BENNINGTON — Two Springfield, Mass., men face multiple felony charges for their connection to what Bennington police say is the town's largest heroin seizure to date.
Juan R. Martori, 24, and Robert Morales, 25, pleaded not guilty to charges in Vermont Superior Court on Thursday after police say they seized 690 bags of heroin from the two men's South Street motel room.
Judge David Howard ordered Martori be held at $300,000 bail and Morales be held without bail. State's Attorney Erica Marthage motioned for a habitual offender enhancement against Morales, meaning the state could argue for up to life in prison.
Police say a traffic stop led them to the two men: Richard Bynum, 47, of Bennington, allegedly had drugs in his vehicle when police took him into custody Wednesday morning on a federal arrest warrant. Bynum allegedly told police he bought the drugs from two men staying at a local motel.
According to Bennington police, Bynum, who was not arraigned Thursday, was remanded to Marble Valley Correctional Facility where he will be held for federal law enforcement.
According to an affidavit by Bennington Police Sgt. Camillo Grande, police stopped a Ford Explorer being driven by Bynum at the intersection of County and Branch streets just before 11:30 a.m. Wednesday. After arresting him on the federal warrant, police found he had a small bag of crack-cocaine and two bundles of heroin. Each bundle had 10 bags and each bag had a blue stamp with the words, "HARD TIMES."
In a written statement to police, Bynum said he bought the drugs from a male he only knows as "Bundles" about 10 minutes before the traffic stop. Bynum said "Bundles" and another man were staying in room number one at the Southgate Motel on South Street and that he saw at least 400 bags of heroin and a large amount of cocaine in the trunk of their car.
Police eventually arrested the two men, later identified as Martori and Morales, at the Shell gas station on South Street. They had nearly $5,000 in cash between the two of them: Morales had $600 and Martori had $4,268, with $1,223 in his groin area and $2,420 in a plastic bag. Martori also had a key to room number one in the Southgate Motel.
The motel owner told police the men had been renting the room since Monday and paid in cash day to day. The room was rented under the name "Many Adams" with an address in North Bennington. There is no one in the police database with that name located at the address, according to the affidavit.
Police searched the motel room and found a shoe box containing 690 bags of heroin. Each bag had the writing "HARD TIMES," the same phrase printed on bags Bynum possessed.
Both men have prior arrests and convictions in Massachusetts for selling drugs, according to the affidavit.
Deputy State's Attorney Robert Plunkett asked Howard to set Martori's bail at $500,000, arguing that his lack of ties to the community and limited resources placed him at a high risk of flight. Plunkett also argued that a tatoo of the word "Bundles," which according to the affidavit is on Martori's left arm, indicates the defendant intends to be a drug dealer for years.
But Attorney Albert Schaal Fox, who represented Martori during arraignment, said the initial $100,000 bail issued prior to arraignment was "more than enough" to ensure Martori attends future court dates, and that the tatoo was not the defendant's nickname or a drug reference, but the name of a deceased rapper.
Attorney Thomas Lamar Enzor, who represented Morales during arraignment, said he saw little risk the defendant would flee given the seriousness of the charges and asked Howard to set bail at $20,000.
But Marthage pointed to Morales' criminal history, which includes four prior felonies, and the "sheer amount of heroin and cash" seized this week, and argued Morales be held without bail.
Martori and Morales pleaded not guilty to single felony counts of selling heroin, possessing heroin, trafficking heroin, and selling cocaine; three felony counts of conspiracy to sell drugs; and a misdemeanor charge of possessing cocaine.
A press release issued by the Bennington Police Department stated, "To date, this is the largest seizure of heroin in the town of Bennington. Members of the Bennington Police Department continue to work diligently toward mitigating the growing heroin and opiate epidemic in Vermont."
Contact Edward Damon at 413-770-6979