By MIKE DONOGHUE
For the Milton Independent

RUTLAND – A convicted Milton drug dealer, who was found with 890 bags of heroin during an investigation into near-fatal overdoses last year, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court last week to possession with intent to distribute fentanyl.

Jeffrey Drown had heroin laced with fentanyl, a synthetic opiate up to 100 times stronger than morphine, when Milton police arrested him during a traffic stop last fall, court records show. Drown was driving back from one of his frequent drug pick-ups out of state in a rented car when pulled over, police said.

Drown, 37, was initially charged in state court and released by a judge on conditions, but federal prosecutors later took the Milton police case because of Drown’s continued involvement with drugs, officials said.

“Even after his arrest on Sept. 30, 2017 on related state charges, Drown has continued to travel to out-of-state drug sources to obtain opiates,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Jon Ophardt wrote in his motion seeking federal detention in November 2017.

Ophardt said the government believed Drown “is an abuser of controlled substances, including heroin and fentanyl.”

Drown, who is due for sentencing September 19, is facing up to 30 years in federal prison, followed by supervised release for at least six years and up to a lifetime. Drown also faces a fine of up to $2 million.

Drown has a July 2003 federal conviction for distribution of heroin in Vermont that federal prosecutors plan to introduce at his next sentencing, court records show.

The 2003 heroin conviction netted Drown a 30-month prison term followed by three years of supervised release, court records show. After getting out of prison, Drown violated three conditions of his supervised release and received another sentence of 12 months and one day in August 2005, said Ophardt, who focuses on high-profile drug cases.

After filing the 2017 case, Ophardt wrote there were no known conditions of release for Drown that could assure the safety of the community.

Magistrate Judge John M. Conroy agreed. Conroy also ruled Drown, formerly of Barre, was a serious risk for not appearing for future court hearings. In denying Drown’s release, the magistrate also cited the weight of the evidence, Drown’s criminal history and past problems following rules of probation, parole or supervised release, court records show.

On Nov. 9, 2017, a federal grand jury indicted Drown on three charges of distributing heroin on Jan. 12, 2017, Sept. 5, 2017 and Sept. 20, 2017; one count of distributing fentanyl on Sept. 30, 2017; and one count of distributing both heroin and fentanyl on Feb. 1, 2017.

The government also filed a forfeiture notice seeking any proceeds Drown directly or indirectly received through drug trafficking or that helped him facilitate the offenses, the indictment said.

Milton police said they initially arrested Drown on Sept. 30, 2017 after a series of controlled buys. He was charged with four felonies – possessing, selling, transporting and trafficking heroin – with a potential total penalty of 70 years, police said.

Town police were monitoring Drown, who was unemployed and living in Milton with his wife and three children.

In an interview with the Milton Independent in mid-October 2017, Drown denied ever selling fentanyl. Milton police maintained Drown’s product – some labeled with a grim reaper – was responsible for several near-fatal overdoses in town. One user needed two doses of an opioid-reversal drug, naloxone, to be revived, police said.

Drown told the Independent he had used heroin for at least a decade. He said he was making daily trips to the methadone clinic in Berlin, where he had been trying to get in for six months. Drown said he got in three weeks before his arrest.

Drown’s federal public defender told a similar story two months later, court papers show. Steven Barth said Drown had a 12-year history of substance abuse and asked the court on Dec. 28, 2017 to reconsider the detention order. He wanted his client to go to Valley Vista, a drug treatment center in Bradford, but Conroy rejected the request.

Court records paint a failed history of treatment for Drown. Barth wrote Drown went through detox at the Brattleboro Retreat three times over the previous three years, but never participated in any follow-up treatment and subsequently relapsed.

Barth also said Drown checked into Serenity House in 2015, staying only five days before leaving against medical advice because his symptoms were so severe. He said Drown started receiving methadone treatment from a facility in Berlin about three months before his arrest.

The defense lawyer wrote that if and when his client was discharged from Valley Vista, Drown would live with his father, Ashton Drown, in Barre and undergo outpatient treatment. Ophardt has continuously opposed Drown’s release.

At the end of the hearing, Chief Federal Judge Geoffrey W. Crawford ruled Drown would continue to be held pending sentencing.