BENNINGTON — A man whose harassment of an African-American state representative caused her to drop out of the election last year was arraigned Thursday on charges of possessing large-capacity ammunition magazines, a charge for which, if convicted, he could be sentenced to up to two years in jail.
Max B. Misch, 36, of Bennington, pleaded not guilty in Bennington criminal court on Thursday to two misdemeanor counts of possession of the devices. Each charge is punishable by up to one year in jail.
Misch has spoken openly with the media about the campaign of harassment and intimidation directed toward Kiah Morris, who had been a member of the Vermont House of Representatives, and described himself as a “troll.” He said it had been “fun” for him, but when asked if he wanted to comment on Thursday, Misch walked by without replying.
He was also ordered not to have contact with Kiah Morris, who had been a member of the Vermont House of Representatives, or her husband, James Lawton.
Misch was arrested by the Vermont State Police and his prosecution is being handled by the office of Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan.
Assistant Attorney General Ultan Doyle asked Judge William Cohen to set a bail of $400, $200 for each charge, but Misch was released without bail.
Misch was ordered to allow the Vermont State Police to take possession of any firearms or dangerous weapons.
Attorney Susan McManus, who represented Misch, said her client objected to being “stripped of his Second Amendment rights.”
“My client has also received death threats online from numerous individuals because of the national attention this case has received so he himself has received death threats. To say that he cannot possess firearms where there is no applicable threat to any members of the public would be a forfeiture of his Constitutional rights to possess those firearms that he legally can possess,” McManus said.
McManus said Misch would agree to a condition that he not possess any illegal firearms or weapons.
While Cohen said he noted Misch’s objections, he granted Doyle’s request about weapons and a separate request that he issue an order allowing Vermont State Police to go to Misch’s Gage Street home to collect the weapons.
In an affidavit, Trooper Patrick Slaney said he was assigned to investigate Misch on Jan. 25. Slaney said the Bennington Police Department had initiated the investigation in October.
According to the affidavit, Lisa Shapiro, also known as Lisa Misch, Max Misch’s ex-wife, had told police about Misch’s “escalating behavior, racist ideations and a continued effort to obtain additional firearms, magazines and ammunition.”
Slaney interviewed Shapiro on Jan. 28. He said she told him she had shared her concerns about Misch’s behavior with her therapist who had contacted law enforcement. It wasn’t clear from the affidavit whether the Bennington Police Department had been contacted by Shapiro or her therapist initially.
“Shapiro described Misch as an intelligent man who has a working knowledge of laws and personal rights. He has a predatory nature and tries to intimidate people physically and through the internet. Shapiro said that Misch has no loyalty and is arrogant. Misch identifies as a white supremacist and neo-Nazi and is a proud member of the Green Mountain Goys, a local white supremacist group,” Slaney wrote in the affidavit.
Shapiro also accused Misch of assaulting her in March 2016.
She told Slaney she drove Misch to Hinsdale, New Hampshire, in December where he allegedly bought two 30-round magazines. She said she is not familiar with firearms but said Misch told her that high-capacity magazine sales and possession were no longer legal in Vermont.
Slaney said he obtained records and video of the New Hampshire sales from the store on Jan. 31.
The affidavit said Slaney and Lt. Reg Trayah, of the Vermont State Police, interviewed Misch on Feb. 6. He admitted to buying magazines for an AR-15-style rifle in the last six months but declined to continue the interview when asked if he purchased any magazines after Oct. 1.
Executing a search warrant on Feb. 6, police found two 30-round magazines in Misch’s homes that matched the purchases seen on the New Hampshire store’s video surveillance.
After Misch’s arraignment, Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan spoke with the press. Donovan has been criticized for declining to prosecute Misch for what members of the Rutland Area chapter of the NAACP called a campaign of terror against Morris. Donovan’s decision was announced at a Bennington press conference which Misch attended.
Donovan criticized Misch’s behavior but said the First Amendment protected his right to free speech.
Donovan said the charges brought on Thursday were based on new evidence disclosed to his office the week of Jan. 22.
He denied the prosecution was a “vindictive act” of the attorney general’s office.
“We treat everybody with respect, but when there’s an allegation that somebody violated the law, we’re going to investigate that allegation. We’re going to gather the facts, the evidence and make a determination whether or not the law was violated. That’s what we did in this case. We believe there was probable cause. The court agreed with us. Mr. Misch was charged,” he said.
Donovan said Morris and her family have been kept informed about the case.
He said he believed the charges against Misch were the first prosecution of the law, enacted last year, about the possession of large-capacity magazines.
MONTPELIER — While progress has been made in the state’s fight against the opioid epidemic, officials are quick to point out it’s too soon to start talking about success.
Gov. Phil Scott held a news conference Thursday at the State House to release the 2019 report from the governor’s Opioid Coordination Council. The report laid out policy and strategic recommendations to strengthen the state’s approach to addressing the opioid crisis.
“Our continued attention to this issue is so important,” Scott said. “Because nearly every one of us has felt the impact of it. It’s touched every community and every family in Vermont in some way. And if you don’t think it has, you just don’t know it yet.”
He said while sometimes progress feels elusive, Director of Drug Prevention Jolinda LaClair often reminds him to remain optimistic. Because if there is a chance for someone to get treatment then there is hope, he said.
“This attitude is how we have to approach this crisis. As I’ve said before, success will be counted one life at a time. A young man in recovery going back to work. A mother seeing life in the eyes of a child once thought lost forever. A community free from fear of crime and violence. And one less child brought into this world affected by addiction,” he said.
Going by the numbers, there wasn’t much success last year. Health Commissioner Mark Levine announced current data shows 110 Vermonters died last year after overdosing on opioids. That’s two more people than the year before. Officials noted in past years the amount of people dying from opioid overdoses had been climbing sharply, so to have a nearly-flat death total last year is improvement.
Secretary of Human Services Al Gobeille said Thursday’s report focused on successful interventions.
“Meaning we’re trying to say these are steps we’re taking to reduce harm and to keep people safe and to get people into recovery and to make our communities better,” Gobeille said. “This is an epidemic that we are not successful in yet. And I want to be clear about that. This is not a let up moment or a declare success moment. … This is a full-on problem for our state and our country.”
The report, titled “Building Bridges,” makes recommendations in the areas of prevention, treatment, intervention, recovery and enforcement, including opportunities for enhanced statewide integration and collaboration. Some of those recommendations are going to be implemented over the next couple of years.
Using money obtained last year through a settlement with tobacco companies, the state will invest $800,000 to expand access to treatment for those in corrections facilities.
Starting the next fiscal year and continuing for two years after that, the state will also invest about $200,000 per year to hire staff who will provide low-barrier access to the opioid treatment drug suboxone for those in need.
In fiscal year 2020, the state will invest $200,000 per year to support a nurse home visiting program. It will also invest $200,000 per year for after school programming focusing on engaging youth while their parents are at work.
LaClair said there is always hope when someone has a substance use disorder. Every day she said residents need to talk about addiction as a disease and to talk about pathways to treatment and recovery.
PITTSFORD — The town has signed off on a tentative agreement between a developer and citizens who appealed a zoning permit for what at one point was slated to be a Dollar General.
The Select Board voted 4-0 with one abstention to approve a draft agreement between Pittsford BTS Retails LLC and a group of five Pittsford residents, each of whom appealed a July 2018 permit issued by the town Zoning Board of Adjustment to the state Environmental Court.
Selectwoman Alicia Malay abstained, as she is one of the five citizens who appealed the permit.
“Essentially, David (Cooper) and the opponents have been working diligently on trying to resolve this,” said Gary Kupferer, town counsel. “They actually mediated it and they made some substantial progress.”
He said few of the changes to the original permit are, in his opinion, substantial ones and recommended the board approve it and allow minor changes to be made without the document returning to the board for approval.
Cooper is an attorney with the law firm Facey Goss & McPhee PC. He represents Frank von Turkovich, who owns the property at 40 Plains Road. Two years ago, a proposal to put a Dollar General there came before the Zoning Board of Adjustment and was met with opposition from neighbors.
According to documents filed in Environmental Court over the summer, Pittsford BTS Retails LLC and Dollar General opted not to go through with the project. However, von Turkovich planned to move forward.
Kupferer said town Zoning Administrator Jeff Biasuzzi has looked over the proposed agreement and found the changes comply with Pittsford zoning regulations.
“The major things, and you’ve probably seen it in your packet, there really wasn’t anything too major in my opinion, there were changes to the building, a couple of cupolas were put on, some trim board was changed over windows and stuff like that,” Kupferer said, adding that among the bigger changes were a shift in the building’s footprint so that two large trees would not have to be cut down. Cooper, who was at the meeting, said it’s understood between the parties that the trees will be saved if possible, but it’s not guaranteed.
According to court filings, one element von Turkovich had with the zoning board’s requirements was the installation of a flashing light near a crosswalk. Kupferer said it’s been agreed that the developer will install the light, but the town has to maintain it.
Kupferer said the group of people who’d filed the appeal still have to look the agreement over, but no one anticipates major revisions.
Calls to von Turkovich were referred to Cooper, who didn’t return phone messages on Thursday.
POULTNEY — At their second meeting with alumni in the past month, Green Mountain College officials confirmed Thursday that the first round of layoffs has occurred, but they would be willing to work with anyone organizing efforts to save the college.
Officials took questions from those in attendance and alumni online. Though alumni seemed hopeful, Provost Tom Maus-Pugh and President Bob Allen said the climb to save GMC is daunting.
“There are major challenges ahead,” Allen said. “This year, we are projected to have an operating deficit of $5 million.”
Bob Williams, owner of Williams Hardware in Poultney, asked about the likelihood of the USDA selling the college once it takes possession of the campus in June.
Allen said he didn’t know.
On March 7, there will be a meeting in Poultney with Ted Brady, deputy secretary for the state Agency of Commerce and Community Development, Paul Bruhn of the Preservation Trust of Vermont, and several others who Allen said are interested in the future of Green Mountain College and Poultney.
When asked whether a group of supporters could come together to change the Board of Trustees’ decision to close the college, Allen said he wasn’t sure.
“We’re at $22.5 million,” Allen said. “That doesn’t necessarily have to be cleared … what we needed was operating revenue. The challenge is, can we bring in enough students starting next fall to cover the operating expenses of the college?”
Allen said for that to happen, the school would have to immediately set to task, as faculty have spent the past two weeks figuring out places for their students to go.
“We (also) have a number of faculty who have found other positions, in some cases not in Vermont. … We’d have to have the students, faculty and staff in order to open.”
The expense budget is $18.5 million, Allen said, but the school was taking in only $13.5 million, almost all of which was tuition, room and board.
“Eighteen months ago, I started a very aggressive plan to try and partner with another institution. ... I approached four institutions (in Vermont) to partner and was unsuccessful in all four,” he said.
Allen said he approached an institution outside Vermont, a partnership he said would have allowed for a reduction in overhead costs for both institutions involved, but could not secure a collaboration.
Allen said the institutions he approached wished to remain anonymous, and he previously signed non-disclosure agreements with them.
Former faculty member Kyle Callahan, who came to Green Mountain College when his former employer, Goddard College, shifted to a lower-residency program, asked if a similar solution had been considered for GMC’s undergraduate degree program.
“We convened a number of groups over the last several years,” Maus-Pugh said. “We’ve had retreats with the Board of Trustees … We brought students in to look at different options. We convened a working group of faculty and administrators starting in September.”
He said officials considered eliminating the residential undergraduate program and transitioning to an online model, but nothing seemed to fit.
“We couldn’t produce a model that would yield enough revenue to cover the expenses under the different scenarios,” Maus-Pugh said. “Part of that are transition costs — when you disrupt the (system) you lose revenue, you lose students. It required a significant amount of cash to get through the transition.”
Allen agreed to release descriptions of the models faculty came up with, but Maus-Pugh said some models contained confidential information regarding faculty salaries and benefits, which would not be released.
Maus-Pugh agreed to release an overall aggregate figure regarding faculty costs, but could not guarantee when he could compile the data.
He said the current 990 from this fiscal year would not be released until after June 30.
Maus-Pugh said there was a jump in operating deficit from $900,000 recorded in the 2017 990 tax form to a $5 million loss due to multiple factors including fundraising.
“Gifts to the college dropped dramatically,” Maus-Pugh said.
Maus-Pugh said GMC also had a $2 million grant, a Title III grant, that was producing $500,000 a year, which he said was being used to cover expenses. The school had to absorb that this year, bringing the total up over $1 million.
When asked by an online participant how much time alumni would have to organize an effort to save the college, Allen said 75 students were graduating in May and no freshman class was coming in the fall, though there had been a substantial number of applications that had to be turned away.
“Our inquiries were up dramatically, our applications were up dramatically. We anticipated that we would have a robust freshman class,” Allen said.
But even that would not be enough to save the school.
“Almost no number would be large enough to cover that deficit that I’ve been talking about,” Allen said. “A very large number of incoming freshmen. Probably more than the size of the other three classes.”
Allen said school officials didn’t consider closure until every other possible avenue had been explored.
“We had an operating deficit (when) I got here,” Allen said. “Green Mountain College has always been fragile financially.”
In order for GMC to receive a community development loan from the USDA, the school needed to create its own LLC — GMC Holdings — to hold the physical assets of GMC.
GMC Holdings has three managers: Maus-Pugh, Allen and one of the former trustees and former board chairman Tony Cortesi.
Ultimately, should the alumni group decide to raise money and take action, it would need to complete a proposal to put before the board of trustees, which Allen said he would present, should one come forward.
When asked why he hadn’t reached out to alumni sooner to let them know of the financial challenges, Allen said it would have risked enrollment and any financial hope the college managed to keep alive.
“It was a judgment call on the part of the administration,” Allen said.
Bertha Josephson, class of 1973, said she just learned of the struggles of the college and drove from Northampton, Massachusetts, to the school to find out more information.
Given that the college was operating under a deficit when Allen arrived at GMC, Josephson asked what his plan was at the time.
“I didn’t discover the deficit until I got here,” Allen said. “We started to try to reduce expenses. On buildings and grounds, virtually everyone on the full-time staff was cut down to 32 hours … hired a member of our faculty as chief marketing officer … the following year, we had a very aggressive year to bring students in, and we did not.”
Maus-Pugh said that by announcing the school’s closure as immediately as they could — the same day that the board made its decision — officials were giving as much time as possible for students and faculty to find new homes.
“We’re willing to give up a lot to keep this place going,” Maus-Pugh said. “Our No. 1 priority is our students.”
Allen, Maus-Pugh and the rest of the cabinet are still collecting salaries, Allen said.
According to the school’s 990 filing on Pro Publica, Allen received $85,257 in the 2016-17 fiscal year. Maus-Pugh received $92,225.
Allen confirmed that the remainder of GMC’s endowment would be used in the coming semester.
“There’s a group of us who just found out about this,” Josephson said. “If we knew, we would have done something.”
Kate Barcellos is a Green Mountain College graduate.
“The green generation has risen up and they are saying they want this issue solved.”
Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., joining a group of congressional Democrats calling for a Green New Deal, a plan to eliminate the U.S. carbon footprint by 2030. — B8
Scientists have developed a device the size and shape of a garden-variety sweet pea, that when swallowed, will deliver a dose of insulin from inside the stomach. B4
For Destiny Dundon, a 3-year-old diagnosed with leukemia. Meal, raffle and bake sale. $6, 4:30-7:30 p.m. Modern Woodman Of America, 133 Vt. Route 30, Wells, 287-4162.