SENATE HOPEFUL CALLED OUT FOR “SEXUAL ASSAULT JOKE”

A photo of Dustin Tanner’s campaign website.

By Gregory J. Lamoureux
County Courier

Editor’s Note: This story contains content that is not suitable for all readers.

Dustin Tanner announced his bid for the Vermont Senate in June, three years after posting a video on his YouTube channel that joked about sexual assault, buying marijuana from high school students, and being a CCV dropout.

Tanner, a Progressive/Democrat running to fill one of two Senate seats took a stand-up comedy class in 2015, ultimately leading to the 2015 set, according to an interview with Seven Days newspaper, who broke the story last Thursday.

The joke that gained the most attention Thursday was likely the one about not committing sexual assault on his dentist.

“My dentist, I swear to God has the biggest tits ever,” Tanner said as he acts out a person leaning over a dental chair, “She’s like this, right over me. At this point, I can’t feel my face.”

Tanner continues acting his part of sitting in the dental chair with a numbed mouth, mimicking the sounds of a dental patient trying to talk with someone’s hands in their mouth, “I’m sitting there with my tongue hanging out of my mouth, literally an inch from her breasts.”

The joke continues as Tanner describes the female dentist as she tries to pull his tooth, “She’s going at it like she’s trying to win a prize at the State Fair,” he said.

The room of 21 years and over comedy goers gives an uncomfortable laugh, and that’s when he delivers the punch line, “I went to the dentist that day, but I was lucky I didn’t commit sexual assault.”The video was made public by Shayne Spence, an employee who works part-time for the Don Turner for Lieutenant Governor’s campaign. Turner is running against David Zuckerman, who employed Tanner in a similar position as Spence during his last campaign.

Spence said he thought the video, which has since been deleted by Tanner, shows his true colors, and, in a time when the country is divided from the Kavanaugh hearings in Washington, voters should have the ability to know as much about a candidate as they can.

The timing of the sexual assault joke video corresponded with Tanner’s announcement that he was endorsed by Planned Parenthood, an endorsement that Spence pointed out was hypocritical when a candidate makes jokes of such a serious nature. Tanner’s Twitter post about the endorsement was later deleted. Often times campaign donations come with such endorsements, but Tanner failed to file an October 1st campaign finance report so that it could not be verified one way or another.

According to Tanner, an unknown person emailed him in May to complain about the video, soon after he announced his intentions to run for the Senate.

“I was hoping that if somebody had a concern, they could have reached out to me privately,” Tanner told the County Courier in a telephone interview, “I want to make this a learning experience and move the conversation forward.”

Read the full story in this week’s County Courier.

RICHFORD WOMAN ADMITS TO FIVE BANK ROBBERIES

The image, taken by security cameras at a Virginia bank is allegedly to be Amber Fusco. Courtesy of the FBI

By Gregory J. Lamoureux
County Courier

Newly filed court documents show a guilty plea that Amber Fusco, 30, of Richford entered on charges connected to five bank robberies in December of 2017 and January of 2018.

Fusco had been wanted by Federal Authorities in February for the bank robberies, she was eventually taken into custody a week later on February 23rd, according to records.

On Thursday, September 20th, Fusco took responsibility for the bank robberies during a hearing in open court, reducing her 15-year sentence by one year.  Fusco could have been sentenced to a maximum of life in jail.

The plea agreement meant Fusco would admit to the robberies, but would only be convicted on two of the five bank robbery charges. She would also be convicted on a charge brandishing a firearm in the furtherance of a violent crime.

In addition to the time Fusco would have to serve in prison, Fusco has also been ordered to parole of five years after her release.

SEE RELATED: LOCAL WOMAN WANTED IN CONNECTION WITH VIRGINIA BANK ROBBERIES

Federal Court in Virginia took the role of prosecuting Fusco. She is being held at the Northern Neck Regional Jail in Warsaw, Virginia pending her transfer to a Federal Prison.

Fusco admitted to robbing two Virginia banks before returning to Vermont for three more bank robberies.

Amber Fusco, 30 in an August 2017 mug shot provided by the South Burlington Police Department after police discovered Fusco slumped over the steering wheel of her vehicle in the Hannaford parking lot. She allegedly had her infant child in the vehicle with her at the time.

Fusco was also ordered to pay $6,901.00 in restitution, at a rate of $100 per month, or 25% of her gross wages, whichever is greater.

Court records indicate that Fusco entered a BB&T Bank in Henrico, Virginia on December 20th, handed the teller a note, indicating she had a firearm, then brandished that firearm to make the bank teller comply with her demands.

Three days later, police say Fusco went to a Wells Fargo Bank, handed a teller a note, but did not brandish a firearm at that time.

That note read, “I need large bills. I have a gun and will use it. You have 30 seconds.”

Fusco fled in a vehicle driven by Jennifer Bessette, according to police, unknowingly carrying a GPS tracker with the cash inside the vehicle.

Fusco at an alleged bank robbery in Virginia.

Law Enforcement tracked that vehicle down, but Fusco had already fled in another direction.

The Bonnie and Clyde wannabes then came back to Vermont where Fusco robbed a North Country Federal Credit Union, TD Bank, and a National Bank of Middlebury.

According to court records, Fusco made a stop in New York on her way back to Vermont, where she allegedly stole a $35,000 Rolex watch from a jewelry store.

Fusco’s extensive criminal history was a factor in the sentence. Her criminal record is as follows:
• Driving on a suspended license (July 2011)
• Disorderly Conduct (July 2011)
• Driving on a suspended license (February 2012)
• Disorderly Conduct (August 2012)
• Retail Theft, 2 counts (October 2012)
• Disorderly Conduct (May 2015)
• Theft of Services (June 2015)
• Driving under the influence (November 2016)
• Assault (June 2017)
• Cruelty to a child less than 10 (August 2017)
• Assault on a Law Enforcement Officer (December 2017)

“These convictions show a pattern of continuous assaultive behavior, a complete disregard for the well being of others (including her minor child, and a pattern of defying orders of the court,” said Andela Mastandrea-Miller, the assistant United States Attorney assigned to the case, adding that the sentence was needed to “protect the public from the Defendant’s future criminal conduct.”

Fusco’s accomplice, Jennifer Bessette took a plea deal for 92 months to serve with three years of supervised release thereafter. Bessette was also ordered to repay money to the banks, her share of restitution is $1,251.00.

Police identified a third co-conspirator in the Virginia robberies as Andrew Welton Jr. A warrant for his arrest was issued on July 10th and he has yet to be found, according to court records.

KANES REFLECT ON LIFE OF LOVE

By Ruthie Laroche
For the County Courier

George and Rolande Kane have lived in the brick house on VT Route 105 since May of 1954. Today, their family continues to operate the farm, and the legacy that they built in Franklin County continues to grow as four generations spread their roots.

“We bought the house from Ben Wilder’s widow Hazel, no money down, just a shake of the hand,” said George.

George had fond memories of visiting the Wilder farm in his youth, and the opportunity to own it was too good to pass up.

“I came down to the Wilder farm with my father Roscoe when I was eight years old. Ben Wilder had an office in what is now our bedroom,” explained George.

“Hazel Wilder said this house was built for children,” said Rolande, remembering a chat with Hazel.

The Kanes didn’t disappoint. They had six children when they moved into the home and went on to have nine children in all: Maureen, Margaret, Paula, Michael, James and Janet, Celeste, Brenda, and Marc.

The spring that George and Rolande moved their family from East Sheldon posed some challenges, one of which was moving the animals.

“I remember seeing George walking down the road with the herd led by a police escort,” said Rolande with a chuckle.

George drove his 40 cows along the East Sheldon Road, down the Kane Road, across the bridge in North Sheldon and down VT Rte. 105 toward Enosburgh, joining them with the Wilder’s 20. The family rolled up their sleeves and got to work immediately.

“You better believe I worked!” said George with a smile, “I cut logs and everything else to make those payments.”

George supplemented the farm income with sugaring and renovating old houses, and Rolande, who had been a teacher before she married George, eventually returned to teach in Enosburgh.

George first saw Rolande in 1944, shortly after she moved to town to teach; she was going to a movie in Enosburgh.

“We were both in the lobby waiting for the second show,” Rolande explained.

Rolande was born and raised in Swanton and went to St. Anne’s High School. During the war years, she attended Trinity College in Burlington where she spent time working in a mill during the summer folding bandages for soldiers.

The Kanes’ daughters laughed as they recounted a favorite story told by their mother. At Trinity, in Rolande’s day, the incoming students had to purchase a black, woolen graduation gown which they were required to wear to Chapel, daily.

Rolande recalled many mornings dashing out with her pajamas under her graduation gown because she was worried she would be late to Chapel.

That same gown was worn by most of George and Rolande’s children and even some of their grandchildren when they graduated from college.

After graduation Rolande taught in Enosburgh for three years; during that time her relationship with George blossomed.

Purchase your copy of the County Courier,
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Barrette Ford

FIVE PURCHASE, TRADE GUNS FOR DRUGS

Five St. Albans residents have been arrested by the Federal Agents after there was an investigation linked to the purchasing firearms for other people, bypassing background check regulations.

According to recently released court records, Tyson Wells, Dara Bessette, Sierra Lacoste, Laci Baker, and Megan West were indicted in the scheme. Continue reading “FIVE PURCHASE, TRADE GUNS FOR DRUGS”

VSP: ST. ALBANS MAN ASSAULTS POLICE AFTER STEALING SUV

Gregory J. Lamoureux
County Courier

Vermont State Police say they apprehended a St. Albans man early Thursday morning after he stole a 2016 GMC Acadia that was parked at the Littleton (NH) Hospital.

OnStar tracked that vehicle to Kirby, Vermont, where State Police began looking for it, according to spokesperson Adam Silverman. The officers would later see the stolen vehicle on Burrington Bridge Road in Lyndonville.

Police were able to later identify the driver as 41-year old Everett Simpson of St. Albans. Continue reading “VSP: ST. ALBANS MAN ASSAULTS POLICE AFTER STEALING SUV”

FRANKLIN/BERKSHIRE WATER SYSTEMS BATTLE DROUGHT

Franklin’s tile spring sticks out of the ground in front of the Town’s water reservoir just off Jones Road.                                                                                                             Gregory J. Lamoureux, County Courier

By Gregory J. Lamoureux
County Courier

FRANKLIN: With an abnormally hot summer, the Town of Franklin is seeing a slowdown in the water coming into their reservoir, causing the town to issue a conserve water warning to its users.

Like many postings on the subject nationwide when water becomes a scarcity, the message is to reduce the amount of water being used. From not running the faucet when you’re brushing your teeth to refraining from washing your car at home, locals are asked to do their part in making sure the current water goes as far as it can.

Marshall Ploof, the water district commissioner, spoke on the topic to the County Courier on Wednesday morning, the day after the town issued the notice to about 90 users of the water system.

Read the entirety of this article in this week’s County Courier.

HEATED DISCUSSIONS FILL RICHFORD WATER MEETING

By Gregory J. Lamoureux
County Courier

RICHFORD: About a hundred residents came out to listen to state experts and express their discontent with their view of the condition of Richford’s water.

Ben Montross, the compliance manager for Vermont’s drinking water program said what Richford is experiencing is not a new issue for the state, but it’s been more than a decade since Richford has seen an abnormally high test.

The issue comes from a test taken in May, indicating a high level of haloacetic acids within the drinking water, a substance the EPA has designated as a carcinogen if consumed at high levels for long periods of time.

The haloacetic acids within the water are a chemical byproduct of treating the drinking water with chlorine, a process used to kill any microorganisms that may be living in the water. Also in the water from time to time are micro-organic matter such as small bits of leaves and grass that mix with the chlorine, ultimately producing small amounts of haloacetic acids.

It takes a bit of time for the haloacetic acids to develop after chlorine and organic matter mix. This means that in Richford’s drinking supply, the water that is coming out of the tap at someone’s house far away from the water supply could actually have a higher level than the water leaving the treatment facility.

That’s why the tests are taken at taps throughout the town, at actual water consumer’s properties.

The May 2018 test, registered at 0.118 mg/L, putting the four-quarter average for Richford’s water above the government’s high limit of 0.060 mg/L. Officials warned that the high test will stay in their calculation for the next three quarters, so having a high average through May of 2019 should not be alarming.

Although the test is only conducted once every three months, it is merely a snapshot in time, showing the level in the water that day. This can be deceiving as the levels in the water can fluctuate significantly from day to day.

It is suspected that the test in May was conducted relatively close to a weather event that would have given a higher reading. According to Amy Galford, compliance analyst at the VT Department of Environmental Conservation, said warmer weather and high rainfall are typical causes for a high test.

Instead, it is likely that the levels of haloacetic acid within the water supply was on the rise for four or five days before the test and began to fall for four or five days after the test, according to Galford.

That being said, Galford was unable to point to a specific storm that could have caused the higher levels, so it is possible that the test was taken on a day that the levels were still rising, or already falling, indicating that there could have been a higher level in the water supply at some point.

According to state officials, of the 410 municipal water supplies within the state, about 35 of them are engineered like Richford’s, they collect surface water and treat it. The remainder uses other methods, like wells, which has lower organic content than surface water, preventing haloacetic acids from having the chance of forming.

Several residents shouted and interrupted the presenters, obviously angered over what they perceived as a lack of urgency and concern by officials about the high registering test.

“Why should we be paying for water that could make us sick,” shouted one resident.

“We’re not the water operators,” Montross said, noting that they could take that up with the town. The Panel, from the state of Vermont, on Thursday, was there merely to inform the public about the health issues and answer questions in regard to those health concerns.

“I’ll take it up with the town about my water bill, but I just want to know how to protect my husband, kids, and yes my new puppy,” said resident Barb Beauregard.

Montross recommended purchasing an activated charcoal water filter for those who are concerned about their exposure, sold under many brands, but the most common of which is Britta.

Those filters will remove the haloacetic acids within the water, as well as a few other contaminants that could harm the drinker.

Ray Soloman, a Drinking Water and Groundwater expert with the state said Richford’s water supply is one of the better supplies in the state, in fact, he helped to engineer the project when it was built several decades ago.

The hurdle of adding an activated charcoal filter to the entire system is cost. Those filters are expensive and would have to be replaced on a regular basis, according to Montross.

Cost is also the primary barrier for sampling more often. At about $150 per sample, it would be costly to test more than once every three months, especially because the town sampes from multiple locations throughout the water supply to get a better indicator.

“You have to remember, 99% of the water you use is not used for drinking,” Soloman said, “it’s used for bathing, washing your clothes, etc.”

One resident posed the question to the panel, “If you lived here, would you drink the water?”

Soloman said yes, as did four of the five-panel members said yes, but one person, Sarah Vose, a Toxicologist for the State of Vermont said she would not, instead she would drink bottled water, as she does on a regular basis now.

“But, that’s a question you have to decide for yourself,” Vose said.

According to Vose, the likelihood of contracting cancer from your water is around 1 in 100,000.

“You’re more apt to get cancer from environmental issues you can control,” Vose said, “like smoking, obesity, and lack of exercise.”

Ultimately, the water in the system is largely safe. That was the message from Montross. Unless you have a compromised immune system, elderly, pregnant, or a toddler, it is likely you will not sustain any health complications from drinking Richford’s water.

A test conducted on July 20th just came back, according to state officials, indicating that the levels of haloacetic acids were in the 0.030-0.038 mg/L range, well below the federal guidelines, but those tests were not conducted in the interval required for testing every three months, so they will not be calculated into the average.

Instead, officials will be testing the water in the coming weeks, averaging that new number with the last three quarters.

Montross stressed that residents should look more at the number for each test for the next three quarters, and not the average because the average will be skewed by May’s high test.

Officials were clear to point out that unlike contaminants found in well water in the southern part of the state two years ago, this water condition is unlikely to affect other water supplies throughout the Richford area.

COURT RECORDS: WAL-MART EMPLOYEE EMBEZZLED $266K IN FOUR MONTHS

Ronald Downes Jr appears in Criminal Court in St. Albans on Monday, June 18, 2018. Gregory J. Lamoureux, County Courier

By Gregory J. Lamoureux
County Courier

ST. ALBANS: Police arrested Ronald Downes, Jr., 42, of Berkshire last month in connection with thousands of dollars of missing money from Wal-mart in St. Albans.

According to newly filed court records, if police are correct, Downes could have stolen as much as $68,000 in one shot.

The scheme, according to police, had Downes “doing maintenance” on a cash machine at the store. That machine stores tens of thousands of dollars for clerks to check in and out when working as cashiers.

Video of the alleged embezzlement was also filed as evidence, showing Downes taking out cash from the machine, putting it in his gloves, and then into his pockets.

According to Wal-mart, Downes is suspected of stealing more than a quarter of a million dollars in the four months he was employed there.

The store turned over 21 different recordings from their surveillance video, allegedly showing the thefts, ranging in amounts from $8,706 to $68,248. In all, about $262,555 came up missing from the machine during the time  Downes was employed to do maintenance on it.

According to the Assistant Store Manager, Ryan Hennebury, Downes would remove the cassettes of cash, and place them behind the machine, out of view of the camera- an action that is against store policy. This is when Downes is suspected of removing the cash.

After the store began auditing the cash inside the machine twice a week noting shortages began in late 2017, Hennebury said they noticed a pattern with the missing money.

“We were able to prove that on the shifts that (Downes) was on the closing shift, the recycler would show a shortage,” wrote Hennebury in a sworn statement to the court. “You can see on many occasions (Downes) pretending to vacuum, but the vacuum would not move.”

Hennebury also wrote in his sworn statement that during these periods, Downes was the only employee to “service” the machines between the audits.

In January, the store moved one of the cameras to capture what was going on. In one video, Downes can be seen removing $100 bills, hiding them in his pockets, according to Hennebury’s statement.

When a Wal-Mart Asset Protection Manager confronted Downes, he allegedly admitted to “taking $4,000-$5,000” over the course of a few months from the machine.

The store plans to pursue prosecution in the case, according to Hennebury’s statement. It is not clear if that includes civil prosecution.

A written statement was also included in the case which included the following, “I opened the cash recycler and took money out of one of the cassettes. The money I took was used to pay bills I had. This happened over a couple of months. I estimate the cash to be around $4,000-$5,000 (over) the course of the time. I am deeply sorry and regret every decision I made when I did this.”

That statement was allegedly witnessed by two other Wal-Mart managers and signed by Downes.

When police contacted Downes, he declined to talk to them, instead, invoking his fifth amendment rights to remain silent.

According to his criminal record, Downes only has one prior arrest. That was in 2015 for disorderly conduct, in which he paid a $50 fine.

Downes hired a private attorney for the case and pleaded not guilty to Embezzlement on Monday. He was released on conditions. If convicted, the felony charge could carry a prison term up to 10 years and a fine up to $10,000.

GEORGIA MURDER TRIAL DELAYED, DEFENDANT LOSES TRUST IN DEFENSE TEAM

Ethan Gratton enters Franklin County Superior Court in St. Albans in January 2017 for his arraignment on murder and attempted murder charges. File photo / Gregory J. Lamoureux, County Courier

By Gregory J. Lamoureux
County Courier

ST. ALBANS: In a last-minute filing to the court, Ethan Gratton asked the judge to postpone his upcoming murder trial and grant him a new public defender.

“I do not believe my lead attorney, Steve Dunham or my co-counsel Rosie Chase are prepared for my trial.” Gratton wrote to the Judge. “Steve Dunham is not competent to win over any jury.”

Gratton’s concerns are based on his observations of Dunham, according to what he wrote to the Judge, “I have grave concerns about his state of mind and his inability to communicate with other people, much less a jury.”

Steve Dunham, left, confers with co-counsel Rosie Chase, during a sidebar with State’s Attorney Jim Hughes and Judge Gregory Rainville at a bail review hearing for Gratton in 2017.   File photo  Gregory J. Lamoureux, County Courier

He cited the last pre-trial conference, where, according to Gratton, the Judge could not understand much of Dunham’s mumblings.

SEE RELATED:
• ETHAN GRATTON’S ARRAIGNMENT
• GEORGIA SHOOTER ASKING FOR RELEASE
• GEORGIA SHOOTING TESTIMONY: Pamela Gratton
• TROOPER RECALLS SHOOTING SCENE
• JUDGE: NOT ENOUGH EVIDENCE TO HOLD GEORGIA MURDER SUSPECT

“(A review of the case) will make it evident that Mr. Dunham struggles to string together coherent sentences for the court, or anyone else, to understand.” wrote Gratton.

The case revolves around a shooting which left 57-year-old David Hill dead and seriously injured 27-year old Mark Brito, both of Fairfax.

Gratton was charged with second-degree murder for Hill’s death and attempted second-degree murder for the shooting of Brito.

Gratton recognized in his two-page letter to the judge that Dunham has been practicing law for 28 years, but throughout the 18 months that Gratton has worked with Dunham, he has lost all “faith” in his defense team.

Gratton requested his case be assigned to a “Serious Felony Unit” attorney, which is not abnormal, according to Gratton’s letter.

“I would rather request a new attorney now, than wait to be convicted of murder, and attempted murder, due to ineffective counsel,” Gratton wrote, noting that then he would have to file for post-conviction relief.

Gratton ended his letter to the Judge, “Thank you, Your Honor, in advance for your compassion, understanding, and immediate attention to my dire situation.”

The trial, which was scheduled to begin with a jury draw Tuesday, June 12th, has now been put on hold until the Judge makes a decision on Gratton’s request. If convicted, the 28-year-old man faces 40 years to life in prison.