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Bourgoin guilty on all counts

BURLINGTON — A Vermont Superior Court jury found Steven D. Bourgoin, 38, of Williston guilty on five counts of second-degree murder for killing five Mad River Valley teens during a wrong-way crash on Interstate 89 in Chittenden County in October 2016.

Bourgoin showed no emotion and said nothing as each verdict was read.

Bourgoin’s defense team maintained he was criminally insane at the time he drove his northbound 2012 Toyota Tacoma into a southbound 2004 Volkswagen Jetta on I-89 in Williston about 11:55 p.m. Oct. 8, 2016.

The jury rejected the insanity claim on each count.

The eight women and four men on the jury also found Bourgoin guilty on two post-crash misdemeanor charges: aggravated operation of a Williston Police cruiser without permission by taking it from the accident site and later reckless driving of the police vehicle by returning to the scene and slamming it into his truck.

The jury, which heard 11 days of testimony, deliberated eight hours on Tuesday and four hours on Wednesday before returning the verdicts shortly after 1 p.m.

Later several family members of the victims expressed thanks to various people: prosecutors, police, the community and media. A few requested the focus now turn from Bourgoin back to the five innocent teens killed in the crash.

“We’d like it to be about the kids now and no more about Steven Bourgoin. They were beautiful kids,” said Sarah Zschau standing next to her husband, Chris.

“At least he isn’t going to hurt anybody else’s kids now,” she said.

Their son, Cyrus Zschau, 16, of Moretown, was the driver of the Volkswagen that was struck. Also killed were passengers Eli Brookens, 16, of Waterbury; Janie Chase Cozzi, 15, of Fayston; Liam Hale, 16, of Fayston and Mary Harris, 16, of Moretown. They were coming home from a concert in South Burlington.

As the jury filed back into the courtroom with the verdict, family members of the victims were holding 8-by-10 inch glossy photographs of the teens.

Judge Kevin Griffin had agreed with a defense request that the pictures not be shown to the jurors during opening statements by the prosecution.

After the verdict was announced, Griffin gave defense lawyers Robert Katims and Sara Pulls 30 days to file any post-trial motions.

Griffin told State’s Attorney Sarah George and her deputy Susan Hardin they would have 14 days to respond to any defense motions.

“Steven obviously is disappointed in the verdict. We’re disappointed in the verdict. We respect the verdict, but we are disappointed,” Katims said outside the courtroom.

“We think we presented overwhelming medical evidence with regard to the sanity issue. And we are disappointed that the jury found otherwise,” he said.

Katims said the defense plans to appeal on several legal issues, including the court’s refusal to grant a mistrial midway through the trial. The defense had requested the mistrial on grounds the prosecution had failed to supply the defense a statement by Bourgoin’s ex-fiancé, Anila Lawrence.

While Griffin found there was a discovery violation by the prosecution, the judge said he thought it was not serious enough to warrant a mistrial. In the end he ordered the jury to disregard one statement Lawrence said Bourgoin made to her sometime after the crash.

For George and Hardin it was the ending they were seeking for a historic homicide case. The court case had the most homicide victims in Vermont history.

“I feel fantastic,” George said as she walked out of the courtroom.

“I am incredibly grateful for such a diligent and thoughtful jury. Really don’t know that we could have asked for a better, more focused jury than we received. They paid attention the entire time. They really obviously took their time deliberating. I appreciate that they took the time they needed to come to the verdict that they came to,” George said.

George said it was a rewarding experience getting to learn about the victims, whose lives ended too soon, and get to meet their families. She cited the “bravery and their courage to come here every day and listen to this evidence and to have gone through 2.5 years waiting for this day. I could not ask for a better outcome.”

George said she believes the jury focused on the people that had seen Bourgoin just before and after the crash. George downplayed the insanity finding in January by a psychiatrist initially hired by her office in a possible effort to offset the insanity finding by the defense expert.

Griffin said he also would order a pre-sentence investigation by the Vermont Probation and Parole Office.

Before the jury returned, Griffin addressed the packed courtroom and thanked those that had attended the trial for the dignity they had shown the process.

“It is clear to the court this jury has worked very, very hard and has been very diligent in undertaking an extraordinarily difficult case,” he said.

He asked the gallery to accept the verdict with dignity and in peace.

Security was beefed up in the courtroom for the verdict with Sheriff Kevin McLaughlin and six of his deputies, along with five court officers.

Chittenden County Deputy Sheriffs Thomas Oliver and Jared Adams, both in plainclothes, had transported Bourgoin back and forth each day to the Northwest State Correctional Facility in St. Albans. They sat in the first row behind Bourgoin’s during the trial as part of the courtroom security.

Griffin noted Bourgoin would continue to be held without bail.

Bourgoin faces 20 years to life for each of the second-degree murder convictions.

Katims had said in his opening statement that Bourgoin was at the wheel, but the issue would be sanity. The defense showed his life was spiraling downward in the weeks leading up to the crash. Two expert psychiatrists testified Bourgoin believed he was part of a secret government mission and that he was getting messages from lights on an ATM, the music on his car radio and Morse Code messages from television static.

Prosecutors said Bourgoin had usual lifetime issues. He was in a custody fight with his ex-fiancé over their daughter, he was facing a domestic assault charge, and trying to handle ongoing financial issues, including potential foreclosure and overdue bills.

rlayman / Robert Layman / Staff Photo  

Boy and the Boot

Wallingford road crew members Charlie Woods, left, and Kyle Eastman, work on the annual placement of the Boy and the Boot statue in downtown Wallingford Tuesday morning. In the early 1900’s, the trough of the statue, which is filled by a fountain from the boot, fed thirsty horses on their way up and down Main Street.

Ski resort leaders, businessman indicted on fraud charges

BURLINGTON — The former owner and former president of a Vermont ski resort accused in a multimillion-dollar fraud case were indicted on federal charges unsealed Wednesday over a failed plan to build a biotechnology plant using foreign investors’ money.

The charges are against Jay Peak’s former owner, Ariel Quiros, of Florida; its former president, William Stenger, of Newport; Quiros’ adviser, William Kelly; and South Korean businessman Jong Weon Choi.

The grand jury indictment alleges that they conspired to embezzle investors’ funds and deceive investors about the project’s number of jobs and ability to generate revenue.

Quiros, Kelly and Stenger pleaded not guilty Wednesday to engaging in a conspiracy to commit wire fraud; participating in that conspiracy; wire fraud; and concealing facts about the plant’s investor funds. Quiros also pleaded not guilty to money laundering. A prosecutor said Choi remains at large.

Quiros’ lawyer, Seth Levine, said the case should have never been brought against him.

Stenger’s lawyer, Brooks McArthur, said there is “the strongest possible denial that he engaged in any criminal activity at all.”

Kelly and his lawyer declined to comment.

All three were released on $100,000 bond each, and they had to turn in their passports.

The indictment alleges the defendants worked to defraud foreign investors in what was named the AnC Bio Vermont project that was supposed to raise $118 million to create a biotech facility and business in Newport, a city of just over 4,000 on the Canadian border in a remote and economically challenged region of Vermont known as the Northeast Kingdom.

Vermont U.S. Attorney Christina Nolan, speaking at a Newport news conference hours after the indictments, said the defendants sold the project as a way to bring jobs to the region.

“But the defendants lied, and they cheated,” Nolan said.

According to the indictment, the AnC Vermont project was not, in fact, designed to create the number of jobs or the amount of revenue for the Northeast Kingdom the defendants claimed, Nolan said.

“Rather, the project was designed to siphon millions of dollars to the control of Quiros and Choi, who were secretly business partners and in charge of the project,” she said.

Nolan held the news conference next to a vacant block in downtown Newport. The building that had been there was bought with money from what prosecutors say turned out to be the fraudulent activity and torn down. There are no current plans for the location.

Both Quiros and Stenger reached settlements with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission last year after they were accused in 2016 of misusing more than $200 million raised from foreign investors through the EB-5 visa program.

The indictments allege that Quiros was the “ultimate decision maker” on the project, which dates to 2009, and Stenger was to recruit investors. Choi was the hidden partner. His parent company was supposed to design the facility.

The indictment alleges that by 2011, Quiros and Choi discussed doubling the price of the project. From 2012 to 2016, it said, the defendants persuaded about 169 investors to give a total of $93 million for it. But the defendants discovered a new design was needed and never followed through with that.

Nevertheless, they accepted investors’ money and put it into a Florida-based corporation that was used for other needs, such as loan payments, the indictment says.

The group concealed that they “lacked the money to construct and begin operations” at the plant, the indictment alleges. They presented a business plan to investors with inflated construction job numbers and misrepresented the products they planned to market.

rlayman / Robert Layman / Staff Photo  

Spring slither

An eastern milk snake suns itself Wednesday morning in Pittsford. The milk snake is nonvenomous and lives most of its life underground. However, large rain events can push the snake out of its burrow.

Capital prepares for Sanders rally

MONTPELIER — The Capital City is preparing for Bernie Sanders’ first political rally in the state as a 2020 presidential candidate, with crowds of 2,000 to 5,000 people expected on Saturday.

The event will include tributes to Sanders’ career in public service, and celebrate his impact in the state. There will also be music by singer-songwriter Brandi Carlile, food vendors and other public services.

An earlier planned launch last fall on the Burlington waterfront, similar to the start of his campaign in 2016, was called off due to icy conditions and took place instead in Brooklyn, New York, where he grew up.

Saturday’s event will be confined to the State House lawn, with access via a number of entry points where campaign staff will “wand” people before entering, for security reasons, officials said.

Capitol Police Chief Matthew Romei said he had been working closely with the Montpelier Police Department, city officials and the campaign to coordinate the event.

“Fortunately, we have a wonderful working relationship down here at the Capital Complex with all of our public safety partners,” Romei said. “As soon as were notified this was happening, we’ve been in the planning cycle ever since, confident that we’ll be able to handle the expected crowd with very little difficulty.”

Romei said he did not expect any problems but was also keeping an eye on the weather, with the possibility of thunderstorms forecast.

“If it’s rain, it’s just miserable but if there’s thunderstorms, that’s definitely a dangerous environment,” Romei said.

“But we have a (connection) with the National Weather Service and they’re very good at supporting these events for us on the public safety side and they’ll be giving us some forecast support as we get a little closer to the event.”

Romei and Montpelier Police Chief Tony Facos said they were not expecting the large crowds during the Women’s March Vermont in January 2017, which drew record numbers and forced police to shut down interstate exits to the city because of traffic and crowd-control problems

“We don’t see that in the tea leaves right now,” Romei said. “But quite frankly, it’s always in the back of our minds.

“We could see a big ramp up in interest in the event in the next couple of days, but we can handle 3,000 to 5,000 people on the State House lawn, readily.”

Romei said he thought the Legislature might close the 2019 session by the end of the week but was still awaiting confirmation.

“We got a little worried that they might decide they want to work on Saturday, which would open our building up and complicate some things in dealing with the rally,” Romei said. “But it’s not something we can’t deal with, it’s just another complexity.”

“We’re putting some extra people on and ensuring that everything happens smoothly, and everyone has a good time and things remain safe and orderly,” Facos said.

“We’re not expecting anything of the 2017 magnitude,” Facos said, referring to the Women’s March Vermont. “Rough estimates were well in excess of 20,000, maybe even 25,000 people. That was overwhelming and even impacted traffic on the interstate.

“But we’re certainly being flexible and prepared for between 3,000 and 7,000 people and able to accommodate all the security needs, working with all our partners which includes Capitol City Police and Buildings and General Services,” Facos added.

Attendees are asked to park at the Department of Labor building on Memorial Drive, Montpelier High School on Bailey Avenue and at National Life (however, there will be no shuttle buses into town).

State Street will be closed between Governor Aiken Avenue and Taylor Street. People with disabilities and special needs will be allowed to access state parking lots off State Street, Facos said.

Shannon Jackson, Northeast regional director for the Sanders campaign, said Sanders and campaign staff were excited to kick off the campaign in Vermont.

“We start at 2 o’clock, entrance opens at 12:30 p.m. and we are praying for good weather, but the show goes on, rain or shine,” Jackson said.

“We’re going to have music by (singer songwriter) Brandi Carlile — she’s a great supporter. We’re going to have some speakers highlighting the senator’s career in politics and especially in Vermont,” Jackson added.

Jackson noted that Sanders has been fighting for the same issues his entire political career, which include education, the environment, health care, a livable wage and human rights.

“He has an incredibly strong moral compass and that’s what sets him apart from most other politicians,” Jackson added. “The movement and the revolution that began with the 2016 campaign continues to grow and people are just flocking to it. I’m very encouraged that the issues that we raised in 2016 are being talked about by everybody. We’re getting the issues across and it’s a very needed and beautiful thing.”


Woman released from prison is back in custody

A Pittsford woman is back in custody after she was released on May 10 for substance abuse treatment, but never showed up and instead used drugs.

Jennifer Griffin, 44, is one of three people who has been accused of conspiring with “others known and unknown to the grand jury” to use a .45 caliber semi-automatic pistol in connection with a drug trafficking crime from 2017.

Griffin and the other two, Gregory R. Miller, 33, and Kenneth D. Stone Jr., 29, both of Rutland, all pleaded not guilty to the charge. The gun was later used in the shooting of a New York City police officer.

All three face up to 20 years in jail, if convicted.

All three were being held in federal custody, but earlier this month, Griffin asked to be released so she could enter Valley Vista for treatment of drug addiction.

The order was granted on May 10.

On May 13, a motion filed by Wendy Fuller, an Assistant U.S. Attorney, asked for the release to be revoked, based on a May 11 violation report filed by the Probation Office.

That report is not posted on the website where documents are filed for federal criminal cases.

An order of detention pending trial included a sentence explaining the decision.

“(Griffin) violated conditions of pretrial release by failing to report to residential drug treatment and by reverting to the use of controlled substances not prescribed to her,” said the order, signed by Judge John Conroy on May 17.

An arrest warrant was issued on May 14 and she was arrested on May 16 in Rutland.

Assistant Public Defender David McColgin said during a court hearing on May 10 that Griffin’s 19-year-old daughter would drive her mother directly from the South Burlington prison to Valley Vista in Vergennes, where a bed was expected to open on May 11.

During that hearing, Conroy said he needed to be convinced Griffin was ready to commit to treatment because of a history of drug-related crimes.

Griffin said, among other reasons, she wants to be a good mother for her son, who she said was expected to be released from the Rutland jail soon.

The federal charges against Griffin, Miller and Stone are based on the recovery of a gun allegedly stolen from a Rutland veteran who was a friend of Griffin.

Police said it wasn’t clear how the pistol reached New York City, but police believe the gun had been traded for drugs.

The Rutland man, a retired Marine who served in Vermont, was “living with known heroin addicts and drug dealers that have a history of stealing firearms and taking advantage of people and selling (the weapons) in exchange for heroin,” a NYPD officer told the New York Daily News.

Police said several items, including about 20 guns, were stolen from the veteran. Police believe people who visited the veteran were responsible for the thefts.

The gun at the center of the Griffin case was used to wound New York Police Detective Miguel Soto.

Police were trying to arrest a man in Brooklyn on July 6 but the man ran off and shot Soto as he was fleeing.

According to NYPD officials, Soto has won departmental awards including the Medal for Valor in 2013.


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May 25 & 26

Spring Open House

Art studios across the state will open their doors for tours, demonstrations and more. Visit the website for information and local maps: