Yes, she sells heroin. Deirdre Hey doesn't deny it, has no plans to stop and is willing — even eager — to explain why.
Sitting at her kitchen table in the Winooski apartment police have raided twice in recent weeks, she wanted to make one thing clear: Investigators have exaggerated her influence, said the 47-year-old grandmother, by misrepresenting her LaFountain Street home as a destination and local headquarters for out-of-state heroin sellers.
Hey pointed to two big pots of water sitting atop her stove. She said the gas had been shut off, so she uses the electric appliance to heat water whenever she needs to wash the dishes or bathe.
"If I'm so big-time, you'd think my bills would be paid," Hey said. "I am not a conduit for people coming from out of state. I'm not, and I don't know how they get that. Yes, I have made some mistakes and I admit what I have done. But I am not some big-time dealer. I have nothing."
Hey was arrested and charged with selling heroin in March during a pre-dawn raid that local police conducted with the help of a U.S. Customs and Border Protection helicopter.
Shortly after an account of that incident appeared in Seven Days, Hey reached out to talk about her arrest and the accusations police have made against her.
While declining to discuss specifics about her legal situation, Hey said that she both uses and sells heroin but is no danger to the public.
In fact, she mocked police for calling in a helicopter and trumpeting her arrest as a major case. Police found drug paraphernalia — but no heroin — in the bust.
"The taxpayers paid all that money — for what?" Hey said. "I'm falling apart. It was a waste of time, on everybody's part."
Hey argued for a distinction that defense lawyers say is valid but is often lost on the police and general public: Many drug addicts sell small quantities of the drug to support their own habits, but aren't drug dealers, as most people imagine them.
Hey said that she fits that description.
"I sold enough that I could get what I need for nothing," she said.
You don't have to sell a huge quantity of heroin to be charged as a drug dealer in Vermont. Under state law, anyone caught selling 200 milligrams of heroin — the equivalent of two "bags," under commonly accepted standards — faces up to 10 years in prison. Dealers can be charged as "traffickers," and face up to 30 years in prison if they are caught selling 35 bags of heroin, or roughly 3.5 grams. By comparison, the actor Philip Seymour Hoffman was found dead with more than 65 bags of heroin, and there have been no allegations or reports that he was dealing or trafficking.
Local law enforcement says that Hey is more than a harmless drug user. "She's linked to a number of cases over a long period of time in Chittenden County," said Winooski Police Chief Steve McQueen.
Police had investigated Hey for weeks before her arrest, according to court papers. They charged her with selling two bags of heroin, for $20 each, to undercover informants. The same "customers" also bought the drug from a number of Hey's associates, including her estranged boyfriend, Joel Griffith.
Hey is also facing a charge of buying stolen property — she allegedly exchanged heroin for an Apple laptop stolen from a Burlington home — to which she's pleaded not guilty.
"I don't know if you guys have heard of her yet," the alleged laptop thief told investigators, according to a police affidavit. "She is a pretty big drug person."
Hey's name also comes up in drug cases in which she hasn't been charged. The U.S. Attorney's Office earlier this year charged a Brooklyn man, Thomas Parker, of conspiracy to distribute heroin and crack cocaine in Vermont. According to federal court papers, Parker sold drugs to Hey and she paid him with an AR-15 rifle.
In court filings, federal prosecutors referred to Hey as "well-known heroin trafficker" and identified Parker as one of her "suppliers."
Hey initially denied those allegations and said she only remembered sharing a pizza with either Parker or his partner — she couldn't remember which one.
Later in the same conversation, her memory improved.
"I did get something from him, yes, and I sold half of it in order to pay for mine," Hey said. She said she uses heroin to self-medicate for an array of health problems, most of which are related to what she says is a degenerative disc disease in her back. She stoops noticeably when she walks.
"I use heroin as replacement for medication," Hey said. "I don't get out of my mind."
Before turning to heroin about 18 months ago, Hey said, her life was normal, almost boring.
She was born in Providence, R.I., adopted into a family she described as "attentive" and attended the local high school. She worked at an ice cream scoop shop in her free time and, after graduating, transitioned into several waitressing jobs.
Hey said she dreamed of opening her own restaurant. She was going to call it "Mamma D's" — her longtime nickname that is now her street name, according to police.
But life got in the way. She had two children: Dylan Wright, now 22, and a daughter, who is now 17. Hey said she went back to school to get a nursing-assistant license. Eventually, she followed her longtime boyfriend, Griffith, to Vermont, where they settled in South Hero. She said she worked for a spell at Burlington Health & Rehab, until her back started acting up. At home, she said, she cultivated a garden and made her own pasta sauce from its freshly grown tomatoes.
"I did all that stuff," Hey said. "I was the mother. At the end of the school year, I would pay for the pizza party. I've done all the things I should do as a mother, until the last year and a half."
Hey started using drugs because of her worsening back problem, she said. She claimed to be coping with prescription oxycodone until evidence of cocaine showed up in a routine medical test. "I swear I wasn't using," she said, but the doctor nonetheless pulled her prescription.
Now, Hey said she uses heroin three times a day — "just like if I was on a prescription."
She didn't give any specific reason for moving to Winooski less than a year ago. But since being in town, Hey admitted, she has regularly dealt heroin. She claimed to have an ethical code: She doesn't sell to children, she said, or to anyone she doesn't know. (She was apparently acquainted with the confidential informants who ratted on her.)
And — a point in which she takes particular pride — Hey said she never sells anything that she hasn't tried herself. She wants to make sure her product is both effective and safe.
"I was a guinea pig," she said.
Her second-floor apartment doesn't look like a drug den. A living room bookcase is stocked with board games including Yahtzee, Balderdash and Scattergories. A box of Cap'n Crunch cereal sits on the kitchen counter, along with dirty dishes, neatly stacked. There are a few decorations on the walls, and a shelf in the kitchen features family photos: her smiling daughter in a school picture; her son kneeling on the turf in a football uniform; her father with a white, flowing beard.
Hey spent a few minutes politely relating the stories behind each image. And then, casually, as if remarking on the weather, she mentioned that she'd used heroin only an hour or two before.
"Do I look like a junkie?" she asked.
Though she has large, hazel eyes, Hey looks older than she is. Her hunched back has a lot to do with it, but her face is weathered. She does her best to make a visitor feel at ease, but she talks nonstop, one sentence slamming illogically into the next, with only an occasional nervous laugh providing the chance to get a word in edgewise.
She wasn't alone on that particular afternoon. Her son, Wright, was there, along with Heather Casey, 38, a woman who considers Hey something of a mother figure.
Although both were friendly, neither wanted to sit down and talk to a journalist. Though Casey did have something she wanted to get off her chest.
She was also arrested in the helicopter raid with Hey and charged with misdemeanor retail theft on a warrant that had been issued weeks before. She said the publicity has made her life a lot more difficult. Like Hey, Casey said she struggles with drug addiction but doesn't view her personal problem as a threat to the public.
Less than 12 hours later, Casey would be back in the news, along with Wright, for trying to rob a Winooski convenience store.
Walking along Malletts Bay Avenue that evening, according to police records, the duo apparently hatched a scheme to get some easy money. When they got to the Fast Stop, Casey went inside and pretended to have a gun inside her hoodie. She demanded money from the clerk while Wright watched outside, according to police affidavits.
Called to the store, police immediately contacted Hey, who told them she did not know where Casey was. Officers visited Hey's apartment anyway, and found Casey "hiding in an attic crawl space under a pile of insulation," according to an affidavit. Wright was found at a nearby apartment.
Both Casey and Wright pleaded not guilty to the charges, and their public defender, Stacie Johnson, declined to comment.
Hey sat in the gallery during their arraignments, with her grandson — Wright's 11-month old son. When the little boy cried out, disrupting courtroom proceedings, she tried to calm him down.
After the court hearing, Hey said her son belonged in drug treatment, not in prison.
But she isn't interested in getting clean. Sure, she has thought about it a few times. But Hey is skeptical that clinicians would give her medication strong enough to replace the pain-numbing effects of heroin.
It would just hurt too much, she said.
"I can't," Hey said. "I think I'd rather be dead."