Fed-up Grand Isle prosecutor decries lax sentence of repeat fentanyl dealer
Editor’s note: in a passionate press release issued this weekend, Grand Isle State’s Attorney Douglas DiSabito lambasted a Vermont criminal judge for imposing neither a fine nor a prison sentence of additional time served on a longtime fentanyl dealer with multiple convictions on his record. He also proposed that fine revenue pay for ‘improvements’ such as the six ft. high fence erected around a Chittenden County court house to prevent drug-related loitering and littering on the grounds.
By Douglas DiSabito, Grand Isle County State’s Attorney
In the face of increased drug use and violence, at least one courthouse in Chittenden County has resorted to what essentially amounts to almost entirely imprisoning itself behind bars with a six-foot-tall fence to the tune of over $100,000 taxpayer dollars. As an alternative to fencing, I suggest the state courts impose more consequential, rehabilitative, deterrence-focused, and punitive sentences for repeat and chronic drug dealers who fuel drug use and violence—conduct which regularly go hand-in-hand.
Why shouldn’t these dealers foot some of the Chittenden County Courthouse’s six-figure fencing bill? In the case of State of Vermont v. Larrow, in addition to recommending a ‘to-serve’ incarcerative sentence, I recommended an overall fine of $20,000. Yet the Court imposed no fine at all, though it had the authority from the Vermont Legislature’s statutes to impose up to a $1,000,000 fine on the Fentanyl-Trafficking charge and up to a $250,000 fine on the Heroin-Sale or Delivery charge.
One may question whether the resources expended by prosecutors, by law enforcement, by the Vermont Drug Task Force, by the Vermont Forensic Laboratory, and by the state courts in these types of cases are worth the cost. Drug dealing is not a victimless crime. Drug dealers cause so much suffering and despair. They feed the habits of addicts who are trapped with the uncontrollable cravings of addiction. They create new drug habits in those who are unaware of the terrible dangers of illicit drugs. The distribution of dangerous drugs like heroin and fentanyl runs a risk of killing people, and in many cases, it does.
According to the Vermont Department of Health’s September 2023 Monthly Opioid Morbidity and Mortality Report, “Most opioid- related accidental and undetermined deaths among Vermont residents involve fentanyl.”
With respect to this case, in response to the outrage—yes, outrage—many Islanders have expressed to me and others since the sentence was imposed last Thursday, I am issuing this press release, first and foremost, so my fellow Islanders are reminded of the diligent and collabortive work my office, the Vermont State Police, the Grand Isle County Sheriff’s Department, and the Vermont Drug Task Force, perform every day. Second, but just as important, so my fellow Islanders can see the end results of that work—in at least this case—where a newly convicted fentanyl trafficker, heroin dealer, and habitual criminal (previously convicted of conspiracy to distribute narcotics, cocaine-sale or delivery, obstruction of justice, and possession of narcotics), walked out of the Grand Isle County Courthouse in North Hero on Thursday without any “to serve” incarcerative sentence, and not even a one-cent fine.
My office and its law enforcement partners do everything possible to keep the public safe and enforce the laws enacted by the Vermont Legislature, yet discouragingly we regularly see the same person out on the street, time and time again. This tells you something about what has been going on in courtrooms throughout Vermont.
To be perfectly clear, the sentence imposed by the Judge in this case was entirely within the sentencing parameters under the Fentanyl-Trafficking and Heroin-Sale or Distribution statutes enacted by our Vermont Legislature. The Judge considered the Sentencing Memorandums filed by the State and the defense, considered all the statutory sentencing factors it must under the law, and considered the common law factors of rehabilitation, punishment and deterrence, before imposing the sentence he did. The Judge legitimately exercised his discretion. I respect the Judge’s decision in this matter—as I do with all judges’ decisions—but that does not mean that I—as Grand Isle County’s Chief Law Enforcement Officer—must agree with it. I don’t. I am beyond disappointed.
Moreover, I am worried how this sentence may now both (1) embolden others, presently trafficking fentanyl and selling heroin to those struggling with substance use disorder, and profiting from it, to continue their illegal and dangerous behavior; and (2) encourage others presently engaged in illegal drug distribution of these dangerous drugs to expand their distribution and trafficking area to rural Grand Isle County.
It would deeply sadden me to come to work one morning and see a six-foot-tall fence being erected around most of our historic courthouse in North Hero, like the one now being erected around the courthouse in downtown Burlington.
Make no mistake—I remain focused and undeterred. My office will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to do everything possible to keep the public safe, to enforce state laws, and—most pertinent to this press release’s topic—to disrupt illicit opioid supply chains and penalize those facilitating the trafficking of fentanyl, whether a drug lord or a street level drug dealer. As the State’s Attorney, until the Vermont Legislature revises or appeals the law, I will continue to ask the Vermont Superior Court for significant consequential, rehabilitative, deterrence-focused, and punitive sentences under the law for repeat and chronic drug dealers and traffickers, and habitual offenders, when warranted—sentence requests which I acknowledge may very well be more in line with sentences that are being handed down in the federal court here in Vermont.
The day-to-day decisions I make, and the prosecutorial discretion I employ, stem from what I deem is fair, just, reasonable and warranted—and from what I continue to understand and believe the residents of Grand Isle County expect from me.