Vermont AG will not prosecute former state aviation director

By  | 

BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) Guy Rouelle is off the hook. Vermont's attorney general says he will not prosecute the state's former aviation director and is putting allegations of misspent tax dollars to rest. VTrans accused Rouelle of using his position of power to skirt the rules of state government. Rouelle has always maintained his innocence.

Guy Rouelle-File photo

"Certainly some questions were raised about how this money was used and perhaps the oversight," Vt. Attorney General T.J. Donovan said.

Donovan is opening up about the Rouelle investigation now that the case is closed. Rouelle, the longtime Vermont aviation director, left his post eight months ago but his resignation letter is clear. Rouelle writes about transforming an airport system in a "deep state of disrepair," bringing the budget into the black and securing millions in federal funding.

VTrans had a different take about how Rouelle used his power.

"There was an opportunity for abuse, I think," Vt. Transportation Secretary Joe Flynn said in December.

And there was enough suspicion to order an audit.

"We thought it was time to take a deeper look," Gov. Phil Scott, R-Vermont, said in December.

A memo between VTrans and Vermont State Police accused Rouelle of abusing his state purchasing card, advancing projects at airports where he had personal relationships, fudging budgets and spending $19,000 on helicopter lessons. State police wrapped up their investigation last month. The attorney general reviewed it for signs Rouelle misappropriated taxpayer dollars.

"You make sure that the public trust is not being violated," Donovan said.

The investigation showed Rouelle paid for the helicopter lessons and his commercial pilot's license through a mix of Vermont and federal grant money. He then rented a helicopter three times. Investigators tell us two of these occasions were for local events where kids could meet the pilots and see the aircraft. The third time was a sound pollution test at a local airport where neighbors were concerned about takeoff and landing noise.

Donovan says the evidence simply fell short. He found Rouelle to be "truthful though obscure" about the purpose of some of his purchases. But without proof of blatant rule violations or misrepresentation, he said he could not move forward.

"The question was very simple-- has a crime occurred here? And the answer is we don't think there's sufficient evidence that a crime has occurred. That's not to say that we agree-- that we like what occurred," he said.

The VTrans secretary released a statement that says, "...While there is insufficient evidence to bring criminal charges, it is clear the agency's previous internal controls were abused and our changes are intended to prevent it from occurring again."

"This comes down to accountability," Donovan said. "Making sure that the money that's being spent, is something that people have authorization for."

Rouelle is now working in the private sector. His attorney did not respond to our request for comment.

The governor has folded aviation into the rail program and VTrans tightened financial controls within the agency.