A Vermont lawmaker's outstanding arrest warrant in Illinois was brought to light Friday by his former political opponent, who discovered it while defending his own felony charge.
Rep. Chris Bates (D-Bennington) was convicted of aggravated DUI in 2012, according to McHenry County, Ill., court records obtained by Seven Days. The charge stemmed from a 2010 arrest.
It was his third DUI, making it a felony.
Bates pleaded guilty and was sentenced to a lighter form of probation called conditional discharge. But the state sought to revoke the sentence in October 2013 because Bates missed a court date and failed to pay all fees. A judge issued a warrant for Bates' arrest that remains active, though Vermont is not among the states from which he may be extradited.
Bates said he moved to Vermont the same year he was convicted, 2012, but before the warrant was issued in 2013. A fishing guide, he hosts a radio show on WBTN called "Outdoor Secrets Unwrapped."
Last year, he was elected to the Vermont House in his first campaign for public office, handily defeating fellow outdoorsman Kevin Hoyt, a Republican. During the campaign, Bates called himself the "Fishin' Politician."
Bates' record did not come to light during the campaign. A VTDigger.org story about the race states that Bates moved to Vermont from the Davenport, Iowa area. He listed an Illinois addresson 2010 court records related to the felony DUI.
After getting a message Friday that a Seven Days reporter wanted to speak with him, Bates began gathering his things from around his seat on the House floor. He then got up before debate resumed and began to leave the Statehouse.
Approached in the hallway, Bates acknowledged he was dealing with a legal issue but he declined to provide details.
“I have heard a lot of rumors out there right now, and I know that I will have to answer them,” Bates said.
Later Friday, Bates issued a lengthy statement through his attorney in which he acknowledged past problems and struggles with alcohol abuse.
"Since moving to Vermont in 2012 I have come to know this to be a place of great compassion and forgiveness — and a place of second chances for those among us who have, like I, slipped in our past lives," Bates wrote. "Fortunately, I have addressed head on the challenges I experienced with alcohol use while living in Illinois and, most importantly, I have been blessed to have led a healthy, productive and public life here in my new home, Vermont, free of the sorts of incidents that have blemished my past."
Bates, 59, said he was convicted of multiple misdemeanor assaults in his late teens and early 20s. He said he only learned of the outstanding warrant last week and was working with his attorney to resolve it within the "next week or so."
DUI convictions typically include revocation of driving privileges, and Bates was also indicted for driving on a suspended license in 2010. Vermont and Illinois are part of an interstate sharing agreement that allows driving restrictions to be enforced across state lines.
Bates' attorney, Allan Sullivan, told Seven Days he did not know whether Bates drives in Vermont. The Vermont Department of Motor Vehicles confirmed that it had not issued a legislator license plate this year for Bates' seat.
In his statement, Bates said that he was "disappointed to learn that certain persons, in order, it seems, to advance their own personal interests, have published highly personal information about me."
That appears to be a reference to Hoyt, who, along with his partner, posted Friday to Facebook about Bates' outstanding warrant.
Hoyt told Seven Days that he learned of what he called Bates' "fugitive" status during discovery for a criminal case in Bennington County in which Hoyt was accused of poaching a deer and obstructing the game warden who came to his house to investigate.
Included in confidential discovery documents, he said, was a criminal history report on Bates pulled from the National Crime Information Center, a law enforcement database.
Hoyt said he believes Bates' inclusion in the state's evidence suggests his former political opponent may have been in "cahoots" with the warden who investigated Hoyt.
Fish and Wildlife Department Warden Travis Buttle showed up at Hoyt's home earlier this year after being sent a screenshot of a photo Hoyt posted to Facebook displaying a partially decomposed, eight-point deer skull, the Bennington Banner reported. Hoyt had not reported harvesting an eight-point buck last year.
Hoyt, according to court records reported by the Banner, grabbed the antlers and ran, while calling for a Rottweiler to be let out.
The charges had hit close to home for Hoyt, a hunting television personality. He's also an outspoken gun-rights activist and vocal critic of former state representative Kiah Morris. Hoyt crashed a January press conference where the findings of a state probe into Morris' racial harassment were announced, claiming he had been unfairly labeled a Nazi.
Kevin Hoyt, left, and Attorney General T.J. Donovan, right, at the news conference regarding Kiah Morris
On Friday, he alleged that there was a conspiracy against him and to conceal Bates' past reaching the highest levels of Vermont politics. He also reiterated his gripes with Morris, whom he described several timesas "colored."
After learning of Bates' criminal history, Hoyt said, he sent letters to the secretary of state, the Bennington County state's attorney and the Bennington police, demanding to know why Bates hadn't been arrested.
Bennington County State's Attorney Erica Marthage dropped the charges against Hoyt on Thursday, according to court records.
Bennington Police Chief Paul Doucette told Seven Days that he reviewed Bates' warrant and determined that it was not enforceable in Vermont.
"Vermont law enforcement officers are not allowed to arrest people on out-of-state warrants unless extradition is approved," he said.
Nonetheless, Hoyt claimed the revelation about Bates' past undermines the legitimacy of last fall's election.
"We've elected a fugitive from justice," he said.
Updated May 20, 2019, to reflect that the case against Hoyt was dismissed.