when they noticed police. Oaks then pulled his vehicle over and both were arrested without incident.
The situation inside the home was disturbing, according to Whalen. Four children under the age of four were found in the house playing with prescription pill bottles filled with medication. Syringes, both new and used, littered the home, some loaded with drugs.
"There was ... at least 20 or 30 needles throughout the house, uncapped, with drugs in them," Whalen said. "It was disgusting. There is not a better word for it."
Pills marked for sale were scattered about the house, said Bennington Detective Sgt. David Rowland.
"We found ledgers that indicated that they were for sale, so it's not just consumption, they were looking to sell them," he said.
Mark Stratton, 25, the twin of Michael Stratton, was found in the home preparing to inject himself with a drug-loaded syringe, police said.
Whalen said it was not clear as to who the children belong to, but they are believed to be the children of the adults arrested in connection with the case. Jessica Stratton and Seifert are believed to be cousins and are related to Oaks, he said.
Whalen said the children, while not properly cared for, appeared to be healthy. One child appeared to have a soiled diaper, however, that had not been changed in some time. And basic necessities were absent.
"I found no real food in the house," Whalen said.
The children were released into the custody of their grandmother who lives at the same residence the arrests took place. Whalen said the Rensselaer County Sheriff's Department is following up on the children's situation.
Attempts to contact the sheriff's department for comment Thursday were unsuccessful.
Police said the 900 young marijuana plants were found growing in three locations behind the house and in and around a barn, he said. The plans ranged from tiny seedlings to several inches tall, according to police. All of the plants were seized by the Rensselaer County Sheriff's Department.
Police believe the pills confiscated are from at least two burglaries in Cambridge and Hoosick Falls. Whalen said Thorpe's Pharmacy in Hoosick Falls was broken into on April 24, and O'Hearns Pharmacy in the Village of Cambridge was broken into on May 28. About $16,000 in prescription drugs were stolen from the Hoosick Falls pharmacy, while about $60,000 in drugs have been reported missing in Cambridge.
Police say they may also have recovered evidence linking some or all of those arrested Wednesday to burglaries in Bennington and Manchester.
Mark Stratton, Michael Stratton, and Oakes were charged in Rensselaer County with criminal possession of a controlled substance in the fourth degree, and endangering the welfare of a child. In addition, Oakes was charges with criminal possession of stolen property in the fifth degree.
All three were arraigned in front of town of Hoosick Justice Richard Whalen, who committed Mark Stratton and Oakes to Rensselaer County Correctional Facility in lieu of $25,000 bail. Michael Stratton was remanded to the facility without bail.
Seifert and Jessica Stratton were charged in Bennington with possession and sale of a depressant, stimulant, narcotic drug more than 100 times the individual therapeutic dosage and possession of stolen property.
Jessica Stratton was held on $30,000 bail at the Marble Valley Correctional Facility in Rutland, Vt., after being released from the hospital. Seifert was held on $35,000 bail at the same facility.
The investigation is ongoing and further charges will be considered in Washington and Rensselaer Counties in New York, and Bennington County in Vermont. Police said it is possible that federal charges could be levied as well.
Police said cooperation among agencies led to the arrests.
"Ten years ago, you wouldn't see such cooperation," Whalen said. "I think most cops are starting to realize you can't set up a wall at the end of your territory and expect it to work."
Rowland said the overdose at the Bennington motel provided police with an opportunity to act on intelligence they had been gathering on New York pharmacy burglaries.
"We've been working together exchanging information and trying to come up with a plan to deal with this. This just sped up the process, actually," he said.