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Vt. AG looking into governor's controversial land deal - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Vt. AG looking into governor's controversial land deal

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Bill Sorrell Bill Sorrell
Gov. Peter Shumlin Gov. Peter Shumlin
Jerry Dodge Jerry Dodge
MONTPELIER, Vt. -

"I don't believe they are going to ignore these complaints," Vt. Attorney General Bill Sorrell said on the radio.

The latest twist on the governor's land deal played out on the Mark Johnson show on WDEV radio. Attorney General Bill Sorrell revealed his office has received half a dozen citizen complaints, all calling for an independent investigation.

"These are serious allegations and they deserve to be taken seriously," Sorrell told WCAX News.

Sorrell says he referred the case to the Vt. Department of Disabilities, Aging and Independent Living-- the state agency responsible for investigating claims of abuse and exploitation of vulnerable adults.

"I'm a slow learner to start with," Jerry Dodge told WCAX News last month. "I have a hard time comprehending a lot of things."

Jerry Dodge's family claims their dad was not capable of negotiating the land deal with the governor without a lawyer. The governor bought 16 acres and a house in East Montpelier for $58,000-- well below its assessed value-- right before the property was going to a tax sale.

Sorrell says the complaints do not seem to be coming from a coordinated political campaign.

Here are a few of the citizen complaints released by the attorney general's office after a records request:

Rich Hollenbeck Sr. wrote, "I'm curious why 'our' governor hasn't been charged under the adult protection laws of the state?"

Walter Zeichner said, "I call for a very transparent investigation. The public has the right to know what kind of person is in the Governor's office."

And Annie M said, "I am not accusing Gov. Shumlin of anything but I do know I get an uneasy feeling about the whole thing, and would hope that some sort of thorough assessment should be made of the dealings."

Sorrell says investigators will determine if Jerry Dodge is a vulnerable adult and then if the governor took advantage of the situation.

Reporter Kristin Carlson: If this is being investigated by a state agency that's headed by a Shumlin appointee, how can people be assured this is an independent investigation?

Attorney General Bill Sorrell: My office and I know the department is sensitive to the appearances of is there any favoritism here or go through the motions or whatever-- and no, I'd be violating my oath of office if I let that happen.

We caught up with Gov. Peter Shumlin after a bill signing near a gun range where target practice was going on.

Kristin Carlson: The attorney general has referred your land deal to state investigators after several members of the public complained saying you took advantage of a vulnerable adult. Did you think you took advantage of Jerry Dodge?

Gov. Peter Shumlin: No, I don't.... But listen, this is what's important to know. When a citizen has a concern they register it with the department. The department has an obligation to follow up on that concern-- I helped pass that legislation, I fully support it and will obviously look forward to having conversations with them in every and any way that they wish.

Sorrell says this is not a criminal probe, it's civil. And the only way it could be criminal is if all the thresholds are met-- Dodge is proven to be a vulnerable adult and the governor is proven to have taken advantage of him. Sorrell says that's a pretty high bar, but if it is proven, then the state agency would turn the investigation over to his office or to a state's attorney.

State statute says a vulnerable adult is anyone who is impaired due to brain damage, infirmities of aging, or a physical, mental or developmental disability. Exploitation of a vulnerable adult includes willfully using, withholding, transferring or disposing of funds or property of a vulnerable adult for the wrongful profit or advantage of another.

As for the legal negotiations between Dodge and the governor, both are now represented by high-powered and politically connected lawyers. The governor's lawyer is a Democrat and Dodge's is a Republican. We reached out to the Dodge family and have not heard back. Their lawyer says he has no comment at this time. So far, it does not appear that any meeting between the two sides has been set up to negotiate how much money the Dodge family should pay Governor Shumlin to buy back the land. Friday, Governor Shumlin told WCAX News he does not know what the amount is that he is owed.

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