Business owner pleads guilty to procuring prostitutes
By Patrick McArdle
STAFF WRITER | April 30,2013
Patrick McArdle / Staff Photo
Thomas Lyons, center, and his attorney, David Silver, leave the Bennington state office building on Monday with an unidentified man.
Lyons, owner of the Bennington Subaru dealership, pleaded guilty on Monday to four misdemeanor charges of prohibited acts for soliciting prostitution.
BENNINGTON — The owner of Bennington Subaru pleaded guilty Monday to four misdemeanor counts, admitting that he used a fake name on a social networking site to persuade women to perform sexual acts with him in return for money.
Thomas Lyons, 53, of Bennington, pleaded guilty in Bennington criminal court to charges of prohibited acts for procuring prostitutes. Under a plea agreement, Lyons will was sentenced to 18 to 48 months in prison but all of that time was suspended and Lyons will spend four years on probation.
Christina Rainville, chief deputy state’s attorney for Bennington County, said that early in the investigation, law enforcement officers thought they might have discovered a “prostitution ring” run from the Facebook site of a man named Jason Balsh.
“After extensive forensic investigation of computers and Facebook, we’ve determined that there was no prostitution ring. There was simply Tom Lyons who had created a false identity on Facebook,” she said.
According to Rainville, “Balsh” had more than 240 “friends” on Facebook and 22,000 pages of correspondence between “Balsh” and the girls, many of them teenagers.
In an affidavit, Detective Anthony Silvestro, of the Bennington Police Department, said the case dated back to Sept. 23, 2012, when he learned that “Jason Balsh” was “pimping out girls.” Silvestro said he met with an unidentified woman who said that Balsh had arranged for her to meet a man called “Owen,” with whom she performed sexual acts for money.
Silvestro said “Owen” was later determined to be Lyons.
After obtaining information from Facebook officials, Silvestro said he found a pattern. “Balsh” would ask women if they used illegal drugs and then suggest he knew a way for them to make money. “Balsh” would also ask women to provide him with their photographs.
Through the Internet protocol number, police were able to trace the Facebook account to Bennington Subaru.
Lyons’ work and home computers were seized on Jan. 21. According to Silvestro, Lyons declined to answer questions or give a statement, but told police he “knew this was coming.”
Police identified two other women with whom Lyons, using the “Balsh” identity, communicated. He was charged with arranging one sexual encounter each with two of the women and two sexual encounters with another woman. The women were not identified but all were older than 18.
Silvestro said there was no evidence Lyons had ever tried to set up a sexual encounter between the women and anyone but himself.
Rainville said the state believed Lyons’ case was different than other involving prostitution because “these women were turned into prostitutes” by Lyons.
David Silver, who represented Lyons, pointed out that Lyons had performed a great deal of community service for Bennington and had accepted responsibility early in the investigation and on Monday by pleading guilty. Silver said Lyons had not profited financially from the events which led to the charges.
“No punishment that Mr. Lyons receives for this could be as devastating than the public airing of these factual allegations, rumors and speculation that have been engendered by the press coverage and the mean gossip that has been all around town. ... As a result of his admissions today, this will no doubt continue,” he said.
Lyons apologized to his family and “the people that I hurt.”
“I never thought that I would hurt anybody like this. For that, I sincerely apologize,” he said.
After the hearing, Bennington County State’s Attorney Erica Marthage said she thought the case demonstrated that “justice is blind” in Bennington County and crimes committed by anyone, regardless of their reputation or income would be investigated equally.