Sorrell Panel Recommends No Action, Punts on Corruption Charge | Off Message

Sorrell Panel Recommends No Action, Punts on Corruption Charge


Attorney General Bill Sorrell - FILE: JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • File: Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • Attorney General Bill Sorrell
A panel of prosecutors tasked with probing allegations against Attorney General Bill Sorrell declined to investigate the most serious charge, according to a final report released Friday. But according to two people who took part in the review, state law enforcement officials have requested assistance from federal authorities to look into the matter further.

For nearly nine months, the committee of 11 state's attorneys has been reviewing allegations made by Vermont Republican Party vice chair Brady Toensing that Sorrell violated campaign finance law and took official action in exchange for campaign contributions. The panel's investigation was conducted by Shelburne attorney Tom Little, who was appointed to the role last May by Gov. Peter Shumlin.

The Vermont Press Bureau's Neal Goswami obtained a draft of Little's long-overdue report and published it Thursday night. The panel released a finalized version Friday.

According to the report, which largely concerns itself with Toensing's lesser allegations, Little found no evidence that Sorrell violated campaign finance law. But he declined to investigate the most serious allegation — that Sorrell agreed to file suit against the oil and gas industry at the behest of a Texas law firm that contributed to his campaign while making the request. Sorrell's office later hired that firm and guaranteed it a percentage of any winnings from the case. 

Little and the state's attorneys determined that "some relevant persons and alleged actions" related to the corruption allegation "lie beyond Vermont's borders and beyond the scope of this inquiry, making closure of the investigation vis a vis those allegations impossible at this time."

The report's authors wrote, "Separate investigatory work is underway to deal with those allegations." They did not elaborate, but those involved with the inquiry told Seven Days in December that members of the panel had met with Federal Bureau of Investigation officials in Vermont to discuss the matter. 

Two of those sources confirmed to Seven Days Friday that the panel had enlisted the Vermont State Police to investigate the allegation — and that the VSP had requested further assistance from the FBI. Paul Holstein, chief division counsel for the FBI's Albany field office, would not say whether the agency had decided to take up the case.

“It is FBI policy not to comment on or confirm if complaints have been received or if investigations are being conducted," he said. "Any information the FBI receives is reviewed and handled appropriately."

According to the report, a proper investigation of the most serious allegation "would need to be done by an investigative body with appropriate jurisdiction, authority and resources."

"Considering the state and federal criminal law nature of these claims, the [corruption] allegations fall beyond the scope of alleged campaign finance violations and thus beyond the scope of this investigation," the report's authors wrote. "No inferences one way or the other should be drawn from this concerning the accuracy of the ... allegations."

Sorrell has always denied Toensing's charges.

"If federal authorities want to investigate, fine," he told the Press Bureau on Thursday. "I didn’t violate any criminal laws at all. If they wish to investigate I’ll cooperate with their investigation. I’m not worried about that — at all."

This story will be updated.

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