This article first appeared in the February 2nd, 2012 edition of the Vermont Standard.
By Eric Francis
WOODSTOCK – More drug dealing charges have been filed against a former Woodstock woman who is currently incarcerated in New Hampshire awaiting trial on nine felony counts in that state.
Lura Pratson, who turned 22 this month, is being held for lack of bail at the Sullivan County House of Corrections in Claremont. Pratson’s detention across the river caused her to miss an arraignment earlier this month in White River Junction where prosecutors have filed two additional felony charges against her for sales of heroin that allegedly took place in August outside a gas station in White River and at the White Cottage snack bar in West Woodstock.
Pratson, a 2008 graduate of Woodstock Union High School where she was a member of the National Honor Society, was arrested by Lebanon Police on the evening of November 7 in the company of Charles “Chuck” Bowen, 24, of Quechee, who is one of the suspects who have been charged in connection with last fall’s rash of jewelry burglaries across the region.
At the time of that arrest, Bowen had come to the attention of police officers who were parked in the lot outside the Miracle Mile Plaza talking during the evening hours when they noticed Bowen driving his Chevy Blazer out of a wooded area with Pratson in the passenger seat. Spotting fresh “track marks” on Bowen’s arms from needle injections, the officers said Bowen quickly acknowledged he had just been shooting up heroin and he claimed he had been purchasing it from Pratson “several times in the previous few days,” according to the police report.
A subsequent search of the Blazer turned up a stolen jewelry box that police said linked Bowen to a break-in at a residence on High Pastures Road near the Quechee-Woodstock town line.
Pratson was arrested that night after police found what they said was a “large amount” of cash and heroin in her purse.
Bowen later told Woodstock Police Sgt. Peter Mantello and Vermont State Police Sgt. Barbara Zonay during an interview at the Springfield Jail, where Bowen is currently being held pending trial, that on the morning of November 7th he’d kicked in the doors of two separate homes just off Rose Hill in Woodstock and taken jewelry because, “He was going to sell it to Lura Pratson for heroin,” Mantello wrote in his transcript of the interview.
The November arrest is one of four separate episodes of alleged drug sales in New Hampshire that resulted in the nine individual felony counts that Pratson is currently facing there.
“I arraigned her and we also had a probable cause hearing at the Lebanon District Court as well,” Lebanon Police prosecutor Lt. Matthew Isham explained this week, noting, “She’s also under indictment from the Grafton County Attorney’s Office for several charges as well.”
The two newest charges that were just filed against Pratson in Vermont carry a maximum potential of up to ten years in prison.
Those charges, which were filed by the Vermont Attorney General’s Office, came as the result of an undercover operation begun in Woodstock by the Southern Vermont Drug Task Force that was conducted with the help of cooperating individuals.
Detectives said they set up two “buys” from Pratson early in the month of August. During the first operation, detectives tailed Pratson from her residence in West Lebanon to the parking lot of the L.L. Bean store at the Powerhouse Mall where they said she appeared to pick up drugs from a supplier’s car that was waiting there before continuing on to a gas station in White River Junction.
At the gas station, detectives said they watched as Pratson and a friend of hers, Molly Smith, 19, of Lebanon, allegedly sold ten heroin baggies to a cooperating individual for $180.
Police said the wax baggies the informant turned over to them immediately after the purchase were all stamped with the street trademark “60 Minutes,” which is consistent with drug gang’s longstanding habit of “branding” each shipment of heroin as a way of assuring their customers of the quality.
“The confidential informant said the heroin was ‘60s’ and these were the good ones,” Detective Dennis Coughin wrote in his affidavit.
The second sting operation targeting Pratson occurred a few days later at the White Cottage snack bar in West Woodstock where detectives said they gave a cooperating individual $600 in cash to purchase what was supposed to be four “bundles” (a total of 40 individual wax baggies) of heroin.
Detective Coughlin said the surveillance team watched as an unidentified black male pulled up to the White Cottage shortly before the transaction was supposed to take place and gave something to Pratson who was hanging out there with Molly Smith and three other individuals. A short time later the informant drove up and detectives said they recorded Pratson saying she was actually going to give them five bundles instead of four after which she handed over a package “the size of a small cell phone” that appeared to have been made out of pages torn from a magazine with clear tape on both ends.
As Pratson and her friends drove away, Detective Coughlin said that he “immediately contacted the cooperating individual who indicated to me that the package Pratson just gave them did not feel right and there did not appear to be four bundles inside of it.”
When Coughlin opened the package he discovered it contained only five of the small wax heroin baggies, all stamped with the brand name “Money Face” with a picture of money on them. The rest of the package was filled with folded paper towels, according to the police report.
In trying to figure out why their informant had apparently been ripped off, detectives said the cooperating individual explained that Pratson might have been mad at them because they had a previous “drug debt” of 14 bags of heroin outstanding with Pratson’s boyfriend at the time, Jordan Stacey of Windsor.
After conferring about the situation, the detectives had the informant continue to reach out to Pratson to try to resolve the discrepancy and they said a few days later Pratson arranged to have the cooperating individual come by the insurance agency where Pratson was working in Lebanon. They said Pratson asked the informant to make an appointment to get an insurance quote in an apparent effort to make their visit with her appear work related. That visit was handled by detectives from New Hampshire who said that the informant was allegedly able to recover another bundle of heroin from Pratson at her office, a transaction which forms the basis of one of the charges now facing Pratson in the Granite State.