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Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Quiros, Stenger, Face Federal Charges in EB-5 Scandal

Posted By and on Wed, May 22, 2019 at 12:09 PM

Bill Stenger, left, arriving at federal court with attorney Brooks McArthur - LUKE AWTRY
  • Luke Awtry
  • Bill Stenger, left, arriving at federal court with attorney Brooks McArthur
Two men who were once heralded as the economic saviors of the Northeast Kingdom appeared in federal court in Burlington Wednesday to answer criminal charges that they perpetrated what may be the largest financial fraud in Vermont history.

Ariel Quiros, 63, and Bill Stenger, 70, stand accused of misleading foreign investors and EB-5 program regulators in order to embezzle millions meant for a biotechnology business in Newport that they proposed but never seriously pursued. Two of their business partners face indictments as well.

The men were charged with conspiracy to commit fraud, wire fraud and making false statements. Quiros, who federal authorities painted as the ringleader, was also charged with money laundering in connection with a $6 million payment to the Internal Revenue Service and the purchase of a $46,000 Jeep Rubicon.

The EB-5 projects brought in hundreds of millions of dollars from investors, much of which was used not to create jobs in the Northeast Kingdom, but to enrich the four men, authorities allege. In a civil lawsuit brought in 2016, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission described the projects as "Ponzi-like."

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Friday, May 17, 2019

Bennington Rep Has an Outstanding Arrest Warrant in Illinois

Posted By on Fri, May 17, 2019 at 7:02 PM

A Vermont lawmaker's outstanding arrest warrant in Illinois was brought to light Friday by his former political opponent, who discovered it while defending his own felony charge.

Rep. Chris Bates (D-Bennington) was convicted of aggravated DUI in 2012, according to McHenry County, Ill., court records obtained by Seven Days. The charge stemmed from a 2010 arrest.

It was his third DUI, making it a felony.

Bates pleaded guilty and was sentenced to a lighter form of probation called conditional discharge. But the state sought to revoke the sentence in October 2013 because Bates missed a court date and failed to pay all fees. A judge issued a warrant for Bates' arrest that remains active, though Vermont is not among the states from which he may be extradited.

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Thursday, May 9, 2019

Brian Folks Convicted in First-Ever Sex Trafficking Trial in Vermont

Posted By on Thu, May 9, 2019 at 11:25 PM

  • Courtesy Of Burlington Police Department
  • Brian Folks
A jury found Brian Folks guilty Thursday evening of coercing numerous women addicted to heroin to prostitute themselves as part of a drug and sex ring he operated out of Burlington for several years.

The case, heard in U.S. District Court in Burlington, was the first involving sex trafficking to go before a jury in Vermont. Judge William Sessions presided over the two-week trial.

Kate O'Neill wrote about the allegations against Folks in April as part of Hooked, her ongoing Seven Days series on Vermont's opioid epidemic.

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Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Bills Would Allow Legal Action in Older Sexual Abuse Cases

Posted By on Wed, May 8, 2019 at 8:29 PM

Vermont's House Judiciary Committee - TAYLOR DOBBS
  • Taylor Dobbs
  • Vermont's House Judiciary Committee
Victims of sexual assault or exploitation would get expanded opportunity to hold perpetrators accountable in court under a pair of bills making their way through the Vermont legislature.

H. 511 would extend or remove the statute of limitations on multiple sex crimes and other serious offenses, giving prosecutors more time to bring charges.

The other bill, H. 330, concerns civil claims against institutions alleged to have failed to adequately protect children. Current law allows cases to be brought within six years of the underlying allegations or of their disclosure by victims. The proposal would allow victims to sue regardless of how many years have passed.

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Friday, May 3, 2019

High THC Cannabis Found at Farm Linked to Champlain Valley Dispensary

Posted By on Fri, May 3, 2019 at 2:28 PM

A sample of a cannabis plant that was found on a farm by staff from the Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets in October 2018. - AGENCY OF AGRICULTURE, FOOD AND MARKETS
  • Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets
  • A sample of a cannabis plant that was found on a farm by staff from the Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets in October 2018.
Updated at 5:28 p.m.

The medical marijuana business Champlain Valley Dispensary allegedly outsourced the growth of approximately 300 cannabis plants to a farm that wasn't licensed to grow pot, which grew them to maturity before the dispensary returned to harvest the crop.

A lab test conducted last fall by the Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets found that a piece of plant debris recovered at Pete’s Greens vegetable farm in Craftsbury contained 21 percent THC, the psychoactive compound found in marijuana.

The farm had a license to grow hemp plants, according to an agency document, but the legal limit for THC in Vermont-grown hemp is 0.3 percent. Plants with a higher concentration of THC are considered marijuana and are subject to strict growing regulations that require a permit, locked facilities and other security measures.

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Violence Caught on Camera Leads to Brutality Claims Against Burlington Cops

Posted By on Fri, May 3, 2019 at 8:36 AM

Burlington police at the scene of the incident involving the Meli brothers - STILL FROM BODYCAM FOOTAGE
  • Still from bodycam footage
  • Burlington police at the scene of the incident involving the Meli brothers
Burlington Police Department bodycam footage from two incidents appears to show cops knocking unconscious two black men suspected of starting fights downtown. Attorneys filed excessive force lawsuits Thursday against the officers involved.

Burlington police conducted internal investigations of both incidents using out-of-state experts, which resulted in suspension without pay for one of the arresting officers, Chief Brandon del Pozo said. His department also apprised the Chittenden County State's Attorney's office and the city police commission, he said.

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Friday, April 26, 2019

Burlington Council to Question Mayor, Police Chief About Death Investigation

Posted By on Fri, Apr 26, 2019 at 6:30 PM

Police Chief Brandon del Pozo and Mayor Miro Weinberger - FILE: TERRI HALLENBECK
  • Police Chief Brandon del Pozo and Mayor Miro Weinberger
Burlington city councilors want answers about why city officials tried to influence the findings of an autopsy for a man who died after a confrontation with a police officer last month.

Mayor Miro Weinberger and Burlington Police Chief Brandon del Pozo will appear before the council on Monday. The agenda item is listed as an “expected executive session,” but council President Kurt Wright (R-Ward 4) said some discussion may be public.

Councilor Ali Dieng (D/P-Ward 7) requested Weinberger and del Pozo provide a “detailed explanation” about why officials questioned and attempted to stifle chief medical examiner Steven Shapiro’s classification of Douglas Kilburn’s death as a homicide. Kilburn, 54, died March 14, three days after being punched by Officer Cory Campbell.

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Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Burlington Officials Sought to Change 'Homicide' Finding in Police Case

Posted By on Wed, Apr 17, 2019 at 8:52 PM

Dr. Steven Shapiro, Vermont's chief medical examiner - FILE/MATTHEW THORSEN
  • File/Matthew Thorsen
  • Dr. Steven Shapiro, Vermont's chief medical examiner
Burlington city officials sought to influence how the state's chief medical examiner classified a Burlington man's death after learning that the autopsy would link it to punches thrown by a city cop.

State police announced last week that the medical examiner had deemed Douglas Kilburn's death a homicide. Earlier that morning, Burlington Police Chief Brandon del Pozo had contacted the state's top health official with "concerns" about the quality of the medical examiner's work and suggested that his conclusion might be "amended," emails obtained through Vermont's public records law show.

"I have conferred with the mayor and we are in agreement in requesting clarification of these findings before they are made public," del Pozo wrote to Vermont Health Commissioner Mark Levine.

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Tuesday, April 16, 2019

One Dead After Shootout in Burlington's Old North End

Posted By on Tue, Apr 16, 2019 at 7:37 PM

Police interview witnesses on North Willard Street. - DEREK BROUWER
  • Derek Brouwer
  • Police interview witnesses on North Willard Street.
A 23-year-old man was killed and another man was injured during a Tuesday afternoon shootout in Burlington's Old North End.

The two men shot each other in the driveway of a North Willard Street home, police said in a press release. Benzel Hampton was shot in the head and died. The other man, whom Burlington Police Chief Brandon del Pozo did not identify, was also shot but is expected to survive.

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Friday, March 29, 2019

Harassing Emails to City Councilor Are Protected Speech, Judge Rules

Posted By on Fri, Mar 29, 2019 at 3:01 PM

Christopher Hayden at Vermont Superior Court in Burlington - GLENN RUSSELL
  • Glenn Russell
  • Christopher Hayden at Vermont Superior Court in Burlington
Updated at 5:42 p.m.

Chittenden Superior Court Judge Kevin Griffin this week threw out a hate crime charge against Christopher Hayden, writing that harassing a public official is protected by the First Amendment.

Griffin dismissed a count of disturbing the peace by phone that stemmed from numerous racist messages Hayden sent to City Councilor Ali Dieng's government email address. 

The state has filed seven charges against Hayden since October, including hate crimes for his targeting of Dieng, Mayor Miro Weinberger and Police Chief Brandon del Pozo.

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