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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In Barton: Shooting strikes the heart of two communities

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Carlton Bickford of Glover pled innocent to first-degree murder in the shooting death on Friday of Rachel Coburn of Barton.  Photo by Joseph Gresser

Carlton Bickford of Glover pled innocent to first-degree murder in the shooting death on Friday of Rachel Coburn of Barton. Photo by Joseph Gresser

by Tena Starr

NEWPORT — Carlton Bickford, 76, a retired electrician and well-liked longtime Glover resident, shambled into court in shackles Monday and pled innocent to first-degree murder in the shooting death on Friday of 72-year-old Rachel Coburn of Barton, who Mr. Bickford told police was his “girlfriend.”

Mr. Bickford, who has health and hearing problems, could not initially hear the court proceedings, and arrangements were made for a hearing device before the arraignment continued.

He will be held without bail, although public defender Jill Jourdan argued that he has a wife at home, children in the community, no prior criminal record and should be released on strict conditions and a $100,000 bond with $10,000 down.

The evidence of guilt is great, Judge Howard VanBenthuysen said as he ordered Mr. Bickford to return to prison in St. Johnsbury, where he will be held pending resolution of a case that has flatly shocked all those who know the accused and the victim.

What Mr. Bickford told police about what happened on Friday, the day of the shooting, is sometimes confused.  More than once he allegedly said he was worried that Ms. Coburn wanted to end their relationship, and if he couldn’t have her no one would.  He also said he feared Ms. Coburn would turn him in to police for threatening her, or for attempted murder, although he did not explain why she would accuse him of the latter.

He said there had never been violence between the two until that day.

Ms. Coburn, 72, worked in the cafeteria at Lake Region Union High School for about ten years.  Before that, she and her late husband, Lewis, owned Barton Cleaners until 2002 when it closed.  She’s described as a happy, hard-working, young-at-heart person.

“She was a really warm and friendly woman,” said Nicole Libby, Lake Region’s food service manager.  “She always had that smile on her face.  She was looking to try to make people happy.  She was a very thorough worker, and she had a wonderful, close relationship with a lot of the students.  A lot of the kids are really devastated by this.  She had a way of connecting with kids.

“Everybody is just floored,” Ms. Libby said.  “I had a great time working with her.  It just isn’t real.  She was one of those happy people; she just wanted to live life.”

Mr. Bickford turned himself in to the Lyndonville Police Department Friday afternoon, allegedly saying he had just killed his girlfriend with a shotgun following an argument.  He said he had then tried to kill himself, but only managed to graze his shoulder.  He allegedly told police they would find Ms. Coburn’s body in her house, along with two bullet holes in the ceiling from his unsuccessful attempt to shoot himself.

Both the accused and the victim have an extensive network of friends and family that is intertwined, and that has contributed to the grief and bafflement that follows the tragedy.

“It’s totally unbelievable,” said Butch Currier of Glover, who has been friends with Mr. Bickford since the 1960s.  “I’m just dumfounded.  I don’t know why, and everybody else is wracking their brain trying to think of some reason why.  I even woke up the next morning and wondered if I’d had a bad dream.  I didn’t believe it.”

Mr. Currier said he has sugared with Mr. Bickford for 20 years.  “He did all my boiling for me.  We’ve done a lot together, fished, rabbit hunted, owned property together.  I just can’t say anything bad about him.  He was always funny, always doing something to make you laugh.”

The killing was doubly painful for Mr. Currier.  Rachel Coburn was his aunt.

“Again, you can’t get anybody to say anything bad about Rachel,” Mr. Currier said.  “She was happy go lucky.  She had four kids, loved her kids, her grandkids.”

State Police Detective Sergeant David Petersen’s affidavit describes a confused and distraught man who had been crying when he showed up at the Lyndonville Police Department Friday afternoon.  It also describes an extramarital relationship that started about four years ago when Mr. Bickford was doing some electrical work for Ms. Coburn.

The relationship, which Mr. Bickford said was nonsexual and “the least of what he wanted” when it started, was apparently on the rocks and went very wrong earlier on Friday.

Shortly after Mr. Bickford showed up at the Lyndonville Police Department, Officer Brandon Thrailkill notified State Police.  Mr. Bickford allegedly told Detective Petersen that he would find Ms. Coburn’s body in her West Street home in the hallway near the cellar stairs.

“…he started to tear up and said it was the dumbest thing he had ever done in his life,” the detective’s affidavit says.

Mr. Bickford said he’d had an argument Friday morning with Ms. Coburn, with whom he’d had a romantic relationship that his wife and son were aware of.  He said the two mostly drank coffee and played cribbage.  His wife had talked to Ms. Coburn about the trouble the relationship was causing.

Rachel Coburn.

Rachel Coburn.

He’d gone to Ms. Coburn’s about 8:30 Friday morning with his usual coffee and newspaper.  An argument had ensued, but he said he thought he could work things out.  A couple of hours later he left, thinking he could “think it over and keep things clear in his mind,” court records say.

When police asked if the argument was about ending the relationship, Mr. Bickford was initially vague, saying he did not think so, but perhaps Ms. Coburn had.  Later, he indicated that his distress was due, in part, to her wish to stop seeing him, the affidavit says.

He returned later that morning with a 12 gauge double barreled shotgun, which he told police he’d taken from his son’s house so his wife would not see him taking a gun from their own house.  When police interviewed Mr. Bickford’s wife, Mary Jane, she said that the guns at their house were locked up, and she had hidden the key.

Mr. Bickford apparently made no bones about the threat of violence when he returned to Ms. Coburn’s house that morning.  He said he loaded the gun in the driveway and put it on the stove while the two continued to talk.

“When asked if he made any threats to use the gun, C. Bickford remarked something to the effect of ‘I don’t know; I probably did to the point of if I couldn’t have her nobody’s ever,’” Detective Petersen’s affidavit says.

Mr. Bickford also told police he believed Ms. Coburn was going to turn him in for attempted murder and suggested he had no alternative but to kill her, Detective Petersen’s affidavit says.

In the midst of the couple’s second conversation that morning, the phone rang.  Mr. Bickford told Ms. Coburn not to answer, but when she made a dash for it, “that’s when I shot her,” he allegedly told police.

He did not want Ms. Coburn to answer the phone because “she was going to seek help,” court records say.

“She tried to get by me once to get out the door and I wouldn’t let her and then when the phone rung I just told her don’t answer the phone,” Mr. Bickford allegedly told police.  “Visit with me.  And she made one wild dash to go to the phone.  I guess that was it.”

“No, I didn’t intend to kill her,” he said, according to the affidavit.  “But when she started threatening me with having me arrested and all of that, I don’t know, I didn’t have much choice.”

He told police that when he returned with the gun, “I didn’t know just what was going to happen, but I wanted to be in control.”

He allegedly told Detective Petersen that he had “nothing to gain from shooting Coburn and should have walked away from the whole setup.”

Mr. Bickford said he believed he shot Ms. Coburn in the abdomen and chest area from a distance of ten or 15 feet, and he did not check on her after shooting her because he knew she was dead, Detective Petersen’s affidavit says.

A babysitter at a neighbor’s house that day told police she heard two loud bangs, but did not see anything or anyone.  She said it sounded like someone was moving furniture.

Mr. Bickford told police that, at first, he had no intention of using the shotgun, but said that Ms. Coburn “ran her mouth about me using her the way I had been using her, and she was probably correct.”  He said he believed Ms. Coburn would find a way to “put him away for threatening her.”

“The lady’s dead.  I shot her and I’m guilty as hell,” he told Detective Petersen, according to the affidavit.

In a later interview that evening, Mr. Bickford told police Ms. Coburn had told him he could “get out.”

“He further noted, upon returning to Coburn’s house he told Coburn if I couldn’t have her nobody was going to,” Detective Petersen’s affidavit says.

“I was 100 percent wrong,” he told police.

Mr. Bickford frequently expressed remorse as he talked to police.  At one point, he said he would do anything to bring Ms. Coburn back, “but it was too late.”

“C. Bickford remarked he had more problems now than he did before,” Detective Petersen’s affidavit says.  It goes on to say that Mr. Bickford said he “wished he could go back and change the past.”

After the shooting, Mr. Bickford told police, he drove around Orleans and Caledonia counties for a while then went to the village office in Lyndonville, which he believed was the police station.  There he was given directions to the police station, where he turned himself in.

The murder has pretty much consumed the thoughts of many who knew the two.

“When I saw it on Facebook, I thought it was a hoax,” said Sue Squires of Glover.  “My mouth started getting wide open.  I’ve known Carlton all my life.  I don’t understand it.  He’d help you out in any way he could.”

“When you think of Carlton, you think of Carlton as a joker and with a smile on his face,” said Sharon Bickford.  “It’s such a tragedy.  You just sit here in a whirlwind trying to make something of it.

“I’ve known Rachel all my life,” Mrs. Bickford said.  “She was a nice lady, very friendly, cordial, always had a smile on her face, very personable.  She just loved life.  For everybody that knew both of them it’s an awful shock, for the whole community.”

Family and friends are simply trying to process the tragedy, Mrs. Bickford said.  “Never in a dog’s age, never, that’s not him,” she said about the charge against Mr. Bickford.

“What to hell happened?” Mr. Currier said.  “Chances are I’ll never see Carlton again.  Without a doubt I won’t.”

He said he wonders if the multiple medications Mr. Bickford took for a variety of health problems may have affected him.

Conviction on a first-degree murder charge carries a sentence of 35 years to life.

Mr. Bickford was denied the services of a public defender.  Judge VanBenthuysen said that because of his assets and income, he would have to retain an attorney himself.

contact Tena Starr at tenas@bartonchronicle.com

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In Westfield: Police have suspect in homicide

Peter Lavalette.

Peter Lavalette.

by Paul Lefebvre 

WESTFIELD — A movie set carpenter for major films and a part-time resident here is believed to be the victim of a recent homicide in this town of roughly 500 people.

State Police are not releasing the name of the deceased, but neighbors say he is George Kouzoujian, who has lived off and on in town for the last two or three years, and reportedly kept an apartment in New York City.

Next-door neighbor Randall Brenner said in an interview that a State Trooper came to his house around 5:30 Tuesday morning to tell him “George was deceased.”

However, when Mr. Brenner raised a question about safety, the trooper told him security was not a concern.

Police are releasing few details except to say that a suspect, Peter Lavalette, 49, of Derby is being held in custody after he was stopped for a traffic violation in Indiana shortly after midnight Tuesday.

According to a State Police press release, a call from the Jasper County Sheriff’s Department alerted Vermont authorities at 12:49 Tuesday morning that they had arrested Mr. Lavalette after he allegedly “indicated he was involved in a homicide in Vermont.”

The release goes on to say that he is being held on a “felony warrant for homicide, pending extradition back to Vermont.”

The state’s chief medical examiner was expected to perform an autopsy Tuesday to determine the cause of death.

Mr. Kouzoujian lived at the end of Fuller Road, a dirt road, in a small, two-story blue house that at one o’clock Tuesdayafternoon appeared to be an active crime scene with a mobile State Police laboratory parked in the yard, its swinging back doors open to the house.

Two State Police cruisers were parked nearby along with a silver crew club pickup.  A trooper standing in the road just beyond the neighbor’s driveway stopped traffic from proceeding any further.  Four or more people in white forensic-type clothing were seen walking on the grounds.

Although police are withholding the deceased’s identity until the autopsy is completed and the next-of-kin have been contacted, neighbors and store clerks in town expressed shock and surprise over the death of the man that most knew by the name of George.

“He was very friendly but not close,” said Mary Brenner, who along with her husband, Randy, moved from Washington D.C. to Westfield 16 years ago.

“That’s why we like it back here, to have peace of mind,” she said, while sitting on the back porch with her husband watching the ongoing investigation up the road.

She said Mr. Kouzoujian had spent most of the winter away and had only returned to Westfield in May.

“He said he had been working his butt off so he could have his summer off,” she recalled, as she continued to praise him as a good neighbor and someone who was always busy with projects around the house.

At the Westfield General Store, Mr. Kouzoujian was evidently a familiar and friendly face.

“We’re still in shock,” said the store owner, who declined to give her name.

“He was a quirky little fellow, you know what I mean?” offered Sue Dunne, a clerk at the store.

On the Internet, Mr. Kouzoujian is listed as a union carpenter in the New York Production Guide.  According to a listing posted in the New York Times, he was a carpenter in several films and a construction foreman in the movie Crocodile Dundee.

Ms. Dunne noted that he used to come into the store and show off the carpenter work he had been doing on movie sets, including a recent job he had done for Russell Crowe’s new movie, Noah.

Mr. Kouzoujian had recently been in the store, and Ms. Dunne was still struggling to come to terms with his tragic and untimely demise.

“Things don’t happen like this around here,” she said, before catching herself falling into a cliché.  “Isn’t that what they always say?”

People Tuesday characterized Mr. Kouzoujian as friendly and a nice guy.  Ms. Brenner recalled how he had bought a rototiller from her, although he didn’t really need it.  And then there was the time he fastened a relay to his house that enabled the Brenners to get a better Internet connection.

Still, Ms. Brenner saw her neighbor as something of a loner.  She said he “didn’t look to be the marrying type,” and that he seldom brought friends to his house.

There was one man, though, who was often seen in the company of Mr. Kouzoujian.  Around town Peter Lavalette was considered Mr. Kouzoujian’s handyman.  He reportedly did odds and ends for the deceased, and Ms. Dunne recalled seeing the two of them together a few times.

So did Andy Hass, who runs the hardware store in town.  While he agreed with the other folks in town — in describing Mr. Kouzoujian as a nice guy — he saw another side of him as well.

“He could look like a half-eaten sandwich,” he said, describing a time when Mr. Kouzoujian came into the store, leaving Mr. Lavalette waiting in a parked vehicle.

Apparently, those were the roles each assumed when Mr. Kouzoujian came into town to shop.  Unless called into the hardware store for advice, Mr. Lavalette stayed in the car while Mr. Kouzoujian carried on his business inside.

Ms. Brenner said Mr. Lavalette worked for her neighbor as a laborer, and that he was “in and out all the time.”

Mr. Hass described Mr. Kouzoujian as a “super friendly” customer who was easy to work with in sizing up a job.

He said that when he heard about the death Tuesday morning, it caught him by surprise.  He only knew him by his first name, as Mr. Kouzoujian didn’t keep a slip, preferring instead to pay cash.

contact Paul Lefebvre at paul@bartonchronicle.com

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O’Hagan case: Fletcher sentenced to 15 years, eight months

Mary Pat O’Hagan was a dedicated community volunteer, mother and grandmother, and organizer of the Sheffield Field Day each Labor Day.  Photo courtesy of the O’Hagan family

Mary Pat O’Hagan was a dedicated community volunteer, mother and grandmother, and organizer of the Sheffield Field Day each Labor Day. Photo courtesy of the O’Hagan family

by Bethany M. Dunbar

RUTLAND — A suspect in the 2010 murder of Mary Pat O’Hagan of Sheffield was sentenced in U.S. District Court hereTuesday to 15 years and eight months in prison for producing child pornography.  Once Richard Fletcher, 26, of Sheffield, serves his jail time he will face a lifetime of supervised release under a long list of strict conditions.

Chief Judge Christina Reiss ruled that she had been convinced by a “preponderance of the evidence” — after two days of testimony — that Mr. Fletcher was, in fact, involved in cleaning up the crime scene at Ms. O’Hagan’s home after she was murdered almost three years ago, and that he offered the use of his truck to move the body.  Soon after that, he had the truck crushed.

The child pornography and murder cases are completely unrelated, but the sentencing for the first one was overshadowed in the two-day sentencing hearing by testimony about the murder.

Federal prosecutors made an effort to take over where state prosecutors left off in punishing someone for the murder of the beloved grandmother in Sheffield.

The state prosecutor, Assistant Attorney General Cindy Maguire, has said the state does not have enough evidence to prove Mr. Fletcher’s involvement beyond a reasonable doubt — the higher standard that would be needed to charge and convict him for homicide in state court.

Assistant U.S. Attorney William Darrow had asked the federal judge to consider increasing the sentencing guidelines for child porn, which calls for a 15-year minimum sentence.  The charge was that he met a 12-year-old girl from Utah online and convinced her to send him pornographic photos of herself from her cell phone.

Federal sentencing rules allow the judges to consider all sorts of information about the defendant’s past, including criminal activity for which the person has not been convicted.

Mr. Darrow asked the judge to add five years to Mr. Fletcher’s minimum 15-year sentence — based on his alleged involvement in Ms. O’Hagan’s murder.

It was an effort that failed.  While the judge ruled that she was convinced of Mr. Fletcher’s involvement, she was not convinced that the sentencing guidelines should be increased due to that factor.

Instead, she sentenced him to the highest possible sentence within the guideline, which was 15 years and eight months. That sentence will not start until Mr. Fletcher has served the rest of a state sentence for unrelated crimes.  That sentence runs until February of 2016.

Many of the O’Hagan family members sat through two days of sentencing in hopes that, in their minds, justice would be done.  To that end, they said after Tuesday’s hearing, they felt “outraged and appalled.”

“Obviously we think our mother’s worth a lot more than eight months,” said her son Matt O’Hagan.

One of the judge’s decisions was that the O’Hagan family would not be allowed to testify as victims.

“It’s not that it’s not important,” Judge Reiss said.  “It would abuse my discretion.”

The O’Hagans said they were disappointed but would not give up, and they would continue to follow the court process.  Two other men prosecutors believe were involved in Ms. O’Hagan’s face unrelated charges.

The O’Hagans also made a plea in front of two local television stations and three newspapers for anyone in the Sheffield area who knows anything that hasn’t been presented yet to come forward.  If no more evidence is found by September, the three-year statute of limitations will run out on the crime of being an accessory after the fact, such as cleaning up the crime scene.

They also suggested Vermont law should be changed to increase the statute of limitations, or to allow a charge of felony homicide.  That charge could come into play if a person, or a group of people, commit a crime and a killing occurs as part of it. Anyone in the group could face the charge, even if only one of the people pulled the trigger on the gun.

Two other people who prosecutors believe were involved in the death of Ms. O’Hagan are in court for other matters.  On Wednesday, June 12, Michael Norrie, 22, of Sheffield is scheduled for a change of plea for being an unlawful user of controlled substances and knowingly possessing a .22 caliber revolver, knowing or having reason to believe it was stolen.

Vermont State Police did multiple interviews with Mr. Fletcher, Mr. Norrie, and Mr. Norrie’s brother Keith Baird, 31, who is charged in state court with 48 counts of violating an abuse prevention order and being an habitual offender.

Police officers in front of the O’Hagan home just after she was reported missing in September of 2010.  Photo by Joseph Gresser

Police officers in front of the O’Hagan home just after she was reported missing in September of 2010. Photo by Joseph Gresser

The court heard tapes of police interviews with Mr. Fletcher and Mr. Norrie, including confessions.  A corrections officer, Katina Farnsworth, testified that Mr. Fletcher had told her he’d been involved in the O’Hagan death and wanted to get it off his chest.

Also testifying was an inmate who had been Mr. Fletcher’s cellmate.  The inmate, Aaron Smith, said he had talked to both Mr. Norrie and Mr. Fletcher about the O’Hagan murder.

Mr. Smith, who is awaiting sentencing on a charge of receiving child pornography, testified that he was hoping his cooperation in this case would help him get a lighter sentence in his own case.

“Mr. Smith has a lot on the line here, but since I’m the sentencing judge, I’m aware of that,” said Chief Judge Reiss.

She said she would take his motivation into consideration.

Mr. Smith went through a detailed description of Mr. Fletcher’s confession to him about what had happened.

“He was concerned that Norrie was going to spill his guts,” said Mr. Smith.  “Even though he was extremely proud that there was no evidence.”

As outlined by Mr. Smith, Ms. O’Hagan was accidentally killed by Mr. Norrie, who shot her while the other two were robbing her house.  Mr. Fletcher cleaned up the crime scene, and the others used his truck to get rid of her body.

Mr. Fletcher’s attorney, Karen Shingler, cross-examined Mr. Smith about the charges against him, including describing some of the images and videos police had found on his computer.

Once testimony was done, the judge asked Mr. Fletcher if he had anything he’d like to say.

“I just want to say I’m sorry for my crimes your honor,” he said.

The O’Hagans said they hope the memory of their mother will shine through in all of this, a woman who was a pillar of the community.

“There’s a lot of people just like her,” Terry O’Hagan said, noting that the reason his mother even knew Mr. Fletcher was because she had helped him with an adult education class.

“She was helping Richard Fletcher get his GED,” he said.

He said the community of Sheffield and the surrounding towns have been so good to the family, he is glad at least that the names of the perpetrators are now known at least.  It will mean even if they don’t spend time in jail for this, people will know who they are, he said.

“They know what to look out for,” he said.

Matt O’Hagan thanked the Vermont State Police for their two years of efforts and for the help of the press.

“You left us to our privacy when we asked it, and we appreciate that,” he said.

contact Bethany M. Dunbar at bethany@bartonchronicle.com

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O’Hagan case: Police testify about homicide confessions

Mary Pat O’Hagan was a dedicated community volunteer, mother and grandmother, and organizer of the Sheffield Field Day each Labor Day.  Photo courtesy of the O’Hagan family

Mary Pat O’Hagan was a dedicated community volunteer, mother and grandmother, and organizer of the Sheffield Field Day each Labor Day. Photo courtesy of the O’Hagan family

by Bethany M. Dunbar

copyright the Chronicle June 5, 2013
RUTLAND — Vermont Assistant Attorney General Cindy Maguire told a federal judge last week she does not have enough evidence, at this time, to prosecute Richard Fletcher in Vermont District Court for killing Mary Pat O’Hagan more than two years ago.

Yet much of the rest of the day was spent in a “condensed homicide case,” as the federal prosecutor put it, in United States District Court here.

On its face, the sentencing hearing was meant to determine how much time Mr. Fletcher should spend in jail for creating, receiving, and possessing child pornography.  But prosecutors argued that he should serve more time for that offense if he was also involved in an unrelated killing.

In a complicated twist of the rules of sentencing in two different court systems, Chief Judge Christina Reiss of the U.S. District Court told attorneys in court on Wednesday, May 29, that she would listen to evidence of the homicide.

“The law is fairly firm,” she said, that she can consider this evidence.  “I am less convinced as to how it can be used.”

Ms. O’Hagan was a beloved grandmother and community volunteer who lived in Sheffield.  She was 78 years old when she was killed.  She was missing for a month before her body was found in the woods in the next town.

Mr. Fletcher is 26 years old and lives in Sheffield.

Assistant U.S. Attorney William Darrow has yet to spell out a recommended sentence to the court, but he has asked the judge to consider a longer jail term based on criminal activity Mr. Fletcher was likely involved in — even though he has never been charged for it or convicted of it.

In a lengthy sentencing memorandum filed May 17, Mr. Darrow spells out the evidence to suggest that Mr. Fletcher and Michael Norrie, 22, also of Sheffield both had a part in the death and disposal of the body of Ms. O’Hagan on September 10, 2010.  The memo says Mr. Fletcher knew details of the crime scene and the scene where the body was found that were not known by anyone but police and the killers.  It also includes Mr. Fletcher’s confession, although the descriptions of the events of the night Ms. O’Hagan died vary considerably from interview to interview.

The sentencing memo says that including information about the homicide is legal in federal sentencing, where the U.S. Attorney must only have a preponderance of the evidence to talk about the past behavior of a defendant.  To get a homicide conviction in state court, the prosecutors would need to meet a higher standard of proof — guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Sentencing guidelines in federal district court are not mandatory.  But in order for a judge to increase a sentence beyond the guidelines, the judge must do a guideline analysis.

In Mr. Fletcher’s defense, Attorney Karen Shingler said even if the guidelines are not increased, her client is looking at 21 years in jail.  That is because Mr. Fletcher is already serving time for other unrelated charges, so he cannot get credit for time served for those until February 2016.  That means a 15-year sentence would keep him in jail until 2031.

The judge decided to divide the sentencing hearing into two parts.  The first was about the child pornography case.  The second part of the sentencing — testimony about the murder of Pat O’Hagan — started on May 29 but was not finished.  The judge set June 11 to hear the rest of the testimony.

Child pornography

On November 17, 2011, a grand jury passed a seven-count indictment for child pornography.  Charges include production, receipt and possession of child pornography.  Mr. Darrow says Mr. Fletcher found a 12-year-old girl who lived in Utah online while he was at home on furlough from other convictions.  He told her he loved her and would be her boyfriend, and convinced her to take pornographic pictures of herself on her cell phone to send to him.  He told her that he would kill himself if she didn’t do it. He sent her photos of himself with a gun to his own head, according to court records.

Ms. Shingler described Mr. Fletcher, 24 years old at the time, as “a very immature kid.”

Mr. Darrow said Mr. Fletcher was not a kid, as he had already been convicted of aggravated assault for threatening to kill a man with a shotgun, and another charge of assault for threatening a woman with a knife.  He was on furlough when he committed this crime, which, the attorney said, is why the sentences must be served after ones he is already serving — not at the same time.

Mr. Fletcher’s 12-year-old victim is now 15, and she flew to Vermont from Utah to testify.  A slight, soft-spoken teenager, she walked to the podium and read a prepared statement.  She said she met “Richie” online when she was in the middle of a hard time in her own life.  Her mother was quite sick, and her father had his own issues.  Mr. Fletcher gave her attention she needed at the time.

“He acted like he cared about me and made me feel important,” she said.  “He would listen when I needed to talk about all the things that were happening in my life.  The hardest thing now is coming to grips with the fact it wasn’t a sincere relationship. The relationship alienated me from my parents at a time when I really needed to be close to them.”

She said he called her all the time when she was in school and made it hard to focus, and he called her at night and kept her awake all night talking to him.  “The worst part was the pressure he put on me to send him pictures of myself,” she said.  “I was scared and overwhelmed.  I was only 12 at the time, so this was definitely not what I should have been dealing with.  I didn’t do any of the things a normal kid my age was doing.”

“Today is the first time I have ever seen Richie in person.  Part of me still wants to believe he is the person I got to know online, but the bigger part of me knows he is not.  It makes me both sad and very angry.  I hope he never has the chance to hurt anyone else the way he hurt me and my family.”

Ms. Shingler argued that the case is a run-of-the-mill child pornography case and much smaller than many.

“This is a production case, small p,” she said.  Mr. Fletcher received six images, did not share them with anyone, did not obtain money for them or put them online, she said.

Judge Reiss dismissed one of the seven counts in the case, saying that a person cannot be convicted of both receiving and possessing the same piece of pornography.  Mr. Darrow has filed a motion to reconsider, saying the receipt and possession charges stemmed from different times.  The possession count was for owning the pornography more than a week after Mr. Fletcher received it.

Police officers in front of the O’Hagan home just after she was reported missing in September of 2010.  Photo by Joseph Gresser

Police officers in front of the O’Hagan home just after she was reported missing in September of 2010. Photo by Joseph Gresser

Homicide

Ms. O’Hagan’s sons, a nephew, and others were on hand for the sentencing hearing.  At the end of the long court day, they came out to give a brief statement to the press.

“We were hoping that it would have been resolved today,” said Matt O’Hagan.  “It’s been two and a half years for us.  So another couple of weeks, we can wait.  This is a new process to us.”

He added, “We’re hoping for a positive outcome.”

For much of the afternoon the family watched as police investigators took the stand.  They then listened and watched as tapes of police interviews were played in their entirety, a prerogative Ms. Shingler asked for in order to put Mr. Fletcher’s confessions into context — and possibly to raise issues of whether or not the confessions were legal.

“We’re not saying that the state of Vermont will never bring a murder charge against Mr. Fletcher,” said Mr. Darrow.  “We’re saying it is not likely,” given the current state of the evidence.

“Would you then ask me to resentence Mr. Fletcher?” asked the judge.  She asked if Mr. Darrow wanted a split sentence — one for child pornography with a specified amount of extra time tacked on for homicide.

“I would have to carve off a portion of the sentence,” she said.

Mr. Darrow said he did not expect a two-part sentence with a certain amount of time set for the homicide.  Should Mr. Fletcher ever get convicted of homicide, the sentencing judge could consider running the homicide sentence concurrently with the existing sentence, Mr. Darrow said.  (In other words, the sentences could be served at the same time.)

Lieutenant J.P. Sinclair of the State Police was the first to take the stand.  He is the forensic liaison with the crime lab and was in charge of the team at the crime scene.  He described the crime scenes at Ms. O’Hagan’s home and an old class-four road in Wheelock where the body was found later.

Ms. O’Hagan was shot in the head with a small-caliber gun.

Photos of the scenes were displayed on television monitors around the courtroom, but a photo of O’Hagan’s body was not shown during the hearing May 29.

Ms. Shingler argued that it was not necessary.

“It proves nothing, supports nothing that is in dispute,” she said.  She said the prejudicial impact of showing it outweighs any advantage.  Mr. Darrow said the condition of the body is an issue in the case, as are items at the scene where she was found. The judge suggested the attorneys could stipulate that the body is, indeed, Ms. O’Hagan.

State Police Detective Sergeant Jason Letourneau testified about interviews with Mr. Fletcher, in which he described details of the scenes that were not known publically.  In the first interview, Mr. Fletcher said he’d heard things about the crime scene and that he knew rumors were going around town about him and Michael Norrie.

“She was shot, killed, and supposedly raped.  That’s what I heard,” Mr. Fletcher told police.  “I heard there was a shot in the ceiling.”

Police had released no details of the scene, and in fact, there was a shot in the ceiling and Ms. O’Hagan had been shot.  Her body was left with no pants or underpants on, and it was not buried.

Mr. Fletcher was interviewed three times, and during one of the interviews, police seem to badger him and say they know he is not telling the truth.  In a second one, police spend a half an hour before the interview asking him for advice fixing a clutch in a vehicle, even asking him to look at a photo of the problem on the officer’s cell phone.

“I think it’s important for the judge to understand the kind of professional tactics that were used,” said Ms. Shingler.

“I don’t think it was your idea,” says one of the officers interviewing Mr. Fletcher in the second interview.  “Did you try to help her?  Was she already dead?”

“I got sucked into it,” says Mr. Fletcher at one point.  “I’m not wearing a wire,” he says later in response to a suggestion by the officers that he could help them convict Mr. Norrie.

A video interview with Mr. Norrie shows him weeping and almost incoherent.

In the first interview, Mr. Fletcher says he has heard things but doesn’t admit being on the scene.  In later interviews he says he helped Mr. Norrie dispose of the body.  He says Mr. Norrie shot Ms. O’Hagan accidentally during a robbery.

“When I left, she was standing there alive,” he says at one point.  Then he says he heard two gunshots.

To put the statements in perspective, the officer says he interviewed about 800 people who said they had information about the case, and no one mentioned the gunshot in the ceiling except Mr. Fletcher.

Police took him to the O’Hagan house, asking him to show them how he found the body and the crime scene.  He said he saw an end table tipped over (which was the same end table that had been actually tipped over) and described where Ms. O’Hagan’s body was.

The judge asked to hear directly from the state prosecutor, who told Judge Reiss that the state had very little physical and forensic evidence:  no seminal fluid, no blood, and no firearms directly linked to the case.

Ms. Shingler said she wanted the judge to hear the entire tapes of some of the interviews because she believes there are issues about whether or not they are admissible.

“The April 11 interview which we have yet to hear… has some clear Miranda violations,” she said.  Mr. Darrow said the fourth and fifth amendments would not be applicable in this case.

Testimony will continue on June 11.

contact Bethany M. Dunbar at bethany@bartonchronicle.com

For more free articles from the Chronicle like this one, see our Editor’s Picks pages.  For all the Chronicle’s stories, pick up a print copy or subscribe, either for print or digital editions.

 

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Former Orleans County prosecutor in jail in Arizona

Gary Karpin. Photo from Maricopa County Attorney's office video.

by Tena Starr

copyright the Chronicle June 20, 2012

 

A former Orleans County prosecutor is spending 15 years in prison in Arizona for bilking clients by pretending he could help them with divorce cases.  Despite the fact that he’d been disbarred in Vermont, he presented himself as qualified to perform services that he either couldn’t, or didn’t.  He’s believed to have earned at least $1-million through fraudulent behavior and to have had hundreds of victims.

According to the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office in Phoenix, Arizona, Gary Karpin exhibited a romantic interest in some of his clients and wooed them with the appearance of professionalism as well as his own personal charm.  He presented himself as a lawyer or mediator and charged absurd prices for services he often could not legally perform.

In one case, he charged a woman $87,000 for a relatively simple divorce that should have cost no more than $2,000.  The woman testified at his trial that she’d thought he was legitimately able to provide legal services and that he had her best interests at heart.

Most recently, the state has located some of Mr. Karpin’s assets, and he has been ordered to pay his victims back for their losses.

Mr. Karpin, who was an assistant state’s attorney in Orleans County under Phil White, was disbarred here for unethical behavior in the early 1990s.

According to the state’s attorney’s office in Arizona, he was found guilty in 2008 on 24 counts of theft and accepting fees and failing to perform promised legal services.  The case dragged on, largely due to his own attempts to delay it, but he was eventually sentenced to 15 years in prison and ordered to pay nearly $240,000 in restitution to 25 victims, although he apparently had many more.

“After being disbarred in Vermont, Karpin relocated to the Phoenix area in 1996 and presented himself as an attorney specializing in divorce, despite not being licensed to practice law in Arizona,” Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery said in a press release last week.

“He attracted clients with ads promising ‘divorce with dignity’ at affordable rates.  Over a nine-year period, Karpin is believed to have victimized more than 300 people by charging sometimes exorbitant fees for legal services that were poorly, and frequently never, performed.”

Mr. Karpin tried to transfer all his assets to avoid paying restitution to victims, but the Asset Recovery Bureau of the Maricopa State’s Attorney’s Office found $197,000 that it plans to distribute among his victims, Mr. Montgomery’s office said.

“He did a number of things to create the impression that he was a lawyer, or licensed to provide legal services,” Jerry Cobb, public information officer for the Maricopa Attorney’s Office, said in an interview.

For instance, a number of credentials were framed and hung on the walls of his tidy office.  “He also used letterhead stationery that had a legal look and had the name of a firm,” Mr. Cobb said.  “He also used the name of a firm, or a couple, with which he was not actually associated.  He did a number of things like that.

“This was a big case here in terms of the number of victims.  There were something like 40 named victims, but we have statements from more than 300 people who claimed he defrauded them.  The news last week was that the victims are now finally receiving restitution.”

Mr. Karpin had repeatedly been told by the bar association to “cease and desist,” Mr. Cobb said.  However, there was no mechanism to actually make him.

“He’s a very personable guy, very professional in his demeanor,” Mr. Cobb said.  “He’s very good at getting people’s confidence. He was victimizing people when they were at their most vulnerable. There were at least 30 victims with whom he had some sort of romantic connection.  Either he dated them, or he made amorous advances.”

Although Mr. Karpin has not been accused of any kind of sexual abuse, he did take advantage of his female victims’ vulnerability, Mr. Cobb said.

He also took advantage of the fact that people don’t usually talk about what they’re paying for a lawyer, and many people clearly did not know that they were being charged exorbitant fees.

“He was a real nasty case,” Mr. Cobb said.  “It was a combination of his art of deception and his ability to gain people’s confidence when they were in need of help and not terribly knowledgeable.  He exploited that confidential relationship.  He took a personal interest in many of his clients, and you become more and more trusting and less and less willing to suspect someone.”

The woman who was charged $87,000 ended up getting a note from a friend who suggested she Google Mr. Karpin, saying it appeared he had been disbarred.  She did and was shocked by his history.

Mr. Cobb said that after the case became public hundreds of people called, equally shocked to learn that Mr. Karpin was not, in fact, a lawyer.  He said that, as far as his office has been able to calculate, Mr. Karpin earned “in the neighborhood of $1-million in ill gotten gains.”

The young Vermont Law School graduate launched his career in 1987, practicing in Maine, then in Vermont, where he worked briefly as an assistant prosecutor before setting up private practice.

In 1991, following a series of complaints and questionable incidents, Vermont’s Professional Conduct Board strongly recommended that he be disbarred.

“The panel is convinced that the depth and breadth of respondent’s unethical conduct is so significant and wide-ranging that he is a threat to the public, the profession, the courts, and his clients,” the three-member panel wrote in its report.  “The only factors present in mitigation are his absence of a prior disciplinary record and his inexperience in the practice of law.  Since, however, the violations span nearly the entire time he has been a member of the Vermont bar, the absence of prior violations is of little relevance.

“On the other hand, almost every aggravating factor articulated in the American Bar Association Standards is present here:  dishonest and selfish motives, a pattern of misconduct, multiple offenses, submission of false evidence, refusal to acknowledge the wrongful nature of his conduct….”

The Vermont cases included a Jay couple who suffered damages because of a malfunctioning furnace and hot water heater.  The couple was paid by both the furnace installer and the insurance company, but Mr. Karpin told them not to worry about it because the second payment “covered a different loss.”  When the insurance company realized what had happened, Mr. Karpin tried to blame his clients for the double payment, the Professional Conduct Board’s report said.

In another case, he went ahead with a settlement with a car dealer that his client didn’t want to take after the lawyer had dragged the matter out for six months with no action.  He was also accused of lying to his client.

Mr. White complained that soon after Mr. Karpin left his office, in private practice he took on a client who he had prosecuted in his earlier role, a conflict of interest and violation of ethics rules.

It’s unclear if Mr. Karpin’s behavior in Vermont was the result of incompetence, laziness, deception, or all three.

In Arizona, however, there’s far less doubt.

He displayed framed certificates showing he’d been accepted to practice law in Vermont and Maine.  He called himself a divorce mediator who prepared legal documents and promised to resolve disputes before the couple went to court.

A weekly newspaper in Arizona, the Phoenix New Times, wrote about Mr. Karpin’s activities early on and posted an e-mail from him saying that since he’d been advertising his business with the paper in the hope of promoting it, he expected no adverse publicity.

However, he was well known to the prosecutor’s office, Mr. Cobb said.  That office made a video (posted on the Chronicle’s website www.bartonchronicle.com) about him.  In it, one of his victims testifies how she felt duped.  Also, a prosecutor says Mr. Karpin lived a fine lifestyle with a Corvette convertible as well as a $750,000 home that was nearly paid off.

contact Tena Starr at tena@bartonchronicle.com

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