Last March, I was charged with a felony.
A few days ago, at the conclusion of the prosecutor’s case, the trial judge dismissed all charges for lack of evidence.
The 12 months between those events were filled with anxiety, embarrassment, and determination to fight charges that I knew were false to the core of my existence.
It all began while State Trooper Benjamin Katz was investigating a series of burglaries in Charlotte and Hinesburg resulting in the theft of antiques. His investigation determined that some of the stolen items may have been sold to me at my antique shop on Shelburne Road. Rather than continue his investigation by speaking directly with me (as Shelburne police did some years earlier in a similar case), Trooper Katz, in spite of admittedly having no reason to suspect me of anything, organized a sting operation using an undercover confidential informant using a wire. This man, already well known to me as another antique dealer, was quickly so flustered with his unfamiliar role that he was soon no longer undercover, confidential, or informative. Trooper Katz rushed to his rescue even though he admitted he knew nothing of my business or what he was looking for.
I was, I admit, angry and emotional at what I took as an unprofessional and unnecessary intrusion on me and my business and did not hesitate to say so to Trooper Katz. By the end of day two, Detective Katz had the items I had purchased but decided to punish me for my attitude, so he brought the charge. He then issued a press release with false information about me which received wide publicity. So ended his minimal investigation.
During the following 12 months, the Chittenden County State’s Attorney basically ignored the case as it worked its way through the system, in spite of the growing mountain of evidence in its possession showing my innocence. What it did do is to continually lower the charge in the hopes of luring me into a plea. In the end the trial was about me buying a stolen $75 child’s rocker.
At trial Trooper Katz openly expressed doubt about my guilt and, amazingly, even with my reputation and freedom on the line, admitted he had not prepared for trial. Obviously I was gratified when the judge dismissed the case without my needing even to offer a defense and furthermore offered me his regrets for what I had been through.
I now feel abused and victimized by Trooper Katz’s bullying tactics, not even to mention my children’s college fund is $10,000 less.
This experience also demonstrates a severe lack of institutional control in the State’s attorney’s office. There should have been an internal review process of such cases to weed out those where clearly even a first year law student would have seen the charges were ill conceived.
So the end result is a waste of thousands of personal and governmental funds, man hours, and court time all over a $75 chair and a trooper’s need for payback.
Tom Cross, Champlain Valley Antique Center Owner