Man gets up to 10 years for conspiracy to sell oxycodone

Charge in niece's OD death dismissed as part of plea deal

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BENNINGTON — A Bennington man was sentenced Tuesday to up to 10 years in prison after admitting to conspiring to sell oxycodone in town. The sentencing took place on the day he had been scheduled to go on trial in his niece's fatal drug overdose in 2018.

Craig Whitman, 53, pleaded guilty to a felony charge of conspiracy to sell oxycodone that is 100 times beyond the narcotic drug's benchmark unlawful dosage.

His two other charges — selling or dispensing a regulated drug that resulted in death, as well as unlawfully selling oxycodone — were dismissed under a plea deal with the state.

With jurors and witnesses waiting in the halls of Bennington Superior criminal court, Whitman admitted Tuesday morning to working with two other people to take oxycodone from New York and sell them in Bennington.

They bought in more than 100 pills of 30 mg oxycodone, known as Percocet or Perc 30s, between March and July 2018, said Deputy State's Attorney Robert Plunkett. This is equivalent to 3,000 mg of oxycodone, or more than 100 times Vermont's benchmark unlawful dosage of 20 mg within a 24-hour period.

Judge John Valente sentenced Whitman to four to 10 years in prison, a penalty laid out in Whitman's plea agreement with prosecutors. The deal was reached shortly before his two-day trial was supposed to start.

Plunkett told the judge the prison term was "appropriate" for the offense, but it was "less than what I would have asked for after trial."

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The prosecutor said Whitman's more serious charge relating to the death of his niece, Abbie Cummings, was not the state's strongest charge. Only two people knew what happened, Plunkett said, "and one of them is dead."

Cummings' death was "a tragedy on so many levels" to her family, said Whitman's attorney Arnie Gottlieb. "This is going to stay with them for the rest of their lives."

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Whitman declined to speak when given a chance.

His two sisters, Valerie Negrete and Gail Whitman, told the Banner after the hearing that Whitman was very protective of family and would never have given his 34-year-old niece narcotic drugs.

Gottlieb also told the Banner that none of the witnesses in the case saw Whitman give Cummings the drugs before she died.

According to court documents, Cummings was found dead at a friend's home at 144 Benmont Ave. on July 28, 2018. An autopsy found she had a moderate to high concentration of oxycodone in her system, with cause of death being "acute oxycodone intoxication." The death was ruled accidental.

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An unnamed informant told Bennington police that Whitman had been buying and selling Percocet. And Cummings' husband, Philip Cummings, had been the "main person" selling the pills for Whitman.

The informant reportedly believed Whitman would have been the source of the drugs that killed Abbie Cummings even if they were given to her by her husband.

Philip Cummings, who was charged together with Whitman, pleaded guilty to being an accessory after his wife's death by covering up for her drug provider. He was sentenced in December to two years of probation.

A woman whom authorities said was the third person in the conspiracy to sell oxycodone in Bennington was not charged.

If federal authorities later charge Whitman in the drug conspiracy, Valente said he could withdraw his guilty plea and go to trial.

Contact Tiffany Tan at ttan@benningtonbanner.com, @tiffgtan on Twitter or 802-447-7567 ext. 122.


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