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May 2013

May 22, 2013

Morning Read: East Montpelier Man Regrets Real Estate Deal with Shumlin

MorningreadThe legislature has adjourned, and you know what that means! Vermont Press Bureau scribe Peter Hirschfeld is back on the gubernatorial real estate beat.

Hirschfeld, as you may recall, wrote a series of stories last October about Gov. Peter Shumlin's real estate wheelings and dealings as the gov relocated to East Montpelier. As Hirschfeld first reported, Shummy got a pretty sweet deal on a plot of land he bought last summer with a few friends. 

When reporters raised questions about the transaction at a press conference soon after the story appeared, Shummy got mighty huffy and accused Hirschfeld of practicing tabloid journalism.

That didn't stop the Press Bureau chief from following up the next week with a story about the gov buying another East Montpelier property. This one, adjacent to the first, was headed for a tax sale before Shumlin agreed to help out its owner, Jeremy Dodge, by lending him money and allowing him to stay on the land for a time.

Well, Dodge and Shumlin are back in the pages of the Rutland Herald and Barre-Montpelier Times Argus today. Dodge, it seems, is having second thoughts about the deal he struck with Shumlin last fall.

As Hirschfeld reports, the East Montpelier man says he didn't have a lawyer when he signed over his property and now believes he got a bum deal:

“I don’t have nothing bad to say about [Shumlin], but yeah, I got ripped off, plain and simple,” Dodge said Tuesday. “I wish it had turned out differently. I wish that I had let it go to tax auction.”

Shumlin, who says he advised Dodge to get a lawyer, sees it differently:

“I believe $58,000 was a fair price, and we both agreed to it,” Shumlin said. “The house is in terrible shape; it will have to be knocked down or totally gutted.”

It's a fascinating story — and we don't want to spoil the details — so be sure to check it out online or grab a copy at the news stand. 

May 21, 2013

Morning Read: Suspects ID'd in O'Hagan Murder

Morning ReadBurlington Free Press cops reporter Mike Donoghue has a scoop in today's paper about the unsolved 2010 murder of Sheffield senior citizen Patricia O'Hagan. Donoghue has been reporting for months about how prosecutors had identified one of the suspects as 22-year-old Michael Norrie in court documents related to a separate case.

Now, in newly filed court papers in yet another case, prosecutors name two other men as suspects in the homicide: 26-year-old Richard E. Fletcher and his brother, 32-year-old Keith Baird. None of the three has been formally charged with O'Hagan's murder.

From the Freeps:

The papers say O’Hagan, 78, was shot in the back of the head inside her home and sexually assaulted during the incident.

The suspects, who are related, provided different reasons for the killing, including robbery and that O’Hagan had learned about methamphetamine being cooked at an abandoned home next door, the U.S. Attorney’s Office stated in the court paperwork.

Donoghue also reports that prosecutors allege Fletcher left a confessional note in his jail cell that read, "I Richard E. Fletcher ... was involved with the robbery that went wrong on the night of Sept. 10, 2010. Me and my brother Keith John Baird ... pland (sic) to rob Miss O’Hagan."

The story relates some unsettling details about the crime and the attempt to cover it up. It also notes a striking coincidence: One of the prison guards who Fletcher allegedly confessed his crime to was among the people who discovered O'Hagan's body while bird hunting in Wheelock, three weeks after her murder.

Click here to read the full story.

May 20, 2013

Weinberger Reaffirms Support for Gun Control and Urges Additional Action

MiroBurlington Mayor Miro Weinberger reaffirmed on Monday his support for banning assault weapons in the Queen City, and urged city councilors to take additional steps aimed at preventing gun violence.

"You are on strong legal ground to move forward with an assault weapons resolution of some sort, and I support that,” Weinberger told the three members of the council’s charter change committee. He noted that similar initiatives by other municipalities have survived court challenges.

But any attempt by Burlington to regulate possession of firearms would require a change in the city’s charter thus could not take effect unless approved by the state legislature. City Councilor Rachel Siegel, the Ward 3 Progressive who chairs the charter-change committee, said it’s unlikely the legislature would even consider such an initiative until 2015, assuming it was first endorsed by the council and approved by Burlington voters in March 2014.

“More immediately,” Weinberger told the committee, Burlington might be able to adopt another measure relating to access to firearms.

He noted that in the aftermath of the Newtown, Connecticut, mass murder of schoolchildren and educators, 24 communities around the country “have passed resolutions to encourage action to fix the federal background-check system.” This screening process for prospective gun buyers is “badly broken,” the mayor said. He added that Vermont is one of 19 states rated as having done the least to submit data to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

Weinberger then handed out to committee members a model resolution that urges action to strengthen federal background checks.

“Burlington does have a stake in this, and I’m very much in favor of it,” the mayor said.

Continue reading "Weinberger Reaffirms Support for Gun Control and Urges Additional Action" »

The Week Ahead: On Hiatus

The Week Ahead

This just in!

The Week Ahead is on indefinite hiatus. Actually, it's been placed on paid administrative leave. The Week Ahead declined to discuss the reason for the absence, but sources close to the situation said it related to an inappropriate incident in Montpelier last week involving the Scoreboard. And a Bengal tiger. And Mike Tyson. We'll have more on this developing story as we get it...

In the meantime, check back on Off Message often for the latest Vermont news and politics.




May 19, 2013

'To Live the American Dream, Move to Denmark' — And Maybe Bring Along the F-35

Denmark 1Burlington might be one of the few places in the United States where a crowd would cram an auditorium on a sunny spring Saturday to listen to a lecture on the Danish social welfare system. 

The 200-plus audience members gathered in city hall auditorium got what they came for. In a 90-minute session sponsored by Sen. Bernie Sanders, Denmark's U.S. ambassador, Peter Taksoe-Jensen (pictured), laid out a lengthy list of benefits his country provides all its citizens.

He said Danes receive free health care; free education from pre-school through university; $40,000 annual pensions after age 65, "with no need to have any attachment to the labor market"; a full year of maternity benefits, including payment of the woman's full salary for the first six months after her baby is born; and guaranteed day care through age 5, with parents paying a maximum of 25 percent of its cost. The list also includes a $17-an-hour minimum wage (compared to the U.S. standard of $7.25) and two years of payments to unemployed Danes of 90 percent of the wages they had been earning.

Taksoe-Jensen also described Denmark's progressive energy policy, which aims to phase out all fossil fuels by 2050. Already, he said, renewable sources cover 40 percent of the country's energy consumption. In the U.S., it's 13 percent.

The ambassador pointed out that Danes rank as the happiest people in the world, according to a United Nations survey. And the Vermonters listening to his litany might in turn have qualified as the most envious people in the world.

Continue reading "'To Live the American Dream, Move to Denmark' — And Maybe Bring Along the F-35" »

May 17, 2013

The Scoreboard: This Week's Winners and Losers

Scoreboard.newIf you haven't picked up this week's print edition of Seven Days, you might've missed our special edition of the The Scoreboard, looking back at the 2013 legislative session's winners and losers.

Well, nothing's happened since then — except this:

Vermont's legislators have retreated back to their caves until next winter. Lobbyists are readying their invoices to cash out on the session. And Statehouse reporters, recovering from their epic benders following Tuesday's adjournment, are coming to terms with the fact that they'll have nothing to write about for another eight months.

And The Scoreboard's gone on vay-cay for the week.

So, if you're looking for a dose of winners and losers this week, we direct you back to Wednesday's paper, where you'll find out how everyone fared these last four months.

Media Note: WCAX Probes Welch's "Role" in IRS Scandal

WCAX.Welch.IRSIs Congressman Peter Welch (D-Vt.) to blame for sicking the Internal Revenue Service dogs on conservative political groups and launching a national scandal?

That's the impression one might have gotten from watching a WCAX report Wednesday night examining a letter Welch sent the IRS in March 2012.

Introducing the story, WCAX anchor Kristin Kelly promises serious drama, saying Welch "is now feeling some heat" from a scandal that's rocked the Obama administration and already claimed the jobs of at least two top IRS officials.

Senior political reporter Kristin Carlson takes it from there.

"The fallout hitting the White House has also reached Congressman Peter Welch," she reports. "Some conservative critics charge he encouraged the IRS to do what so many are angry about now."

Exhibit A?

"In a press release last year announcing he sent letters to the IRS and president," Carlson says, "Welch encouraged the IRS to, quote, 'investigate whether nonprofit 501(c)(4) organizations affiliated with Super PACs — such as Crossroads GPS, the Karl Rove-backed group... are in violation.'"

Wait a second. Welch specifically called on the IRS to investigate Crossroads GPS? 

Well, no. Not exactly.

Continue reading "Media Note: WCAX Probes Welch's "Role" in IRS Scandal" »

May 16, 2013

Sex Offender Who Impersonated Decorated Soldier Pleads Guilty

David P. Oswald IIIA convicted sex offender who assumed the identity of an Iraq war veteran for six years while living in Vermont pleaded guilty to multiple charges in federal court on Thursday.

David P. Oswald III entered guilty pleas to charges of failing to register as a sex offender, health care fraud, possessing a firearm as a felon, and possession of child pornography. As part of a plea agreement, Oswald faces up 10 years in prison and $250,000 in fines, followed by supervised release for the remainder of his life.

As reported by Seven Days last October, Oswald pulled off a stunning multiyear fraud after obtaining stolen military identification that belonged to Bobby Lee Triplett, an Army vet from North Carolina who did four combat tours in Iraq. The two men never met, but Oswald apparently came into possession of the stolen documents in Washington State, where hedisappeared in 2006 after skipping parole.

Oswald used the documents to create a new life for himself. With Triplett's full name, Social Security number and date of birth, he was able to obtain a passport, register a car, buy guns, register to vote in Williston, obtain a non-driver's identification from Vermont and join the Vermont State Guard — a civilian militia that supports the Vermont National Guard in times of crisis.

But Oswald was finally caught after seeking medical treatment from the Veterans Administration under Triplett's name. After receiving medical bills totalling $4000 from the VA in Vermont — a state Triplett had never stepped foot in — he reported the fraud to federal authorities, who eventually tracked Oswald down at the Chittenden Fish and Game Club in Jonesville, where he was camping out in a dilapidated trailer.

Continue reading "Sex Offender Who Impersonated Decorated Soldier Pleads Guilty" »

May 15, 2013

Media Note: Sneyd Leaving VPR for National Life

Vpr-ross-sneyd-2013Six years after joining Vermont Public Radio, news director Ross Sneyd is leaving the station next Friday to take a communications gig at the Montpelier-based National Life Group.

Though he says he "did not do it lightly and gave it a lot of thought," the veteran Vermont journalist says it's time to try something new. He says he's particularly looking forward to cutting down his daily commute from Plainfield to VPR's Colchester studio and spending more time running the bed-and-breakfast he owns with his partner.

"VPR, I think, has established itself as the leading news organization in Vermont — or certainly one of the leading news organizations," he says. "I'm really proud of what VPR does and what it will continue to do. I will continue to be a listener and a member and wish them all the best luck."

A longtime fixture in the Vermont journalism scene, Sneyd moved to the state in 1987 to take a job with the Burlington Free Press. He spent 18 years reporting for the Associated Press — the final 16 of them in its Montpelier bureau — before joining VPR in 2007. 

Continue reading "Media Note: Sneyd Leaving VPR for National Life" »

This Week's Issue: Did You Hear the One About the Legislative Wrap-Up?

051513coverThis week's edition of Seven Days is our first-ever comedy issue. But it's chock full of news and politics too:

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