BURLINGTON — A former Vermont National Guard supply sergeant in Rutland pleaded not guilty in U.S. District Court on Wednesday to three counts of embezzling taxpayer property and three related counts of mail fraud at his old job.
Ammon Yule, 42, of Chittenden, obtained a large quantity of new military supplies, including parkas, duffel bags and boots, and put them up for sale on eBay between March 2017 and March 2018, according to the federal indictment.
Yule said in federal court that he was “in between jobs.” He said he worked full time at the Rutland Armory until March 15, and he is expected to begin a new job as a machinist at General Electric in Rutland on April 22.
The U.S. Marshals Service arrested Yule at his residence Wednesday and transported him to Burlington for his arraignment, Supervisory Deputy Marshal John Curtis said.
The three mail charges said Yule had the U.S. Postal Service deliver various stolen items to the armory at 2143 Post Road. The items included 40 duffel bags on March 24, 2017, along with 48 parkas on April 21, 2017, and another 48 parkas and 66 pairs of boots on March 6, it stated.
The other three charges maintain Yule “knowingly embezzled, stole, purloined and converted to his own use” the same items on identical dates, the indictment said.
Federal Magistrate John M. Conroy noted during the brief hearing the indictment requests that Yule forfeit all proceeds traceable to the commission of the accused crimes.
Attempts to reach Capt. Mikel Arcovitch, state public affairs officer for the Vermont National Guard, were unsuccessful.
According to the indictment, Yule developed a scheme at his job that allowed him to order large quantities of Army uniform items from the Logistics Operations Center in Lexington, Kentucky. The indictment noted he had the property shipped to his attention at the Rutland armory.
Yule sold most of the stolen gear on eBay, where he maintained an account advertising “new, official U.S. government-issue uniform items” for sale, the six-page indictment stated.
The indictment said Yule tried to conceal the scheme by claiming he was using the armory location as the business address for personal online shopping, and by claiming some items were for the Vermont Army National Guard or the U.S. Army Reserve.
Conroy agreed to release Yule on conditions as proposed by the Pretrial Services Office, including a ban on possessing firearms. Yule said he has some in his home and Conroy gave him 48 hours to have somebody take temporary possession while the case is pending.
Assistant Federal Public Defender David McColgin asked for 90 days to investigate the case, review the government evidence and prepare any pre-trial motions. Conroy agreed, noting the massive amount of paperwork to review.
Conroy said the case will be assigned to Senior Judge William K. Sessions III in Burlington.
Conroy said Yule might be ordered to help pay for part of his defense.
A federal grand jury in Rutland indicted Yule on March 27, but it was ordered sealed until he could be arrested. It was opened after his arrest Wednesday.
If convicted, Yule faces up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 on each count of mail fraud. He also faces up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine on each count of stealing government property.
U.S. Attorney Christina Nolan saluted the investigative work of the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command. She said her office will help vigilantly guard taxpayer property.
“In particular, we will bring consequences to those who would steal precious resources from our armed services,” Nolan said in a prepared statement.
On Tuesday, longtime Act 250 Coordinator William Burke called for changes to exemptions for slate quarries and supported appellate authority for an Environmental Review Board.
“I’d like to let my testimony to speak for itself,” Burke said in a Wednesday interview before offering no additional comment.
Burke explained that state Rep. Amy Sheldon, D-East Middlebury, chairwoman of the Commission on Act 250, requested he share what 26 years as an Act 250 coordinator have been like to help plan for the land-use law’s next 50 years. Burke is the coordinator for Districts 1 and 8, which encompass Rutland and Bennington counties, and testified Tuesday before the House Committee on Natural Resources, Fish and Wildlife.
When the Environmental Board was replaced with the Natural Resources Board and an Environmental Court was created in 2005, it presented a conflict of interest, Burke said in his testimony.
“The ethical, if not the legal, restrictions on direct communications between the Governor’s office and the Act 250 program were undermined,” Burke said.
The appellate body for Act 250 cases is forbidden from “ex-parte communications,” or communication regarding anything specific to an ongoing case and its outcome, according to the Administrative Procedures Act.
This act puts up what legal counsel has deemed a “Chinese Wall,” Burke said, which came down when appeals were sent to the Environmental Court instead of the NRB, as was the case from 2015 to 2017 when Burke was observing the Mountain Top Inn’s plans to expand in Chittenden.
“I received a phone call from the Chair of the Board (Sen. Diane Snelling), wherein she informed me that Jaye Pershing Johnson, the Governor’s counsel, had directed her to settle all matters associated with Mountain Top,” Burke’s testimony reads. “And therefore she, and the NRB, would not be supporting my jurisdictional opinion should it be issued and appealed to the E-Court. The Chair went on to add, and I quote: ‘I could lose my job over this.’”
While the NRB is a party to Act 250 appeals, Burke said, the board did not participate when Burke’s jurisdictional opinion was sent to the Environmental Court, and he was recently informed that the NRB would not be participating in front of the Supreme Court regarding the case.
“For the NRB to decline to participate in a fundamental and wide-reaching jurisdictional issue begs for further explanation and I feel obligated to bring it to the Committee’s attention,” Burke said.
Ethan LaTour, assistant communications director for Gov. Phil Scott’s office, said Johnson made a judgment call after reviewing the case.
“She felt like the jurisdictional opinion was outside the scope,” LaTour said. “Jaye provided legal analysis — the E-Court agreed with Jaye’s interpretation that it was overreach.”
“Restoring an Environmental Review Board’s appellate function and rebuilding the ‘Chinese Wall’ between the Governor’s office and the NRB would serve to restore and to protect the integrity of the Act 250 process, and I urge you to do so,” Burke wrote.
Burke also said he was barred by then-NRB Executive Director Lou Borie from participating in a case regarding Haystack Resort in Wilmington, on the grounds that he was not the District 2 coordinator, at least not in public.
“It was evident on its face, but left unspoken, that my assignment in this case was to act as a ghost writer,” Burke said. “I immediately explained to Mr. Borie that I found myself unable to work under these restrictions and that the Board would have to find someone else.”
Several weeks later, Burke said he received a letter of reprimand for his conduct, which Borie and Snelling called “unprofessional and inappropriate.”
Burke testified that he understood that Snelling and others confirmed that she met with the person applying for the Act 250 permit, and that the special request was made to expedite a decision on behalf of the applicant.
Efforts made to contact Snelling were unsuccessful Wednesday.
Borie said he had no comment on any part of Burke’s testimony. He testified before the Commission on Act 250 just before Burke did on Tuesday.
Originally, it was Burke’s task to develop the slate quarry exemption from Act 250 in 1995, which he did, including documentation of the history and physical location of every quarry hole.
“The proposed registration was deemed unduly burdensome by the industry, and a pro-forma registration was substituted,” Burke wrote.
Burke wrote out 118 jurisdictional opinions that covered several hundreds of quarry holes. A single exemption can cover multiple quarry holes in one tract, a level of exemption that no other extricative businesses in Vermont is privy to.
“The fundamental problem with the status quo is that it dooms the slate belt and the citizens who reside in or near it to a nearly lawless environment,” Burke said. “The problem rests not with the responsible operators — whom you have heard from — but the potential for the next 50 years and beyond that literally anyone else — including rogue operators or ‘cowboys’ will be free to reopen any of those 400 holes at any time in the future.”
“I’m thankful that Bill Burke has the integrity to do the right thing,” said Pawlet resident Kim Gaschel, who moved to Vermont with her family in 2017. “But the revelations are also devastating because what does that mean for people in our situation? People who come to Vermont because they feel Vermont has strong values only to discover those ‘values’ go out the window when special interests need a favor.”
Burke suggested the formation of a committee of slate quarry operators and citizens to develop stipulated permit conditions and processes for when a problem arises.
Every operating quarry would file an application and agree to the terms and conditions, and if no hearing was needed in a 15-day time span, the quarry would be open and free to operate, while opening all old quarries would each be subject to the Act 250 process.
“It’s not a perfect solution,” Burke said. “But it would go a long way to restore a sense of fair play to the citizens of Western Rutland County.”
With a yet another solar company proposing a net metering project for the town, the Select Board will refer the projects to its Energy Committee for consideration.
Ralph Meima, director of project development at Green Lantern Solar, a Waterbury company, outlined a proposal to the Select Board on Tuesday, having already had some contact with the Energy Committee.
Meima said he’d like to build a 150kw array on land owned by the town. It would be over a capped landfill, near Northwood Park and the transfer station.
“It offers savings, it puts the town in the position of being both the landlord and also an off-taker, so it makes money two different ways,” he said. “On top of that, there’s some taxes for the town and the school.”
He said he was looking around the area recently and noticed it has access to three-phase power, which would allow for a 500kw array to be built, if the board so desired. He said the town would stand to save more money in this case, and it would allow for other off-takers to be involved.
Meima said his company has put arrays on many landfills. Doing so requires additional permitting, however, which can add between $8,000 and $12,000 to the cost.
According to a letter Meima had sent to the board, the project could save the town $3,800 annually over the course of 20 years, plus an annual lease of $3,500.
Selectman J.P. Faignant said the board has been leaning toward projects that are low-risk and that wouldn’t end up with the town owning the project.
“We wouldn’t be able to get voter approval before some of the deadlines expire, so even if we wanted to, I don’t think we’d be able to take the ownership route,” he said.
A number of solar incentive programs will change after 2019. Among them is a federal solar tax credit, set to decrease from 30 percent, plus the rates Green Mountain Power, the state’s largest utility, offers for solar net metering projects are scheduled to further decline as well.
The board agreed by consensus to refer the matter to its Energy Committee, which will meet within the next few days. Selectman Joe Denardo, who sits on that committee, said yet another solar company has solicited the town for a net-metering project, making a total of four.
The last company to come before the board with a proposal was Same Sun Solar, based in Rutland City. Phil Allen, the company’s co-owner, said under his proposal for a 150kw array the town could save 10 percent a year on its electric bills over a 25-year period. His initial pitch had the town owning the array at the end of the contract period, but the board showed little interest in that aspect of the deal.
Allen told the board that with many solar incentives winding down, 2019 might be considered the “last, best” year for solar net metering, however it would still be worthwhile in the coming years all the same.
Prior to Allen, Tom Garden, of Triland Partners, asked if the board would make the town an off-taker in already permitted solar projects to be built at the Thomas Dairy farm. Garden said the town’s initial electric savings would be modest, $1,600 in the first year, but would rise substantially over time.
“I thought, what if the text could be used as a way to express ourselves as a community where we are?”
Director Meg Bouchard, discussing her approach to Thornton Wilder’s 1938 drama “Our Town,” opening Friday at the Old Tinmouth Firehouse. — A7
Fair Haven’s popular Kinder Way Café is set to serve one more cup of coffee for the road. A2
Rutland Regional Medical Center is set to break ground Monday on a new 2-story building dubbed the Thomas W. Huebner Medical Office Building. A3
April 5 & 6
Wizard of Oz
Based on the original children’s story by L. Frank Baum and the 1939 film. All proceeds go toward the PHS Theater Department for the production of future shows. $5/$8, 6 p.m. Friday, 1 p.m. Saturday at Proctor Jr./Sr. High School, 4 Park St., Proctor, email@example.com, 459-3353.