Five arrested locally this week on drug distribution charges

Five individuals arrested on Wednesday in Bennington County are facing charges in state and federal courts in connection with the distribution of heroin in southern Vermont.

Three men, one of whom investigators described as a "boss" within a drug distribution ring, are being detained after the search of a motel room in Manchester on Wednesday, according to court documents. And on Thursday, an Arlington couple was arraigned in Bennington criminal court.

The arrests this week were the result of a number of controlled buys conducted by the Vermont Drug Task Force and confidential informants.

Branden A. Fournier, 23, of Holyoke, Mass., was in the Manchester motel room with Jonathan Resto, 23, and Anthony "Ant" Casiano, 23, when the warrant was served, according to documents filed in U.S. District Court in Burlington.

Resto and Casiano have been charged with the sale and distribution of heroin and fentanyl. The affidavit filed in support of Fournier's arrest alleges he conspired to distribute heroin and fentanyl.

Casiano and Resto appeared together on Thursday afternoon in federal court, where the U.S. Attorney's Office asked that they both be held pending trial. They are both a danger to the community and a risk to flee, Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Drescher said in court papers.

Fournier appeared for his initial hearing in court later in the afternoon. The detention portion of his case also was postponed for one week. Drescher said Fournier is on probation for a recent firearms-related conviction in Massachusetts.

Federal Magistrate John M. Conroy agreed to continue the hearing dealing with the detention request until next Thursday.

When detectives entered the room at the Four Winds Country Motel on Main Street on Wednesday, they found Fournier in one bed and Resto and Casiano in another, the affidavit said. Also in the room was a safe containing more than 1,000 bags of suspected heroin/fentanyl, 22 grams of cocaine, a digital scale and a ledger documenting drug sales. In Fournier's bed, investigators found a small lockbox, which contained more than $4,000.

According to documents filed in federal court, one of the names listed in the ledger was "Brandi," which turned out to be Brandi Grover Merrow, 41, of Arlington. Merrow was arrested Wednesday on heroin distribution charges and arraigned with a co-defendant in Bennington criminal court on Thursday.

"A boss"

Merrow described Fournier as "a boss" in the ring and told investigators that Fournier was moving large quantities of heroin from Massachusetts to Vermont every two to three days, according to federal court documents.

Merrow also told investigators that she didn't start buying heroin from Fournier until after the death of her regular supplier, Steven Lovely. On the morning of Oct. 27, Lovely and Amanda Sanderson, his girlfriend, were shot to death in their Townshend home, allegedly by Justin Orwat, who pleaded not guilty to aggravated murder and arson charges in Windham Criminal Court, on Monday. Orwat is being held without bail.

According to documents filed in federal court on Wednesday, an informant told investigators Oct. 28 that Lovely dealt "large amounts of drugs, to include heroin, crack cocaine and powder cocaine."

Merrow also told investigators that she had purchased a handgun from a person in Bennington and given it to Resto "as payment for a heroin debt."

Investigators were also told that Fournier was borrowing a friend's car to make trips to Holyoke, Mass., to move drugs between the two states. The owner of the car told investigators that while he wasn't purchasing drugs from Fournier, Resto, Casiano or Merrow, he knew all four were involved in the distribution of heroin in Manchester.

During an interview conducted by investigators, Casiano said Fournier and Resto "were both equals in their drug business," and the pair traveled to Vermont to sell heroin "because the business was good." Casiano also told investigators that he had witnessed Fournier moving large amounts of drugs on two occasions. And Resto told investigators that he and Fournier obtained their heroin from Lovely, but following his death, they were purchasing it from "another person."

According to published reports, in early 2015, Fournier and Lovely were arrested after a traffic stop on Interstate 391 in Chicopee, Mass. In addition to heroin, cocaine, suboxone and Oxycodone, the pair was found to be in possession of a handgun. Lovely was charged with possession with intent to distribute illegal drugs. Fournier was charged with unlicensed, unlawful possession of a firearm and improper storage of a firearm.

In Bennington court

Merrow and Travis F. Norton, 41, were arraigned in Bennington criminal court on Thursday.

Both had "involvement with Steven Lovely and his associates," according to an affidavit by Manchester police Officer James Gulley, a member of the Vermont Drug Task Force.

Two controlled purchases were conducted at Merrow's residence on Sunderland Hill Road in Arlington on Nov. 10, in which an informant paid Merrow a total of $120 for 10 bags of heroin, according to an affidavit. In the second controlled purchase, an informant negotiated the price with Merrow and Norton.

Merrow pleaded not guilty to a single felony count of drug conspiracy and two counts of felony heroin sale. Norton pleaded not guilty to a single felony count of drug conspiracy.

Deputy State's Attorney Alexander Burke said during Merrow's arraignment that "the federal government is looking into indicting her on certain charges."

Judge David A. Howard continued the $50,000 bail imposed on Merrow. For Norton, he imposed a $25,000 bail.

Michael Donoghue contributed reporting.


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