Everyone around him says he got screwed, but Jeremy Dodge still doesn't have an unkind word to say about his neighbor to the east.
"He is a fantastic person, don't get me wrong," Dodge says of the neighbor, Gov. Peter Shumlin. "He's helped me a lot, at different times, when no one else would."
Dodge, a stick-like man with kind eyes, no teeth and a stutter that renders him nearly incomprehensible, pauses for a second.
"I would like to just say I've had more time to think about what I did," Dodge continues. "I screwed up. I should've found a way to find somebody, somehow, to help."
On a drizzly Thursday evening in East Montpelier, Dodge once again explained to an uninvited reporter what led him to sell his family's 16-acre property to the governor last fall, just days before it was scheduled to go to tax sale. He's been doing this since late last week, when a WCAX-TV van arrived at his house unbidden to ask about a real estate deal Dodge says he didn't fully understand and now regrets.
"A guy and girl hopped out. I immediately thought they were Jehovah's Witnesses or Mormons," Dodge says with a chuckle. "They said they received an anonymous call."
On Wednesday, Dodge's story hit the front page of the Barre-Montpelier Times Argus and the Rutland Herald. That night, WCAX ran its first report on the saga. Vermont's political world has been atwitter ever since, with the Democratic governor's tongue-wagging critics suggesting — mostly off-the-record — that the multimillionaire businessman and real estate collector had taken advantage of a neighbor in need.
"I hope that he's able to account for what happened, because it doesn't appear to be something we would do here in this state of Vermont — not to one of our vulnerable citizens," Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, a Republican, said Thursday. "I just feel that we, as elected officials, have to hold ourselves to a higher standard — and I hope the governor can defend his position."
The situation even attracted the attention of federal agents, though it is unclear precisely what they were investigating and whether they are continuing to do so. An FBI agent who interviewed a friend of Dodge's earlier this week declined to comment Thursday. A spokeswoman for the bureau's Albany division, which covers Vermont, directed inquiries to U.S. Attorney Tristram Coffin.
"What I can confirm is that the FBI followed up on a tip and there's no active investigation in our office," Coffin said Thursday.
After defending the deal in a series of written statements earlier this week, Shumlin moved Thursday to quell the controversy. In yet another statement, he indicated he would allow Dodge to remain in his house past their mutually agreed-upon deadline.
"As I have said, I was saddened and disappointed that Jerry Dodge now regrets our agreement. I see and talk with Jerry frequently, and yet first heard about this from the press," Shumlin said. "When Jerry asked for my help to avoid the tax sale, I agreed, and I want to see this through to a good resolution. If that means Jerry stays in the house beyond July 15, that's fine with me."