State’s attorney still weighing prosecution in 2007 St. J jewelry heist

Nicholas Blogojevic, 2016 Falmouth MA mug shot

by Mike Donoghue, Vermont News First – first published in today’s Caledonian-Record

A man wanted for a $150,000 jewelry heist in St. Johnsbury in January 2007 stopped short of trying to kill the store clerk and helped cause the family-owned business to close its doors during the brazen robbery, according to federal court records.

The Caledonia County State’s Attorney’s Office is still trying to decide whether it will continue prosecuting Nicholas Blagojevic, 43, of East Harwich, Mass. following his arrest last week on the 16-year-old Vermont felony charges for unlawful restraint and assault and robbery.

Blagojevic pleaded not guilty in Vermont Superior Court in White River Junction to the two felony charges.

The arrest warrant for the two charges was still active when Hartford Police responded to Evans Expressmart in White River Junction on May 29 for a possible impaired person, police said. The man initially provided a false name, but Patrol Cpl. Randy St. Peter was able to determine his true identity, police said. St. Peter also determined the car at the North Main Street store had been reported stolen, Hartford Sgt. Karl Ebbighausen said.

Hartford Police lodged Blagojevic overnight at the Southern State Correctional Facility in Springfield on the St. Johnsbury case for lack of $50,000 bail, which was imposed in 2007 when the arrest warrant was issued.

State’s Attorney Jessica Zaleski told the Caledonian Record on Sunday she is still seeking all the paperwork in the 16-year-old criminal case from both state and federal courts and police before making a final decision.

Zaleski said also finding the victim, witnesses and police officers is part of the equation.

A federal grand jury in Burlington indicted Blagojevic and two co-defendants on two charges in February 2007.

Johnna Herrick-Phelps, the owner of Dana Jewelry on Railroad Street, said the robbery just before Valentine’s Day left the business without products to sell for a prime shopping holiday. The theft included 30 to 40 diamond rings.

Herrick-Phelps said the store was eventually forced to close permanently.

She also said she might not have survived herself if Blagojevic had followed through on a plan to put duct tape over her mouth, but he ran out of time, court records show. She told him at his sentencing the feelings during the robbery and the aftermath.

“The purpose was to keep me from yelling out for help. What you didn’t know is I have severe asthma. If you had put that over my mouth I’m not sure I’d be standing here and I think you would be facing a much harsher charge,” according to the transcript of the May 9, 2008 sentencing.

The federal sentencing guidelines proposed a penalty between 92 and 115 months. Judge J. Garvan Murtha went on the low end and imposed 92 months. Blagojevic also was placed on supervised release from January 2014 to January 2017. Murtha also said he would recommend any time imposed for unrelated crimes in Massachusetts be concurrent.

“As you know … I have been a burden upon many courts for a long time now,” Blagojevic told the judge. His defense lawyer noted his crimes were drug-related.

Murtha told Blagojevic records showed he had not filed a tax return since 2003 and he needed to find a way to support himself and not do it with burglaries and robberies.

Also assisting in the jewelry robbery were Wesley Rose of Harwich, Mass. and Allison Martino, who had a son by Blagojevic, court records show. They had met when she was 19, records show.

Rose, after pleading guilty to the robbery, was sentenced to 57 months in federal prison that included a 500 hour drug treatment program. It was followed by three years of federal supervised release. He and Blagojevic split a $15,000 restitution order to cover some lost income and time when the store was forced to close after the robbery.

Martino, whose mother lived in Lyndonville, was sentenced to 115 days in prison with two years of supervised release. She pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting in the robbery She also had to write a letter of apology to the victim and serve two months of home confinement.

On the day of the robbery, Martino walked into the store alone while talking on her cellphone and pretended she was interested in buying a ring, the FBI said. After looking for a few minutes she left and a minute later two men, Blagojevic and Rose entered the store, records show.

One of the men grabbed Herrick-Phelps by the hair and put a hard object into the back, FBI Special Agent D. J. Corbett said in a federal criminal complaint. A robber forced her into the backroom and pushed her to the floor, he said.

After taking keys from Herrick-Phelps, the robber put her in a chair and bound her hands and feet with plastic flex ties, Corbett wrote. The robbers told her to remain in the backroom for 20 minutes or they would return to get her, he wrote. She later heard one of the men say, “Nick, we gotta go.” They fled and about a minute later she got to a panic alarm and activated it, bringing the St. Johnsbury and State Police, records show.

Busted after the robbery

Blagojevic, one of three defendants charged in the crime, had first cased the store more than a year earlier, then-Assistant U.S. Attorney William B. Darrow said.

The trio got caught because a police detective on Cape Cod had obtained a search warrant from a Massachusetts judge that allowed police to attach a Global Positioning System (GPS) monitor to a car used by Blagojevic because the two men and the woman had become prime suspects in several residential burglaries on the Cape, federal court records show. It was attached to a green Ford Taurus with Vermont registration plates five days before the St. Johnsbury robbery.

Harwich Detective Robert Brackett monitored the car going to St. Johnsbury on Jan. 24, 2007, and noted it stopped on Railroad Street about 12:42 p.m. and later heading south back to the Cape, records show. Brackett called state police in St. Johnsbury to ask if any unusual crimes had happened that day. He was told about the jewelry store robbery and Brackett said he believed Blagojevic and his colleagues were responsible, records show.

Brackett provided a photo of Martino to Vermont police who were able to get Herrick-Phelps to identify her in a phone lineup as the woman that came into the store minutes before the robbery, the FBI said.

Police used the GPS tracker to locate the Taurus in North Attleboro, Mass. the afternoon of the robbery. Blagojevic, who was driving, and Wesley, both confessed to the Dana Jewelry robbery, the FBI said.

Martino, who was wearing some of the jewelry that had been stolen in St. Johnsbury, asked for a lawyer and refused to be interviewed, the FBI said.

The evidence showed the day of the robbery they drove around the block a few times and eventually parked behind the jewelry store. Martino went in and came back out to report only one employee was there. Darrow said the robbers cleared out the store.

Blagojevic bound her hands and ankles “put her in fear for her life and stole the items,” Darrow said.

Darrow said Blagojevic’s criminal record goes back to age 12. He said a dozen separate criminal cases that Blagojevic was involved in before age 18 were uncountable under the federal sentencing guidelines. Blagojevic still had enough crimes as an adult to put him in the highest category for the guidelines, the prosecutor said.

Darrow said Blagojevic has a convictions for assault with a dangerous weapon stemming from a 2000 armed robbery and receiving stolen property in 2000. He also has convictions for larceny from a residential burglary, two breaking and entering cases.

The victim speaks

Herrick-Phelps asked Blagojevic at the May 9, 2008 federal sentencing if he considered others before doing the robbery, according to a transcript of the hearing.

“When you were planning the robbery did you ever consider the impact that you would have on myself and so many others? Your family and your child? Did you ever consider the impact that would have? Your selfishness and greed has hurt not only my family, myself, my friends, my business and my employees and my community,” she said.

“I don’t know if you remember when you were tying my hands and feet and I begged you not to do this because it would destroy my business. Well, you were successful. This store had been in the community since 1929 and had to close. It couldn’t survive,” she told Blagojevic.

“They took all of my jewelry right before a key holiday that was going to help me survive the year. In the jewelry business there are only a couple of holidays. And Valentine’s Day is one of them. And to have no jewelry, no diamonds, no nothing you don’t sell,” she said.

“Not only that, I tried for several months after to go back in the store. But it created fear. And I was scared,” Herrick-Phelps said. “It’s been hard and I still carry that with me.”

She went on to say it created in a “huge financial hardship for my family that continues. You took the joy and the love of a business that I had been in for over 20 years and you left me feeling fearful and distrustful and suspicious of other people.”

She said among those losing their jobs was a co-worker that had been at the store for 17 years.

Fighting back

Blagojevic is contending that the state charges in Caledonia County were supposed to be dropped when the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Vermont proceeded with a two-count federal indictment filed in March 2007. He eventually pleaded guilty in federal court to the robbery and was sentenced to 92 months in prison. The second felony was dropped.

The only problem is nobody has been able to find evidence that the state charges were supposed to be dismissed. There is reference to state of Massachusetts dropping its charges related to the Vermont jewelry case.

And the 7-page plea bargain states the signed agreement only covers the federal case in Vermont.

“It is further understood that this agreement is limited to the Office of the United States Attorney for the District of Vermont and cannot bind other federal, state or local prosecuting authorities,” it notes.

While the Vermont and Massachusetts crimes were unrelated, Murtha agreed to recommend that the federal sentence run concurrent for any time he got for the Massachusetts burglaries. In one of those Massachusetts cases he was charged with breaking and entering into a home when the owner was present and putting her in fear for her life. It was more than a year before the St. Johnsbury robbery.

Blagojevic asked for credit for acceptance of responsibility in the federal case. However, after getting the low end of the proposed sentence, he appealed unsuccessfully to the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals to contest the sentence.

Blagojevic also maintained the trial court erred because he didn’t consider his comment in the backroom that he would come back to “get her” as a death threat to Herrick-Phelps.

Murtha did – and the appeals court unanimously agreed.

“Because we conclude that the inference was fairly supported by the totality of the circumstances, Blagojevic fails to demonstrate any error…” the circuit court ruled in upholding the case.

Categories: Crime

3 replies »

  1. Ohhh….his crimes were drug-related???


    You’re welcome.

  2. I am going to admit being confused. Man wanted for robbery in Vermont. Sentenced to 92 months in Mass. Presumably incarcerated and moved to supervised release. But Vermont authorities dont know where he is or have asked for extradition? I am definitely missing something.

  3. Oh, didn’t he say he was sorry because….( you fill in the issue).

    It’s the Vermont way to forgive anything plus it was so long ago wasn’t it ?

    I am sure he was, and is, a good boy.