Saturday January 19, 2013

BENNINGTON -- Two men who were arraigned Wednesday on drug charges as part of Operation County Sweep were also charged with soliciting prostitutes.

Michael J. Gates, 52, of School Street, pleaded not guilty to six felony counts of cocaine sale, six misdemeanor counts of cocaine possession, two misdemeanor counts of dispensing/selling a regulated drug from a dwelling, two counts of conspiracy -- drug, and one count of prohibited acts -- procure.

Prohibited acts -- procure, the legal charge for soliciting, carries a maximum penalty of one year in prison or a $100 fine. Gates was held without bail after pleading not guilty in Bennington Superior Court Criminal Division.

In a separate case, Preston Foster, 50, of Elm Street, pleaded not guilty to felony cocaine sale, prohibited acts -- procure, and misdemeanor cocaine possession. He was held without bail after being arraigned on Thursday, and a bail hearing for him on Friday was postponed because of a conflict of interest with the Bennington Public Defender's Office. There was also some question about whether or not he qualified for the public defender service owing to his current income level. Foster owns Foster's Cannery, a recycling business on Benmont Avenue.

Foster has a pending possession of stolen property charge for allegedly buying stolen jewelry through his business, which buys and resells precious metals.

Public Defender Frederick Bragdon, who represented Foster for part of the hearing, told Judge David Howard that Foster might end up financially qualifying for a public defender should he not be able to run his business. Howard said a conflict counsel would be notified should Foster qualify for and need a public attorney at his future bail hearing.

According to an affidavit by a detective assigned to the Vermont Drug Task Force, in September he was put into contact with a woman who said she was involved with an escort service based in Troy, N.Y. She said she was assigned to walk around Bennington and would receive via text message the description of a vehicle to be on the lookout for. If said vehicle drove by her three times she would know it was a client and she would contact that person and negotiate a price for sex.

She told police she had sex with Gates between 20 and 30 times at his apartment in exchange for crack cocaine.

According to other affidavits by detectives assigned to the task force, for several months they received anonymous tips telling them Gates was selling drugs out of his apartment. Detectives said they were able to arrange a number of buys through an informant given money to purchase heroin or cocaine from Gates.

In another affidavit regarding the case against Foster, detectives said they received information from informants that Foster was selling drugs from his business. They said they spoke to a person who had overdosed on a morphine patch which they said they bought from Foster. Police said they attempted to have a cooperating individual purchase these patches from Foster, and later marijuana, but were not successful.

Detectives said they also spoke to a woman who said she was involved with an escort service based in Troy, N.Y., and met Foster through a woman she knew from this business. She told police she had sex with Foster twice in exchange for drugs.