A Burlington man was charged in federal court Monday with making a phony complaint to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, according to charging documents. Cole Swarkowski, 23, claimed that he had overheard a man, whom he said was South African, talk about obtaining guns in order to harm others.
"This individual is not american, he is dangerous, he wants to carry firearms and I heard him say that he wants to harm individuals with said firearms," said that tip, submitted though an online portal. The agency asked a Vermont State Police trooper to find and interview the man named.
A trooper conducted a vehicle stop. The man was with his wife and their newborn child, according to an affidavit filed by Homeland Security Special Agent Timothy O'Leary.
The trooper asked the man, "who did not appear to be a threat to himself or others," if he had enemies who might make a report about him. The man said he recently received a promotion at the University of Vermont Medical Center. ICE determined that he was in the country legally.
The next day, ICE went to Swarkowski's house in Burlington, where he allegedly told agents that his tip was "made up," and that he was "having a bad night when he made that report."
He also faces a state citation for disorderly conduct, for allegedly sending a series of threatening, racist texts to a different medical center employee on the same day he contacted ICE, the feds said. That employee complained that Swarkowski texted her a photo of high-caliber firearm ammunition and made references to "lynching" and "subhumans."
The last message sent to the woman, federal agents allege, repeated an offensive racist epithet over and over. Kraig LaPorte, a spokesperson for the U.S. attorney's office, said both alleged victims are white.
A hospital spokesperson could not immediately provide information about Swarkowski's employment. He is described in the criminal complaint as a "former contractor," and his LinkedIn account includes IT jobs with the hospital and the City of Burlington.
The federal complaint states that Burlington police cited Swarkowski for disorderly conduct related to the text messages, though he had yet to be arraigned. While speaking to local police, Swarkowski said he had mental health issues and owned firearms, the complaint states. He declined an offer from Burlington police for mental health outreach.
Federal agents arrested Swarkowski last Friday. Prosecutors asked a judge Monday to keep him imprisoned pending trial, citing his alleged statements to Burlington police. "The defendant appears to have mental health issues and has made a very concerning threat to an ex-coworker," the government wrote.
A hearing was scheduled for August 30. Swarkowski faces up to five years in prison.