State drops charges, but man still supervised by feds

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BENNINGTON — A local man who spent two years in a New York federal prison after being indicted on drug charges is now under federal supervised release and has had charges in a pending Vermont case dismissed by state prosecutors.

Jeffrey M. Elwell II, 29, was one of at least a dozen people who in 2015 were charged in connection with the transport of large quantities of crack cocaine, heroin and other drugs from New York City to Bennington.

In a separate but related case, three men were also charged in connection with the December 2014 fatal shooting of a man in Manhattan.

Elwell was taken into federal custody in August 2015. That was only shortly after he pleaded not guilty and posted bail on unrelated charges in Bennington: Police said he tried to force entry into a Pleasant Street residence and threatened to harm people inside a month prior.

On Monday, Elwell turned himself in on an arrest warrant; he returned to Vermont Superior Court Bennington Criminal Division on Thursday, where the state moved to dismiss the pending charges without prejudice.

Elwell has been in federal custody for two years and was prosecuted and sentenced in federal court, according to Deputy State's Attorney Robert F. Plunkett, who told Judge William D. Cohen that Elwell is now under federal supervision. Explaining the dismissal, Plunkett said that, based on a review of court documents, it was clear federal prosecutors considered the pending Bennington case.

Plunkett indicated Elwell received a sentence below the minimum sentencing guideline, but did not elaborate.

Elwell had pleaded not guilty in Bennington court in July 2015 to felony burglary of an occupied dwelling while armed with a deadly weapon, and misdemeanor attempted simple assault and unlawful mischief. The state dismissed the charges against Elwell without prejudice, meaning they could be filed again.

Elwell, also known as "J-Bo," and 12 other individuals were charged under a July 30, 2016 indictment. Court documents describe an alleged two-year trafficking conspiracy involving 280 grams or more of crack cocaine, more than 100 grams of heroin, and quantities of other narcotics including Percocet and marijuana. Federal prosecutors alleged that from 2014 to 2015, narcotics were transported to Bennington for distribution in local apartments and certain hotel rooms. Ellwell and several others were accused of carrying and selling firearms while they dealt drugs. Ellwell was also accused of selling several guns, including one machine gun.

Three men accused of the trafficking conspiracy were also charged in connection with the murder of Rashaun Nicholson, who was 31-years-old when he was shot and killed in Lower Manhattan on Dec. 28, 2014. Cory "Hop" Harris, 33, Frank "Frizz" Jenkins, Jr., 23, and Raheem Maldonado, 25 were all charged Dec. 3, 2015 with racketeering/murder for hire conspiracy, conspiracy to distribute narcotics and possessing a firearm for a violent crime. Prosecutors say that Harris and Maldonado payed Jenkins to shoot Nicholson.

Jenkins pleaded guilty in federal court in New York on Feb. 14. The Federal Bureau of Prison website lists Harris and Jenkins as inmates at the Metropolitan Detention Center, Brooklyn. Maldonado was listed as not in custody.

Other defendants have been sentenced to up to five years in prison followed by four years of supervised relief, or time served, court records show.

In between the time his co-conspirators were arrested and when he was taken into federal custody, early on July 4, 2016, Elwell "went on a rampage in Bennington," federal prosecutors said. Witnesses reported that at JC's Tavern at about 1 a.m., Elwell waived a gun around, railing against "snitches." Police did not recover a gun, but at about 2 a.m., officers returned to the same bar, where Elwell was involved in a fight.

At about 3:30 a.m., officers responded after Elwell tried to slam a rock against a Pleasant Street apartment's front door and threatened to kill those inside. A U.S. attorney, in a motion to detain Elwell, wrote that he was "motivated by a belief (albeit an inaccurate one) that one of the residents had provided information to law enforcement in connection with his co-conspirators' arrest."

Reach staff writer Edward Damon at 802-447-7567, ext. 111 or @edamon_banner.

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