Police standoff with armed suspect in Newport

BREAKING NEWS  9-25-2013

NEWPORT — Derick J. Niles, 36, of Newport pled innocent in Orleans Superior Court Wednesday to misdemeanor charges of reckless endangerment and disorderly conduct after a police standoff at his home.  Bail was set at $100,000 by Judge Howard VanBenthuysen and Mr. Niles was lodged at Northern State Correctional Facility in Newport.

Early Wednesday morning, the Newport City Police Department issued an advisory warning residents of Highland Avenue between Pleasant Street and West Main Street to remain inside and to lock their doors, just before 7 a.m..  A bulletin issued at 8:18 a.m. further advised residents of the area to evacuate on account of an armed suspect.

For a full court story, and a separate story about this suspect and the incident, please see the next edition of the Chronicle on October 2.

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Tenants prepare to leave historic Spates Block

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Betty McQuillen’s father, Harold Jenks, bought Farrant’s Flower Shop in 1927 from John Farrant the son of its founder.  It was started in the nineteenth century and is the oldest continuously operating business in the city.  Ms. McQuillen said it will be centered on Farrant Street after its Main Street shop closes in December.  Photo by Joseph Gresser

Betty McQuillen’s father, Harold Jenks, bought Farrant’s Flower Shop in 1927 from John Farrant the son of its founder. It was started in the nineteenth century and is the oldest continuously operating business in the city. Ms. McQuillen said it will be centered on Farrant Street after its Main Street shop closes in December. Photo by Joseph Gresser

by Joseph Gresser

NEWPORT — John Daggett carefully placed boxes, pieces of furniture and random possessions into the back of a box truck parked on Main Street here Friday.  Over the past couple of weeks, Mr. Daggett said he’s helped around five households move out of the strip of buildings on the south side of Main Street known as the Spates Block.

The buildings, which run from Center Street up to Second Street, will be demolished in late winter to make way for a retail and hotel complex known as the Renaissance Block.  In preparation, landlord Doug Spates is clearing them of their tenants.

Mr. Daggett said he moved out of the J.B. Police building not long ago and into a new apartment that is also owned by Mr. Spates.

The new apartment is “beautiful,” he said.   “It’s definitely going to be a big change from here.  Where I was living everything was included.  Now I have to pay my own heat and light.”

Mr. Spates is charging a lower rent for the new apartment than he was for the old one, Mr. Daggett said.  That will make it easier to afford the new bills.

On a warm September day John Daggett pauses for a moment as he loads a truck with the belongings of Spates Block residents who are rushing to move before their October 1 deadline.  Photo by Joseph Gresser

On a warm September day John Daggett pauses for a moment as he loads a truck with the belongings of Spates Block residents who are rushing to move before their October 1 deadline. Photo by Joseph Gresser

“Sometimes I get a little behind on my rent,” he said, but he added that Mr. Spates is willing to work with his tenants.  He said Mr. Spates has given him odd jobs to help him out when he’s short, and he’s helped prepare new apartments for people who are being displaced from Main Street; he’s even helped some move.

Stephanie Forest also moved from the Spates Block recently.  She now lives in Derby Line in a bigger apartment that, at $500 a month, is $50 less than the one she rented in Newport.

Mr. Daggett said the change is going to be hard on some people, even if they get help from Mr. Spates.  For many, he said, “It’s definitely a tough adjustment.”

“With all these cutbacks it’s going to be hard on people the first year,” he said.  “I hope when they tear things down and put things up it straightens out the economy.”

Bill Stenger, the co-owner of Jay Peak Resort and one of those seeking to replace the Spates Block, told members of the press earlier this month that he hopes to contribute to an improvement in the city’s economy by building the Renaissance Block, a hotel and conference center on the site of Waterfront Plaza, and a biotech research and manufacturing facility on the site of the old Bogner building.

All of the projects are to be financed through the EB-5 visa program.  Foreign investors in a job-creating business are able to get a green card and eventual citizenship through this federal program.

The Spates Block in 2013 is a faint echo of what it used to be.  Soon even that echo will fade when the block is demolished this winter to make way for new shops and a hotel.  Photo by Joseph Gresser

The Spates Block in 2013 is a faint echo of what it used to be. Soon even that echo will fade when the block is demolished this winter to make way for new shops and a hotel. Photo by Joseph Gresser

In order not to cause more harm than necessary to city businesses, Mr. Stenger said he will wait until after the Christmas season to take ownership of the Spates Block.

He said he wants to allow the businesses to get through the big retail season before they have to move.  When it comes time to build the Renaissance block, Mr. Stenger said the work will be done from the rear of the building to avoid creating traffic problems on Main Street and interfering with other businesses in the city.

“It will be like construction in New York City with the fence with holes in it to watch the workers,” he said.

When complete he said the hotel will boast 64 suites, a pool, a brew pub, and retail space on Main Street.  Mr. Stenger said he expects the hotel to appeal to researchers working on projects at the biotech center as well as regular visitors to Newport.

The building will be open for business in 2015, he said.

The Renaissance Block will replace a collection of buildings that have seen better days, but represent a significant chunk of Newport history.  When the city submitted its application to join the state’s designated downtown program, it prepared a listing of historic buildings in the Main Street area.

According to that document, the J.B. Police building, in which Mr. Daggett lived until recently, was one of the three oldest on the Spates’ Block.  It was built around 1900, 18 years before Newport was organized as a city.

The building was first called the Arlington Block, but received its current name after Police’s Fruit Store moved into the ground floor.  The store was owned by Gasper Borella, who moved from Italy to Plymouth, New Hampshire.  There he added Police to his name.

Carol Bonneau cooks breakfast for Newport residents at Family Recipe, her restaurant.  She plans to keep feeding people until she has to leave and, if possible, to go out with a big party on Main Street.  Photo by Joseph Gresser

Carol Bonneau cooks breakfast for Newport residents at Family Recipe, her restaurant. She plans to keep feeding people until she has to leave and, if possible, to go out with a big party on Main Street. Photo by Joseph Gresser

His son John B. Police took over the store when his father returned to his homeland.  His name is still emblazoned on the front of the building.  The Police family owned the building for the next 61 years.  The only store now open in that building, and one of only four businesses on the block, is Newport’s oldest continuously operating business, Farrant’s Flower Shop.

Betty McQuillen was minding the store on Monday.  Her father, Harold Jenks, bought the business from John Farrant in 1927, Ms. McQuillen said.

He, in turn, had it from his father, Thomas Farrant, who Ms. McQuillen said, came over from England and started selling flowers in the late nineteenth century.

“He owned all of Farrant’s Point,” she said.

She said she doesn’t see how her business will be able to afford to move back to Main Street once construction is done on the Renaissance Block.  Her plans call for basing the business on Farrant Street near its greenhouse.

That option won’t work for Carol Bonneau, the owner of Family Recipe, a restaurant that specializes in breakfasts and is only open mornings.  Ms. Bonneau said she’s seen business decline and thinks it’s because people don’t realize she’s still open.

She is and said she plans to stay open until December 1, the date she’s been given to leave the building.  Like Ms. McQuillen, Ms. Bonneau said she doesn’t think she can find another storefront to rent on Main Street.

Her plan is to keep serving breakfasts as long as she can and then to look for a job, she said.  When it comes time to shut her restaurant’s doors she said she wants to go out in style.

If the city allows it, “We’re going to throw a big party on Main Street,” she said.  “We’re going to give out some food.”

She plans to keep all her restaurant equipment and hopes to raise enough money to buy a food truck and take it around to events where she can again cook for people.

Ms. McQuillen said that not having the Main Street storefront will mean a loss of walk-in traffic.  But the business will be able to keep on delivering orders from customers, she said.

The Spates Block has been losing businesses for years.  The Great Outdoors of Newport, a sporting goods store that once occupied two storefronts, moved to Waterfront Plaza in 2006.

Other businesses closed more recently.  Myers Jewelry shut its doors earlier this year when its proprietor, David Myers, retired.

Jocelyn and Cinta’s Bake Shop moved across the street into the newly opened tasting center, and Debi Meade moved her store to the Hood Building on Coventry Street, in the process changing its name from Fabric to Ewe-phorium.

Aside from Family Recipe, the only businesses that remain open are a second-hand store run by Northeast Kingdom Community Action (NEKCA), and TNT Tattoos, which is located in the oldest building on the Spates Block, the mansion built by Converse Goodhue Goodrich around 1870.

Now it shows little trace of its origin, but it may have been the home of Mr. Goodrich and his wife, Almira, whose legacy is the library that bears their name.

The Goodrich mansion sits on the corner of Main and Second streets.  Over the years, it has been repeatedly refashioned.  The building appears as a home in an 1881 map.  By the turn of the century, though, it was home to a millinery business located on the first floor.  In 1925 there were three storefronts and apartments along Second Street.

The main storefront has been vacant since Your Name Here Embroidery was bought by the owners of Majestic Trophies and Northeast Kingdom Signs and moved across the street to their store.  TNT Tattoo, on the Second Street side of the building, is the only business operating in what was the old Goodrich mansion.

On Main Street, Mr. Daggett waited at the truck as a bare-chested man carried a large glass fish out of the building and entrusted it to his care.

He introduced himself as Shawn Hildreth.  Like Mr. Daggett he was helping people move their belongings to their new lodgings.

It was a matter of kindness, Mr. Hildreth said.  “I’m trying to help people.  It’s true, when you do that it comes back to you.”

Mr. Hildreth said he has lived in Newport for 30 years and stayed in Main Street apartments “off and on.”

Looking up at the buildings, he said. “I don’t want to see it go.  I think it’s bad news to see it go.”

Thinking it over for a moment, he added.  “Maybe it will help get some of the hoodlums off Main Street.”

Mr. Daggett smiled broadly and said, “I used to be one,” he said.

Mr. Hildreth laughed.  “So did I,” he said.

contact Joseph Gresser at joseph@bartonchronicle.com

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Three-fourths of the region is overweight

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From left to right, Zylus and her sister Giada Hodges of Newport, and Autumn Walsh of Brownington enjoy healthy snacks provided by Meghan Stotko and the Lunch Box at Saturday’s screening of Weight of the Nation, sponsored by the district health department.   Photo by Tena Starr

From left to right, Zylus and her sister Giada Hodges of Newport, and Autumn Walsh of Brownington enjoy healthy snacks provided by Meghan Stotko and the Lunch Box at Saturday’s screening of Weight of the Nation, sponsored by the district health department. Photo by Tena Starr

by Tena Starr

NEWPORT — About 75 percent of the people in Orleans and northern Essex counties are either overweight or obese.  Thirteen percent of 12- to 19-year-olds are considered obese, as well as 11 percent of kids under five.

In the state as a whole, 28 percent of children and 58 percent of adults are either overweight or obese.  The rate of obesity in the Newport area is 31 percent, the worst in the state.

Those are some of the alarming statistics presented at Saturday’s filming of Weight of the Nation, an HBO documentary that tackles the challenges associated with the country’s growing rate of obesity, as well as the history of America’s weight problem.

The morning’s events, which included the movie, a brief discussion about what can be done, and a story walk and healthy snacks provided by Meghan Stotko and the Lunch Box, was organized by prevention specialist Jennifer Woolard at the health department’s Newport office.

Ms. Woolard said she hoped to start a conversation about how to have a healthier community.  Orleans County is the unhealthiest in the state, she said.

The reason for that perhaps mystifies Ms. Woolard, who noted that the area has parks, community gardens, sidewalks, good grocery stories, farmers markets, and bike paths.  It also has woods and fields, lakes and streams, and a thriving local food movement.

In other words, people in the Northeast Kingdom have access to both healthy food and ways to burn off calories.

That can’t be said of other parts of the country, inner cities, for instance, where children have no place to safely engage in physical play.  But it’s certainly true in the Northeast Kingdom, where many can just walk out the front door in order to ride a bike or go for a walk in a safe neighborhood.

The rate of Vermonters who don’t get enough physical activity is 17 percent, says the health department.  In this area, it’s 27 percent.

Ms. Woolard said she doesn’t have the answer; she simply set out to start a discussion and to offer information.  “We want to make it community driven, we don’t want to tell people what to do,” she said.

That was the message of the day.

“Today is not about blame or shame,” said Jim Burnett, director of the district health department in Newport.  “But we are not immune from the struggle of dealing with overweight and obese.  We are, sadly, on a trajectory, where maybe for the first time, our children may have a shorter life span than their parents.”

About 30 people attended the event, which was held at Waterfront Cinemas.

Access to both good food and ways to engage in physical activity are factors in the nation’s struggle with an increasingly overweight population, but so is income, and that might be the key to figuring out why one of the most rural areas of Vermont also has the highest percentage of overweight people.

The highest rates of obesity are among lower income Vermonters, according to the health department.  And Orleans and Essex counties are the poorest in the state, according to U.S. Census data.

The film, done in collaboration with the Institute of Medicine among others, is a captivating tour of human biology, U.S. food policy, and small steps that have been taken throughout the country to initiate change.

While it doesn’t abdicate personal responsibility, it does point out that obesity became epidemic in the country in the past 30 years for reasons that often go beyond personal choice.

When the U.S. government started keeping track, in 1900, of why people died the three main causes were pneumonia as a result of influenza, tuberculosis, and diarrhea.

Today, five out of ten untimely deaths are related to being overweight, according to the film.  Two-thirds of Americans are either overweight or obese, which leads to diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer, sleep apnea, heart trouble, and pain.

While the natural tendency is to look at the situation as a lifestyle choice, biology says the behavior was laid down a long time ago.  “Biology plays as much a role as psychology,” says one doctor in the movie.

For one thing, people aren’t genetically programmed to turn down calories.  Human DNA is programmed to ward against scarcity:  If food is available, eat it, and human DNA hasn’t changed much in thousands of years.  It certainly hasn’t changed in the last 30 years, although lifestyles have changed dramatically.

The audience laughed when the film pictured cavemen devouring a wild pig.  You really wouldn’t expect people of that time to take two bites and say I’m full now, says the narrator.  Humans are genetically programmed to eat what’s available while it’s available, she says.

And for thousands of years that worked out just fine since food wasn’t reliably plentiful, and it took a certain amount of effort to acquire it.

That’s the biology in a nutshell:  People are designed for a world of scarcity where food is not easily available, and it takes a substantial expenditure of energy to get it.  Humans are programmed to survive in a hunter gatherer world that no longer exists, at least in most cultures.

Enter agriculture.  Humans became farmers.  And, historically speaking, shortly after that, industrialized agriculture developed, at least in the U.S.  By the early twentieth century, the federal government had made cheap, plentiful food a priority.  But what to do with it?

What’s followed is a glut of corn and soy in the U.S., the film asserts, a glut that’s subsidized and is used to produce cheap, and unhealthy, food:  beef fed by cheap grain, sodas sweetened by cheap corn syrup, cookies, crackers, and snack foods that pack a high caloric punch and little nutrition.  The food the nation produces in mass quantities is inexpensive compared to fruits and vegetables, which receives no government subsidies.

It gets worse.

Humans became sedentary.  Instead of cultivating crops or doing other manual labor, they began to sit in front of screens, more and more screens all the time.  In fact, Americans are using less calories per day than in 1970, but consuming more.

And then came marketing.

Obesity goes up as income goes down, the film says.  In part, that’s because people are programmed to acquire as many calories as possible for the dollar.  The dollar menu at a fast food restaurant is a lure for poor families because it saves time, and it saves money.

The film goes on to note these grim numbers:  The profit margin for a soft drink is 90 percent.  The profit margin for fruits and vegetables is 10 percent.  Naturally, companies being in the business of making money, heavily market their most profitable products.

On the more sinister side, perhaps, is the fact that the federal government subsidizes the corn and soy industries, encouraging further production of cheap, but unhealthy, food.  The government is driving farmers, who are also interested in making a living, to overproduce food that isn’t good for the country as a whole, the movie says.

“The kind of food we eat is the kind that’s most profitable,” one analyst flatly says.  Another says it would cost the food industry between $36- and $40-billion a year if Americans cut 100 calories a day out of their diet.

Remarkably, the film says that this country doesn’t even produce enough fruits and vegetables to meet the dietary needs of its citizens.

A brief discussion, led by Dr. Alan Rubin, followed the movie.  Some mourned the loss of IROC, which provided indoor recreation facilities.  Others mentioned what is available in the way of opportunities for exercise, which the area doesn’t lack.

Those who are interested in furthering the discussion are encouraged to contact the Healthworks Coalition at lesley.becker@neklsvt.org.

contact Tena Starr at tenas@bartonchronicle.com

To read the Chronicle’s editorial on this subject, click here.

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Glover will vote on sewer expansion

glover ross web

Ross Clark asks a question at an informational meeting about the Glover sewer bond vote coming up on Tuesday. Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

by Bethany M. Dunbar

copyright the Chronicle September 13, 2013

Glover Selectmen voted at the end of an informational meeting on September 12 to go ahead with their plan to split anticipated debt for an addition to the town’s sewer system 50-50 between Parker Pond sewer users and all the town’s taxpayers, if a bond vote is approved Tuesday, September 17.

This decision was made after hearing the opinions expressed at the public meeting and taking into consideration input submitted by e-mail or other personal communications, selectmen said in an e-mail.  The anticipated $1,540,000 debt is the local cost of a $2.8-million project to add sewer lines to about 100 camps around the shores of Parker Pond.  The selectmen said taking on this debt is conditional on a positive vote on the sewer bond, on an acceptable financing offer from United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development, and on final approval of the sewer extension project.

The selectmen say they hope that the USDA will offer Glover a $2,800,000 package that includes a $1,260,000 grant and a $1,540,000 loan at 3% over 30 years.  The selectmen said they would like to encourage Glover voters to vote on September 17, between the hours of 10 a.m. and 7 p.m., and to approve the bond issue.

At the September 12 meeting, camp owners asked if the project would be mandatory, and the selectmen said all camp owners on the lake will be required to help pay the debt service.  But camp owners with working septic systems who do not want to hook on when the project is being built would not have to pay for operating and maintenance costs.  Everyone who hooks on when the project is being built will have their hook-up, including a grinder pump, included and paid for by the town.  People who hook on later would have to pay that expense themselves, selectmen said.

Selectmen said property taxpayers could expect to pay about $30 more on $100,000 worth of property, while new sewer users can expect a bill of about $723 a year.  Existing sewer users in Glover and West Glover villages might actually see their current sewer bills decrease due to the sewer costs being spread out over more people, selectmen said.

For a full story including results of the vote, please see the next edition of the Chronicle on September 18.

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German police seize Twelve Tribes children

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In this Chronicle file photo, a Vermont state trooper carries a bundle of wooden rods out of a restaurant owned by the Island Pond community on June 22, 1984.

In this Chronicle file photo, a Vermont state trooper carries a bundle of wooden rods out of a restaurant owned by the Island Pond community on June 22, 1984.

by Chris Braithwaite

BAVARIA, Germany — German police seized 40 children of the Twelve Tribes religious community here on September 5, according to press accounts.

The group is one of many international offshoots of the Northeast Kingdom Community Church in Island Pond, whose children were seized by Vermont State Police in a controversial raid on June 22, 1984.

Almost three decades later, German officials say they are investigating allegations that are almost identical to those that led to the Island Pond raid.  According to the British newspaper the Guardian, Germany sent 100 police officers to two of the sect’s complexes on the basis of “fresh evidence indicating significant and ongoing child abuse by the members.”

On its website, the Twelve Tribes acknowledges that adult members strike children with the thin wooden rods that troubled Vermont officials, though it denies that it abuses the children.

“When they are disobedient or intentionally hurtful to others, we spank them with a small reed-like rod, which only inflicts pain and not damage,” the website says.  “Desiring to be good parents, we do not hit our children in anger, nor with our hand or fist.”

Another British journal reported that German police were prompted to act after they were shown graphic scenes of adults beating six children in a basement room.  According to The Independent, the beatings were filmed by a journalist who claimed to be a “lost soul” to gain entry to the community, and used hidden video cameras and microphones.

His footage was shown on German television Monday night, The Independent said.  The program included an interview with a spokesman for the Bavarian youth welfare service who described the film as shocking.  “We never had proof that they do this,” he said.  “It is terrible, they preach peace but they beat their children.”

Vermont’s effort to seize and detain the sect’s children to look for evidence of physical abuse collapsed in the Orleans County Courthouse in Newport.  Judge Frank Mahady ruled that the state’s claim that all the children in the community were in danger of abuse was too vague to justify their emergency detention.  He sent them home to Island Pond that afternoon.

The sect has consistently denied that its children in Vermont were victims of physical abuse.

contact Chris Braithwaite at chris@bartonchronicle.com

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In Island Pond: Quebec maple firm seeks syrup factory

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IP maple web

The REM building in Island Pond. Photo by Paul Lefebvre

by Paul Lefebvre

ISLAND POND — A Quebec maple company may be setting up shop in an empty factory here that failed to gain traction as a woodworking facility and create jobs after the Ethan Allen plant shut down in 2000.

The empty factory, known as the REM building on Meadow Street and owned by the town, could have a tenant as early as the middle of the month, according to Brighton Administrative Assistant Joel Cope.

A representative from Bernards Maple of Saint-Victor, Quebec, talked to Brighton’s selectmen late last month, and on Tuesday confirmed that the company is interested in leasing the building and more.

“It’s not a building we’re looking at, it’s an industry,” said Jacques Letourneau, who is negotiating with the town on behalf of the company.

Mr. Letourneau, who spoke guardedly during a brief telephone interview, said negotiations over leasing the building with an option to buy are still at a very preliminary stage, and he preferred “not to divulge anything until everything is in place.”

According to the minutes of the August 27 selectman’s meeting, the company would like to move in by September 16 and have environmental permits in place by the end of October.

“We’re happy to help them with that and move through the process,” said Mr. Cope, speaking in an interview last Thursday.

Still uncertain is what the deal would mean in terms of jobs.  Best estimates suggest that only a few jobs would be created at the outset, with as many as 30 to 40 to “maintain the operation” and three or four permanent jobs at the plant.  Yet the potential has the power to excite town officials.

“We think it’s a very exciting opportunity and is exactly what this community needs,” said Melinda Gervais-Lamoureux, chairman of the Brighton selectmen.

She said the company is considering a two-phase development over four to five years, “and that’s where the jobs will come from.”

The deal offered by the town last week would be to lease the factory for $15,000 — $1 per square foot — with the annual lease payment going toward a $250,000 purchase price.

Tentatively, the company plans to make maple syrup in the building with sap trucked in from maple bushes in the area that it seeks to lease.  To that end, it has already begun talks with Plum Creek, the large timber company that owns more than 86,000 acres in northern Essex County.

Mr. Cope said the company would like to collect sap from roughly 100,000 taps, and expand up to one million.

“If they can find the land and the trees,” he added.

Mr. Letourneau said the company knows the trees are there, having done its research before approaching the town.  Realtor Mick Conley of Derby, who is serving as the company’s agent in Vermont, said Essex County has the third highest number of maple trees in the state.

Mark Doty, a public affairs agent with Plum Creek, would only confirm Tuesday that the Canadian company has expressed an interest.  “It’s still very, very preliminary,” he said.  “Nothing to report.”

The town put the REM building on the market about a year ago, according to Mr. Cope.  It derives its name from the previous owner, Robert E. Miller of South Burlington, who gave the building to the town after its previous tenants — the Island Pond Woodworkers, an employee-owned woodworking factory — failed to make a go of it.  Mr. Cope estimated the town has owned the building since 2010.

Located in Saint-Victor, about an hour south of Quebec City and 125 miles north of Island Pond, Bernards Maple is a fifth-generation-owned company that “has been making maple syrup for over 200 years,” said Mr. Letourneau.

As a company it is involved in every aspect of the maple industry, from tapping the trees to distributing the final product.

“We’re about as close to the consumer as you can get without putting it in the refrigerator,” he said.

The company plans to start off slow and expand.  It wants assurances from the town that it will be able to put on a 5,000-square-foot addition to the building without running into any regulatory delays.

Located in a light industrial zone, the building already has an Act 250 permit.  On Tuesday Steve Paterson, who heads the regional planning agency, the Northeastern Vermont Development Association (NVDA), said his group is looking at what additional permits may be required.

According to the minutes of the selectmen’s meeting last month, the company could be running as many as ten big trucks a day into Meadow Street at certain times of the year.  The REM building appears to be well situated to overcome any permitting obstacles.

“None seem to be insurmountable to me,” said Mr. Cope.

If the company comes to town, one change that will occur quickly is that the building will change its name to the Island Pond Maple Factory.

Mr. Letourneau said Tuesday that, as an old family company in Quebec, Bernards Maple wants the community to be involved.  He told selectmen that the company wants to make sure that the residents of Meadow Street are not disturbed by the heightened traffic on their street.  And on Tuesday, he spoke of the need for community support for the project.

Presumably, that support will grow as jobs become available.  But as Ms. Gervais-Lamoureux noted, the potential for jobs will increase only if the factory is occupied.

contact Paul Lefebvre at paul@bartonchronicle.com

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Brooks sentenced to 18 months for embezzling

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by Chris Braithwaite

BURLINGTON — Kim Brooks will serve 18 months in federal prison for embezzling more than $160,000 from her former employer in Orleans.

The 48-year-old Brownington woman was dismissed from her job at Desmarais Equipment in the spring of 2011 after an audit of the farm equipment dealer’s books revealed significant discrepancies.

She has since been an active volunteer with the Orleans County Fair, where she served on the board of directors.

Indeed, the thousands of hours Ms. Brooks donated to the fair were cited by two people who spoke on her behalf at her sentencing hearing in U.S. District Court here Monday.

Her attorney, David Sleigh, used their remarks as the basis of a request for a “downward departure” from federal sentencing guidelines that would have reduced her prison sentence to five months.

But Judge William Sessions was unmoved.  His remarks suggested that the fact that Ms. Brooks is “obviously an extraordinarily intelligent person” who enjoyed her community’s respect made her crime all the more serious.

“How can someone who is so respected commit such a flagrant violation of trust?” the judge asked before he handed down the 18-month sentence.  He said he would request that the sentence be served at a federal prison camp in Danbury, Connecticut, and ordered Ms. Brooks to surrender herself there on October 8.

Ms. Brooks was first cited to appear in state court in early 2012 following a State Police investigation.  Her case moved to U.S. District Court after a federal grand jury issued a three-count indictment in October 2012.

Ms. Brooks pled guilty to one count after negotiating a plea agreement with federal prosecutors in late April this year.

Judge Sessions waived any fine, which could have been as high as $250,000.  But as part of the plea agreement she was ordered to forfeit $11,885 to the government in a “preliminary order of forfeiture” issued by the court on Friday.

According to a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s office, Ms. Brooks must pay a total of about $163,000 in restitution.  Judge Sessions ordered her Monday to give up 10 percent of her future gross income for that purpose.

That was one of several conditions of a three-year term of supervised release the judge added to her prison sentence.  He also ordered Ms. Brooks to avoid work that involved any fiduciary responsibility.

The judge told Ms. Brooks he had considered several factors before passing sentence.  None of them seemed to work out in her favor.

“What was most important in my assessment is the level of planning,” he said.  “This is a case in which money was taken over three years,” he noted.  “It was not some casual act.  That level of calculation is extremely serious.”

Judge Sessions noted that Ms. Brooks had been working with a small company for 15 years, and knew that her embezzlement would make it impossible for her co-workers to get raises or bonuses.

“That’s a pretty flagrant violation of a person’s level of trust,” the judge remarked.  “That you could go to work, knowing full well you have been stealing from them for years, is inconceivable to me,” he added.

Turning to deterrence, the judge said embezzlement cases have become so common in Vermont that “some have referred to it as an epidemic.”

“There needs to be a statement to the community that these violations of trust are treated seriously,” Judge Sessions said.  “There needs to be a clear understanding by people who are in charge of other people’s money that to steal it is a serious crime.”

The brothers whose business was the victim of the crime, Rene and Roger Desmarais, both had a chance to speak to the court Monday.

“We were in business for 49 years and had a lot of good help — people you trusted,” Roger Desmarais said.  “Apparently we had a silent partner we didn’t know anything about.”

He said the loss cut into the price the brothers got when they sold their business.  “We weren’t showing the profit we should have been,” he said.

He recalled the day an accountant “figured out something was wrong,” and confronted Ms. Brooks.

“She said she had made some mistakes in life.  She was as cool as could be,” Mr. Desmarais said.

Reading from a pre-sentence investigation that was not made public, Judge Sessions said that Rene Desmarais felt humiliated by the case, a feeling that was “fueled by her arrogant public behavior.”

After Ms. Brooks was caught, the judge asked Roger Desmarais, “was she acting in an arrogant way?”

“No,” Mr. Desmarais replied.  “Kim was being Kim.”

“We considered her a real friend,” Rene Desmarais said when it was his turn to talk.  He said the crime also affected 12 to 14 people who worked for the dealership.  They got no raises for four or five years, he said.  “At the end of the year there was no profit to distribute.”

The judge asked Rene Desmarais if Ms. Brooks was arrogant after her crime was revealed.

“If I was accused of doing what she did, there’s no way I would have flaunted myself,” Mr. Desmarais replied.  “She goes on as if nothing ever happened.”

Judge Sessions established the fact that Ms. Brooks hadn’t paid any of the money back since her crime was discovered in early 2011.

Ms. Brooks’ attorney, David Sleigh, took responsibility for that.  He routinely warned his clients against contacting their alleged victims before the criminal case was settled, he told the judge.

Two friends were in the courtroom to speak for Ms. Brooks.

Lori Royer said her friendship with the defendant went back to their high school days.  “She did a lot for the fair,” Ms. Royer said.  “She kept the harness racing alive and well.”

“She’s got a very kind heart,” Ms. Royer said of Ms. Brooks.  “She’s a very good person.”

Judge Sessions asked if the two had talked about the criminal case.

No, Ms. Royer replied.  “Rene’s my neighbor, Kim’s my friend, we just don’t talk about it.”

Randy Patenaude told the judge he had worked with Ms. Brooks at the fair, and that she had also cared for his mother, who suffered a serious stroke.

“Without her motivation, my mother would not be where she is now,” he said of Ms. Brooks’ care.

“Kim devoted thousands of hours to the Orleans County Fair,” Mr. Patenaude said, “not for any glorification or monetary gain.”

Mr. Sleigh did not argue that his client should not go to jail, but urged the court to shorten the term from the federal guideline of 18 to 24 months.

“Kim for years has given enormously to her community,” the attorney said.  “It is hard to overestimate the importance of the Orleans County Fair to the community.”

“Little of the wrongful taking wound up as a benefit to Kim,” Mr. Sleigh added.

The judge pursued that issue.  He noted that three checks involved in the crime had gone to her partner, for a total of close to $45,000.

“Where did that money go?” the judge demanded.

During a later exchange with Ms. Brooks, Judge Sessions said the three checks went to Harvey Cleveland, Ms. Brooks partner and, until he stepped down in July, president of the Orleans County Fair.

“What were they used for?” the judge asked.

“One, and a significant portion of another, was sent to Ohio to assist someone I knew,” Ms. Brooks replied.

According to the grand jury indictment, “$11,885 in proceeds from one of these unauthorized checks was used to purchase a used truck in Ohio.”

“One went to a young farmer who was trying to start up a business,” Ms. Brooks continued.  “At the time I anticipated it was coming back,” she said of the money.  “I found out that was not true.  I never received any of the money back.”

Then Ms. Brooks turned to face the Desmarais brothers and their wives.

“I’m sorry I betrayed your trust,” she told them.  “I’m sorry for losing your friendship.  I will do everything I can to pay you back.”

contact Chris Braithwaite at chris@bartonchronicle.com

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Photos and beer can trail lead to arson arrest

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State Police fire investigators have concluded that the fire that totaled all four of the Albany Fire Department's vehicles was deliberately set.   Pictured is smoke blackened engine number one, where the fire started.  Photo by Tena Starr

State Police fire investigators have concluded that the fire that totaled all four of the Albany Fire Department’s vehicles was deliberately set. Pictured is smoke blackened engine number one, where the fire started. Photo by Tena Starr

by Tena Starr

ALBANY  — An Albany firefighter, who allegedly told police he has a problem with fire and needs help, has been accused of trying to burn down his own department.

Elmer Joerg, 45, of Holland pled innocent last week in the Criminal Division of Orleans Superior Court to a count of second degree arson and another of reckless endangerment.  He was held on $250,000 bail.

The fire, which occurred at about 1 a.m. on August 11, ruined all of the Albany department’s vehicles and much of their equipment.  The department is back in business, though, due to the generosity of other communities that have donated everything from helmets to trucks.

Police affidavits say that a trail of Natural Light beer cans, as well as game cameras set up in the fire station, led investigators to Mr. Joerg.

The game cameras were set up because of an earlier gasoline theft.  Although they were damaged in the fire, the photos were eventually recovered and included several images of an individual inside the firehouse at the time of the fire.

When Albany Fire Chief Donald Peters looked at the pictures he told investigators he believed the man might, in fact, be one of his firefighters.  He identified the man as Elmer “Jim” Joerg, Lieutenant James Cruise of the State Police Fire Investigation Unit says in his affidavit.  Mr. Peters also had gone by the Joerg residence and noticed an ATV in the yard that matched the description of an ATV a neighbor saw leaving the scene of the fire, police say.

Last Tuesday Chief Peters scheduled a mandatory meeting for all fire department members, in part to regroup and familiarize themselves with their new equipment.  Also, a State Police fire investigator individually questioned firefighters, both past and present, in the hope of shedding some light on the fire.

Mr. Joerg was the only Albany Fire Department member who did not attend the meeting.  Investigators were told that Mr. Joerg had been taken to the hospital by ambulance the day before with an unknown illness and was in a coma.

Sergeant Jeremy Hill and Lieutenant Cruise went to Mr. Joerg’s home where Jacqueline Joerg said her husband was still in the hospital.  She indicated that she did not know the nature of his illness, but it could have been an overdose of some sort or a suicide attempt, she told police.

Mrs. Joerg told police her husband had been very upset that “someone could have started a fire at the station and destroyed all the equipment.”

Investigators found a number of Natural Light beer cans in a barrel on the Joergs’ porch and more on the ground in front of his car.  Later they saw a Natural Light can on the side of the road on the Hitchcock Hill Road in Albany and took it as evidence, noting the “born on” date was the same as that on the cans at Mr. Joerg’s house.

On another trip between the Joerg house and the fire station they noticed a second Natural Light can, again with the same “born on” date as those at the Joergs’ home.

On August 14, the day after the fire department meeting, police investigators were able to interview Mr. Joerg at North Country Hospital.  He initially denied being involved in setting any fire at the Albany fire station.

But when police explained to him that they had pictures, his beer cans, and that his ATV and jackets matched those witnesses saw, “He bowed his head and was nodding yes and finally agreed that it was him,” Lieutenant Cruise’s affidavit says.

Mr. Joerg allegedly told police he’d gone to the station on his ATV and used his firefighter’s access code to get into the back door of the station.  He’d forgotten to bring a lighter with him, so he used the kitchen stove to set some paper on fire, lit cardboard with that, and ultimately lit the cab of fire engine number one, he allegedly told police.

Mr. Joerg said he then fled the scene and later returned as an Albany firefighter.

Monica Grondin told State Police Fire Investigator Detective Sergeant David Sutton she saw someone inside the firehouse about 1:15 that morning.  After leaving the building, he started his ATV and drove along the shoulder of Main Street past her home with the headlights off, she said.

In the course of the first interview with investigators, Mr. Joerg allegedly told them “he set the fire because he had a problem with fire and thinks about setting fires often, and has urges to set fires that he is usually able to control.

“He also advised that he is a danger because he set this fire and admitted that he would not have minded dying in this fire,” Lieutenant Cruise says in his affidavit.

Police interviewed Mr. Joerg a second time, and he went into more detail, saying he’d also tried to set fire to the rescue vehicle.

He also allegedly said that he’d panicked and pulled down the smoke alarm in the building.

Mr. Joerg said he’d set about seven fires over the past ten years but no one had been injured in them, police said.

His criminal record includes charges in Vermont, New Jersey, and Rhode Island.

He has been charged with giving false information to a police officer and possession of marijuana in Vermont.

In the late 1980s, in New Jersey, he was convicted of sexual assault, arson and larceny.  A charge of making a terrorist threat was reduced to disorderly conduct.

In Rhode Island in the 1990s Mr. Joerg pled no contest to assault with a deadly weapon and breaking and entering.

If released from jail, Mr. Joerg is ordered by the court to have no contact with any member of the Albany Fire Department and to stay at last 300 feet away from the fire station.

A competency and sanity evaluation has been ordered.

contact Tena Starr at tenas@bartonchronicle.com

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In Barton: Chronicle reporter watches car get stolen

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by Bethany M. Dunbar

BARTON — A veteran reporter for the Chronicle had his car stolen from the office as he was working inside on Tuesday.  But about three hours later, the vehicle was found in Orleans, and the person who took it was caught.

About 3:30 p.m., Assistant Editor Natalie Hormilla Gordon arrived for her evening shift job and noticed a young man in a hooded sweatshirt sitting in Paul Lefebvre’s car, holding the steering wheel.

She did not recognize him, thought it was odd, and when she went inside, she told Mr. Lefebvre, who went outside to take a look.  By then the car was being driven from the scene, badly.  It’s a Honda CRV with standard shift, and the driver was stalling as he made his getaway, down Water Street and north on Route 5, as Mr. Lefebvre watched.

Thinking he might be able to head it off on foot, Mr. Lefebvre cut through the schoolyard at a run to try to get his car back.

The attempt proved unfruitful, so he came back to the office where he called the State Police to report the theft.  Chronicle staffers also decided to post the car’s theft on Facebook.  Trooper Erika Liss came to the Chronicle office and interviewed Mr. Lefebvre and Ms. Gordon, who had got a good look at the robber.  She described him as a white male in his twenties, average size, with blue eyes, wearing a Navy blue hoodie.

“He had his hands on the wheel, looking kind of intense,” she said.  “He was just sitting there, and I thought, maybe he knows Paul.”

Mr. Lefebvre said his first thought was, “How am I going to get home tonight?”

His car had been in an accident about a week and a half before, and the back window was smashed out and covered with a green tarp and duct tape.  It also had problems with the door, created in the accident.

Mr. Lefebvre said it has not been a very lucky car for him, as he has had to put in a new motor, water pump, and clutch.

“I think that car has a hex on it,” he said.

But Mr. Lefebvre’s luck was apparently turning a few hours later, when people started calling the office to say they had seen the car in Orleans Village.  They were aware of the theft due to the Facebook post.  Mr. Lefebvre called the police back to say the car had been spotted in Orleans, and Lieutenant Kirk Cooper went to the village, spotted the car and found out the driver was in the bathroom at the Sunoco station.  The driver, who said he is from Enosburg and had no wallet with him, was cited after he came out of the bathroom.

Mr. Lefebvre had his car back, and nothing seemed to be missing from the vehicle.

contact Bethany M. Dunbar at bethany@bartonchronicle.com

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Five area schools have new principals

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by Richard Creaser

Five area schools will have new principals to start the 2013-2014 school year.  Brighton Elementary has perhaps the most radical change in store as Denise Russell not only takes over as principal but is joined by ten other new hires.

In interviews over the past few weeks, the newly hired principals each touched on part of a recurring theme — community.  The small size of the towns creates not only the school’s biggest weakness but also its greatest strength.  Small towns sometimes have fewer resources, but they also often have a greater sense of community and often enjoy more involvement by parents and townspeople than larger towns and cities do.

Two of these administrators will be familiar to some of the students.  Robert Midi returns to Newport City Elementary to serve as interim principal for the coming school year.  Mr. Midi had previously spent 18 years as the school’s chief administrator.  In Albany Todd Rivver, a former teacher there, returns to provide leadership following the retirement of Jill Chaffee.

In Brighton, Deborah Ahrens returns after a one-year absence to teach grades one and two, Chris Lawson arrives to teach middle school math, Tammy Wise to teach middle school language arts, Beth Rodondi to teach middle school science, Carolyn Mader will teach music, and Kevin Smith joins the team as a special educator.  Linda Beaumier, Brittany Gonyaw and Dana Jacobs arrive as paraeducators and O. Ray Willey is the school’s newest bus driver.

Eric Erwin, former assistant principal at Newport City Elementary, takes the helm at Lakeview Union School in Greensboro.  Kelli Dean, former assistant principal at Barton Academy and Graded School, takes leadership of Holland Elementary.

Despite the many changes in store for the coming school year, what remains the same is that all five principals are fully committed to the task of providing a quality education for the region’s children.

“Creating the best possible learning environment is always the bottom line,” Mr. Midi said.  “That’s always the goal.”

Creating that perfect environment starts with a school’s administration, Mr. Erwin said.  Not only must the principal oversee the educational needs of his students but also address the development of his staff and serve to educate the public as well, he said.

“To a large extent the principal is a public servant,” Mr. Erwin said.  “I need to be able to educate the public about the operation of the school, the needs of the school and explain how gaining the resources necessary to meet those needs will affect the education we can provide.  I feel that if I give people the information they need to make well-informed decisions they are better positioned to make the best choices for their children.”

Determining what is best for a community’s children is not an easy task.  Opening lines of communication is the first step to assessing and understanding the kind of school a community wants to have.  In many rural communities, the school occupies a critical place in the fabric of that town.

“It’s about creating an environment that invites involvement,” Ms. Russell said.  “I want people to be able to come to me and let me know what they think is important.”

Getting people involved in their school involves demonstrating an understanding of the nature of a community.  To that end, Ms. Dean feels she can relate to the people of Holland, having grown up in the Northeast Kingdom and lived in many similar communities.

“I can understand the role the school has in small communities because I’ve lived in it, I’ve worked in it myself,” Ms. Dean said.  “I’m sensitive to the needs of our small schools.”

That basic understanding will be important as Ms. Dean leads Holland Elementary in the next year.  Voters defeated the school budget at Town Meeting primarily out of a frustration over a lack of connection to the school.  Ms. Dean has vowed to build and repair those bridges that divide the school community from the rest of the town.

“I can’t do it alone,” she said.  “Luckily I have a school board that is also working to make those connections.  Holland School is the center of this community, and people certainly want to know that their tax dollars are being used well.”

Making those connections is part of the joy of being the administrator in a small school.  Those connections inevitably begin with the students in your care, Mr. Midi said.

“Even in a community the size of Newport you can make connections to the wider community through the students,” he said.  “The children have aunts, uncles, grandparents, a whole host of people they are related to.  You can reach those people providing the kind of educational environment that gets the kids excited and talking about what happened in school today.  The word gets out pretty quickly.”

Mr. Erwin is particularly grateful for the amount of support he has already received from the community.  Greensboro and Stannard, the two communities served by Lakeview Union, have proven particularly interested in their school community, he said.

“But I can’t take their interest for granted.  If I want to maintain that relationship, I need to get out there, meet people and keep them interested in what’s happening here.”

The close knit nature of small towns is conducive to building relationships, Mr. Rivver agreed.  Daily interactions both at and outside of the school provide an opportunity to keep community members engaged.

“Part of it is enthusiasm,” Mr. Rivver said.  “People can tell when you are passionate about something and they respond to that.  We’re not building iPods or engines, we’re educating children, and what can be more important than that?”

While a small community can facilitate engagement, small communities also have a small tax base which creates a challenge for administrators.  The budgeting process is one area where community involvement is particularly important.

“When you have limited resources you want to make sure that you make the best possible use of those resources,” Ms. Russell said.  “We need to make education relevant to the present and future needs of our children and our community.  Sometimes we are trying to teach them skills we don’t even know exist yet.  It’s about preparing them to be effective learners.”

Technology is one of those ways to expand learning opportunities and, if done well, can do so with limited effect on the bottom line.

“Island Pond is somewhat isolated because of its geography, but it doesn’t have to be,” Ms. Russell said.  “If we use technology well, we can provide our students with the same kinds of opportunities afforded students in New York City.”

How to implement that technology is one area where understanding a community’s values is particularly important, Mr. Erwin said.  To some people schools are seen as a protective force against outside influences.

“Technology has exposed our children to a lot of influences, a lot of information that can be both good and bad,” Mr. Erwin said.  “Our job is to help them make the distinction between the two.  It’s the duty of schools to help students use and understand the technology.”

Ms. Dean is in a unique position among all of the new principals.  Her position is defined as 80 percent principal and 20 percent fifth- and sixth-grade social studies teacher.  While that distinction may be reflected in the division of her salary, it becomes less obvious in practice.

“I am going to devote the time necessary to make sure that I accomplish both roles 100 percent,” Ms. Dean said.  “I think it will be a good combination, allowing me to keep fingers in all of the pies.  I love teaching and I think that it will actually be re-energizing to get the opportunity to interact with the kids in the classroom.”

Ms. Dean also hopes that by creating a bond with students outside of the principal’s office, it will help her better understand the needs of students and staff.  Building relationships outside of the office is also something that Ms. Russell hopes to accomplish in Brighton.

“Maybe I’ll be more approachable with a violin in hand,” Ms. Russell, a classically trained violinist, said.  “Sometimes you can’t always be the principal.  Sometimes you need to step outside that role and show a different side.”

Showing that other side can be rewarding on many levels, Mr. Rivver said.  Sometimes building those relationships can be as easy as getting to know the students by name or greeting them as they come off the school bus in the morning.

“Principals are perceived as the disciplinarian,” Mr. Rivver said.  “When you build those relationships, establish those connections early on, discipline becomes less of an issue.”

Addressing disciplinary issues is invariably founded on establishing respect, Mr. Erwin said.  Schools are perfectly positioned to encourage respectful actions and dialogue, he said.

“We’re working very hard to teach rules for acceptable behavior,” Mr. Erwin said.  “But it is a challenge because when you look at adult role models, politicians in particular, you don’t see that.  You don’t see them talking it out in a respectful way.”

Mr. Midi offered some words of wisdom to his new administrative colleagues.  In order to earn the trust and the respect of their community, they must be willing to clearly establish what they stand for and exhibit a willingness to follow it through.

“People trust you for your word and that’s very important in a small community,” Mr. Midi said.  “If people know what to expect, know what you stand for, even if people don’t always agree with it, trust is formed.  Don’t just say it, live it.”

Mr. Midi also encourages members of the community to remain involved and engaged with their local school.  While the principal is there to listen to your concerns, the school board is also able to voice those concerns on your behalf.

“We need to hear those voices, especially during the planning and budgeting process,” Ms. Dean agreed.  “It’s hard to know what everyone values.  It can’t just be my vision, it has to be a vision based on what we all agree is best for the kids.”

Lakeview Union School will have a special meet and greet with Mr. Erwin at the school on August 23 at 3 p.m.  Brighton Elementary will have a back-to-school picnic for students and parents at the school on August 26 at 5:30 p.m.

contact Richard Creaser at nek_scribbler@hotmail.com

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