Sex crimes: Vermont state senator charged with assault

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MONTPELIER >> State Sen. Norman McAllister, R-Franklin, pleaded not guilty to three counts of sexual assault and three counts of a prohibited act Friday in Franklin Superior Court.

McAllister, 63, was arrested Thursday outside the Vermont Statehouse, where lawmakers are finishing work on the 2015 session and spent the night in jail on $20,000 bail.

Court documents paint a picture in which McAllister repeatedly sexually assaulted one victim on his farm property, starting in the winter of 2012 in exchange for work and lodging. The state brought six charges against McAllister — three counts of sexual assault, which is a felony that carries a potential life sentence, and three counts of prohibited acts, which are misdemeanors.

"It came to light that Mr. McAllister was offering to assist a victim who was living on his property in one of his housing units — a sister with the rent she was behind on and a sister with living arrangements — by trading sexual favors," Franklin County State's Attorney Jim Hughes said. "Since late 2012, they were alleging a pattern of this behavior."

McAllister was not charged with human trafficking, though those charges were considered, prosecutors said. The charges stem from an investigation into complaints by detectives from the Northwest Unit for Special Investigations. Hughes said the trafficking charges were dropped, although "the behaviors could have potentially been charged, but it really did not fit the spirit of the law."

The senator did not speak during the proceeding or with the media after. He was accompanied by one of his sons who also declined to be interviewed.

"We have a much different version of events," McArthur said. "We ask people not to make any rush to judgment and I hope in short order our side of things will come to light."

McArthur said he does not know if McAllister will return to the Senate.

The sexual assault charges are felonies and carry a potential sentence of 3 years to life in prison and a fine of up to $25,000. The prohibited acts charges are misdemeanors and carry a potential sentence of up to one year in prison and a fine of up to $100.

Hughes would not rule out the possibility of more victims or additional defendants being involved as the investigation continues.

The Franklin County State's Attorney's office and the Northwest Unit for Special Investigations became involved after the first victim's former mother-in-law told investigators that McAllister wanted her to exchange sex for her son's half of $600 in rent to live in a trailer on McAllister's property.

The first victim and the second victim's son were living together in the trailer property, court documents say. A man claiming to be the second victim's son spoke to reporters outside the courthouse in St. Albans on Friday, saying he was concerned that he and the first victim would become homeless.

He claimed to be the first victim's ex-husband and described McAllister as "jealous" of his relationship with her, noting that McAllister would treat her poorly in his presence. VTDigger is not naming the ex-husband to avoid identifying the alleged victim.

Thursday's arrest rattled the collegial Vermont Legislature.

At about 5:20 p.m., shortly after the Senate vote on the education reform bill, McAllister was quietly escorted outside by two plainclothes policemen.

Sen. Joe Benning, R-Caledonia, said he was called outside to meet with McAllister. In an interview with reporters, Benning, who is a defense attorney based in Lyndonville, declined to describe the conversation between police and the senator.

"At that point, I was treating it as acting in the capacity as a defense attorney and for that reason I can't talk about it any of the conversation we had," Benning said.

Benning says he will not serve as McAllister's defense attorney in future. But he described how the news had affected his colleagues and said the arraignment Friday would be just the beginning of a long process in which McAllister's guilt or innocence would be determined.

"We have this concept in this country it's called the presumption of innocence," Benning said. "I know it sounds cliche but realistically, as a defense attorney, I always refer to that and I decide what the facts are after I've gotten the information I need to make a judgment."

McAllister has served two terms in the Vermont Senate, beginning in 2013, and five terms in the Vermont House, beginning in 2003. McAllister is a Franklin dairy farmer and past director of the Franklin County Farm Bureau. He is a 1971 graduate of Vermont Technical College.

Gov. Peter Shumlin was made aware of the possible charges Tuesday afternoon, but didn't know the extent of the charges. "Frankly, I still don't," Shumlin said before McAllister's arraignment. "I guess we'll see that at 11 a.m. today.

"Obviously, the allegations are extremely troubling we'll see what happens next," Shumlin said.

The governor praised the Vermont State Police for not creating "lots of fanfare" when they arrested McAllister at the Statehouse.

Mark Johnson of WDEV asked the governor if it was necessary to make the arrest at the Statehouse.

"I'm going to leave that the judgment to the state police about how they deal with arrests, but when you have arrests and you have charges that are being filed that need to be acted upon, obviously you have to go where the person is," Shumlin said.

According to his legislative biography, McAllister's memberships include past VTC Student Council President; Franklin County Farm Bureau, Director; NW Holstein Club President; Missisquoi Amateur Hockey Director/President; Highgate Little League Director; 1981 Vermont Farm Bureau Young Farmer of the Year; 1982 Franklin County JC's Young Farmer of the Year; NRA member.

McAllister generally maintains a low profile among the 30-member Senate, but he spoke out this session on a bill to extend certain provisions of the state's physician-assisted suicide law.

McAllister moved to repeal the law and shared a personal story about his wife's death from pancreatitis.

VTDigger's Anne Galloway and Tom Brown contributed to this report.

Morgan True is VTDigger's health care reporter. He can be contacted at Mtrue@vtdigger.org.


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