Three Fugitives Arrested on Federal Drug Charges in Westmore, Vermont
BURLINGTON, Vt. - The Office of the United States Attorney for the District of Vermont stated that Vermont resident Michelle Provencher (also known as Michelle Hall)—24, originally of Irasburg, Vermont—was arrested and held in federal custody on Friday, January 13, 2023, following the search of a rented Airbnb residence in Westmore, Vermont pursuant to a federal search warrant. Two Massachusetts residents identified as Nathaniel Jamal Jones (also known as “JJ”), 36, and Jermaine Douchette, Jr. (also known as “Bear”), 42—both previously of Springfield, Massachusetts—were also arrested at the rental property. All three individuals were fugitives who had active federal warrants for their arrests based upon an indictment returned by a federal grand jury in the District of Vermont on December 22, 2022, charging them with conspiring to distribute and possess with intent to distribute cocaine and fentanyl between August 2022 and October 26, 2022. Jones and Douchette face additional counts for specific distributions of controlled substances. Jones and Douchette had previously been charged in a criminal complaint relating to those charges on October 24, 2022.
The indictment alleges that the defendants were participants in a conspiracy that involved at least seven individuals who agreed with one another to distribute controlled substances in the District of Vermont. According to an affidavit filed with the earlier criminal complaint, defendants Jones and Douchette distributed controlled substances from the Barton residence of codefendant Erika Desormeaux. Investigators arranged the purchase of cocaine and fentanyl from the defendants on multiple occasions between August and October 2022, and most of those transactions occurred at the Barton residence. The complaint affidavit alleges that the conspirators acquired and possessed firearms during the investigation and attempted to acquire firearms through straw purchases.
Defendants Jones, Douchette, and Provencher made initial appearances before the Court yesterday and were arraigned on the indictment. United States Magistrate Judge Kevin J. Doyle ordered defendants Jones and Douchette to be detained in federal custody pending further proceedings. Defendant Provencher will have a detention hearing on January 20, 2023.
The charges in the indictment against Jones, Douchette, and Provencher are accusations only, and they are each presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty in further proceedings. If convicted of the lead conspiracy count, each defendant would face a maximum possible penalty of 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $1,000,000. The actual sentences, however, would be determined by the Court with guidance from the advisory United States Sentencing Guidelines and the governing sentencing statutes.
United States Attorney Nikolas P. Kerest commended the investigatory efforts of the Northern Vermont Drug Task Force (NVDTF) and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) in this case. In particular, he noted the collaboration of NVDTF and ATF with the Vermont State Police, the Orleans County Sheriff’s Department, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Air and Marine Operations, the Newport Police Department (NPD), and Homeland Security Investigations in the execution of the search for these charged fugitives.
“This case involves the distribution of deadly substances in a portion of the state that has seen a concerning rise in drug-related violence,” said U.S. Attorney Nikolas P. Kerest. “When Vermont residents who misuse controlled substances support or host the distributors of those dangerous substances in their homes, the hosts contribute to the opioid crisis and the rising violence. We will continue to investigate and charge not only the individuals who traffic narcotics, but also the individuals who host drug dealers in their homes and straw purchase firearms for them.”
“VSP is committed to deploying resources to combat and interrupt the dangerous drug trafficking organizations that have set up for business in Vermont,” said Major Dan Trudeau of the Vermont State Police. “We will continue to work diligently with our Federal and Local partners to hold accountable those who are trafficking narcotics into the State and committing violence related to drug trafficking.”
Orleans County Sheriff Jennifer Harlow noted the positive impact of the apprehensions for the Northeast Kingdom. “The community can rest a little easier knowing they have been apprehended. I want to thank the Northern Vermont Drug Task Force for the diligent and endless work they put into these cases, which often take months to investigate. I also thank our federal partners who will continue to work hard every day to hold those who do harm in Orleans County accountable.”
The United States is represented in this matter by Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew J. Lasher. Attorney Robert Kaplan, Esq. will be representing Jones. Attorney Gregory Mertz, Esq. will be representing Douchette. Attorney Robert Sussman, Esq. will be representing Provencher in this case.
This case is part of Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN), a program bringing together all levels of law enforcement and the communities they serve to reduce violent crime and gun violence, and to make our neighborhoods safer for everyone. On May 26, 2021, the Department launched a violent crime reduction strategy strengthening PSN based on these core principles: fostering trust and legitimacy in our communities, supporting community-based organizations that help prevent violence from occurring in the first place, setting focused and strategic enforcement priorities, and measuring the results. For more information about Project Safe Neighborhoods, please visit https://www.justice.gov/psn