Shelburne woman pleads guilty to two federal drug charges

A Shelburne woman who police say used her home on U.S. 7 to run an illegal drug trafficking business has pleaded guilty to two felony charges in U.S. District Court in Burlington.

Tonyel Colby, 40, admitted in court to possession with intent to distribute more than 28 grams of crack cocaine on Oct. 25, 2016 and also knowingly and intentionally distributing fentanyl on Nov. 2, 2017.

For the crack conviction, Colby faces up to 40 years in prison with a mandatory minimum of 5 years to serve. The prison sentence would be followed by between 5 years and the remainder of her life on supervised release. She also faces up to a $5 million fine.

For the fentanyl conviction, Colby faces up to 20 years in prison, between a mandatory 3-year minimum to life on supervised release and up to a $1 million fine.

Judge Christina Reiss ordered a pre-sentence investigation report to learn about Colby’s life and scheduled the sentencing for Oct. 29.

Colby, who has earlier drug cases on her criminal record, remains in custody pending sentencing.

As part of the plea agreement, Colby will stipulate that she was alone during a traffic stop in Middlesex by Vermont State Police on Oct. 25, 2016 when she was found to be carrying 50 grams of crack cocaine and 15 grams of powder cocaine in her purse, the plea agreement says.

She also stated that when a confidential informant walked into her home to buy heroin on Nov. 2, 2017, the package actually tested as a mixture of heroin and fentanyl, the signed plea agreement said.

Her residence at 2689 Shelburne Road is located between a furniture store and deli and across the street from a bowling alley. The yard outside the apartment building has play structures for children.

Federal agents said they were seeking evidence of distribution of three drugs: heroin, fentanyl and cocaine –when they raided the apartment on Dec. 4, 2017, records show.

The defendant is also known as Tonyel Hotchkiss. She was initially charged with seven felonies: four counts of distribution of cocaine on Aug. 30, Oct. 17, Oct. 25, 2016 and Nov. 1, 2017; two counts of distribution of fentanyl on Nov. 2 and Nov. 15, 2017 and one count of distribution of heroin on Nov. 7, 2017.

She had denied all seven felony charges until last week when she admitted to two counts.

Court records show that federal agents spotted her 17-year-old son doing surveillance for one of the drug sales at the apartment. In 2008, Colby was listed as having three children, according to federal court records at that time.

When Colby was released on bail from state court in July 2017 after a separate drug investigation, a state judge told her to refrain from drugs.

Special Agent Tam Vieth of the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said in a court affidavit that by Oct. 25, the Vermont Drug Task Force had started the investigation into Colby for continuing to distribute crack cocaine and heroin in Chittenden County. New charges were filed in November.

That warning went unheeded given the new federal charges filed in late November 2017.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Ophardt argued that Colby would be a danger to the community if released.

Magistrate Judge John Conroy had initially ordered her detained. Conroy ruled the weight of the evidence looked strong given Colby’s prior criminal history, substance abuse issues, and the fact that she continued criminal activity while under court supervision.

Her criminal record in Vermont includes a 2008 conviction for using her apartment in St. Albans as a cocaine distribution site in early 2007. Two men from the Bronx were arrested with her. Police said they found 60 grams of pre-packaged crack cocaine and about $8,000 in cash when they raided the home.

Because of the serious nature of the crimes, the case was eventually sent to federal court for prosecution.

Federal Judge William K. Sessions III attempted to give Colby a break by sentencing her July 21, 2008 to 3 years on probation along with six months of home confinement. The judge urged her to try to restore her licensed nursing assistant certification.

She was arrested in October 2014 in New York State for felony possession of an electronic stun gun following a traffic stop in Plattsburgh. Colby resurfaced in Vermont two years later when she was arrested on two counts of possession of crack and powder cocaine following the traffic stop on Interstate 89 in Middlesex.

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