Public Safety Commissioner Casts Doubt on Claim of Arrest in China | Off Message

Public Safety Commissioner Casts Doubt on Claim of Arrest in China


Vermont Public Safety Commissioner Tom Anderson - MOLLY WALSH
  • Molly Walsh
  • Vermont Public Safety Commissioner Tom Anderson
Updated at 6:12 p.m.

Vermont State Police investigated an allegation in 2014 that a state employee had been arrested while on an EB-5-related trip in China and found no evidence to support the claim, Public Safety Commissioner Tom Anderson said Tuesday.

The unusual statement was the latest official response to an incendiary allegation levied by Stowe attorney Russell Barr. He has sued state officials on behalf of EB-5 investors who lost money in the Jay Peak scandal. After a court hearing on the investors' lawsuit last week, Barr told reporters he has evidence that one of the 10 defendants had been arrested on an EB-5 trip to China in "2013 or 2014" for "having sex with a minor" and was bailed out by another state official.

Anderson revealed that Vermont Republican Party vice chair Brady Toensing made a complaint to the Vermont State Police Internal Affairs Unit in October 2014, alleging that a state employee had been arrested on a trip in September 2013. Toensing did not provide the employee's name or the reason for the supposed arrest, but said that members of the Vermont State Police Executive Protection Unit who went to China "would have been aware of that arrest" and "should have reported the possible illegal conduct," according to Anderson.

Toensing did not reveal the source of his information or additional details, Anderson said. Vermont State Police Major Ingrid Jonas, who was then a lieutenant who ran internal affairs, conducted an inquiry. Jonas determined that members of the protection unit "did accompany then-Governor [Peter] Shumlin on a trip to China," Anderson said, but they didn't "have any information about any state employee being arrested or engaging in criminal conduct while on this trip." The matter was closed.

Jonas' inquiry was confined to an internal affairs probe. A broader criminal investigation would not have been appropriate, Anderson said.

"With respect to a criminal investigation, attorney Toensing’s complaint was vague, non-specific, based on his 'beliefs,' and did not allege any violations of Vermont law," Anderson said.

Anderson called on Barr or others to provide evidence. He also seemed to take a swipe at Toensing's motivation.

"The Department of Public Safety and the Vermont State Police have a fundamental constitutional and ethical obligation not to launch criminal investigations of Vermont citizens based on rumor, innuendo, or which are solely politically or financially motivated," Anderson said.

In an interview Tuesday, Toensing said he was surprised that police released his identity as the tipster. According to state law, records of internal investigations should be kept confidential, with few exceptions.

“I’m surprised, especially when I was assured it was a confidential process,” Toensing said. “I’m eager to know … how many times in its history has [the state police] authorized a similar partial release of information?”

Toensing called on police to release all records from the investigation, including the identity of the people interviewed and the questions asked.

“They released a partial amount,” Toensing said. “Now release all of it so the public can assess the thoroughness with which the investigation was conducted and understand its limited scope.”

Barr did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Gov. Phil Scott discussed the allegations during his weekly press conference Tuesday.

“I think what I’m looking forward to is maybe some more information," Scott said. "I know that Russell Barr has said that there’s information there that he’s going to be bringing forth. If there is credible evidence there, as I’m sure Commissioner Anderson will reiterate, I’m sure we’ll move forward."

Staff writer Alicia Freese contributed to this report.