ALBURGH — Bernard Savage was allowed to return home Wednesday after a federal judge determined he did not pose a risk to his community.
Savage, 57, is an Alburgh resident, selectman and business owner. Yesterday, at U.S. District Court in Burlington, he was formally charged with distribution of cocaine, a charge which carries a penalty of 10 years or more in prison.
Savage was not required to enter a plea to the charge. He was also released on a number of stringent conditions until his next court appearance.
Magistrate Judge John M. Conroy presided over detention and probable cause hearings for Savage, who had been held in prison since he was arrested with a warrant signed last Friday and executed Monday.
According to an affidavit, Savage has been the subject of a Drug Enforcement Agency investigation since late 2013 and had his home and business, B.P. Autoworks, raided July 1. He was taken into police custody after arriving at Northwestern Medical Center last Thursday with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to his hand.
Under federal law, known illicit users of controlled substances – court documents show that Savage allegedly waived his rights during the raid and told a Vermont State Police (VSP) officer he used and sold cocaine “here and there” – are not allowed to purchase, possess or use firearms.
Appearing in green shirt and pants yesterday, his arm in a sling and his hand heavily bandaged, Savage sat and listened as assistant U.S. District Attorney Wendy Fuller argued that there was probable cause that he did distribute cocaine.
Fuller asked that DEA special agent Adam Chetwynd, who submitted the affidavit for Savage’s case, take the stand. There she asked him to confirm the various facts put forth by the affidavit, including two controlled purchases of cocaine and oxycodone pills by a confidential informant (CI) and Savage’s statement on July 1 that he used and sold cocaine.
The affidavit also included a description of a video allegedly showing Savage holding a revolver and snorting what appeared to be white powder, and a conversation between Savage and the CI in which Savage said he had guns hidden that were untraceable to him.
Fuller also asked Chetwynd about a phone call he received from VSP on July 16, who told him that they received an U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) document showing that Savage bought two guns from M & R Guns & Ammo in Highgate on July 15.
Chetwynd said he received the first page of the ATF document on July 16 and the second page on Tuesday. In order to wait for the papers, Conroy had allowed a continuance in Savage’s detention and probable cause hearings from Monday to Wednesday.
Fuller asked whether Chetwynd asked about these guns when he interviewed Savage on Friday. “He affirmed that he purchased them and made reference that it was his right to purchase them,” said Chetwynd.
He added that those two guns were allegedly different than the 38mm revolver Savage shot himself in the hand with.
“I asked him if we had missed that [revolver] in the search,” said Chetwynd. “He said that was a weapon he had lent to a friend and it had been recently returned.”
Savage’s attorney, Karen Shingler of Burlington, then cross-examined Chetwynd. She asked him about Savage’s past record only containing misdemeanors, about the collector’s character of the firearms that were seized in the July 1 raid – 103 in total were taken – and whether Savage had any violations as a licensed firearms dealer.
Chetwynd couldn’t answer any of Shingler’s questions definitively.
Shingler asked whether any of the firearms were obtained illegally, and Chetwynd said that of those weapons he ran checks on so far, all serial numbers were good.
“All the reports haven’t come back yet,” he added.
Shingler also asked whether the two guns were bought at M & R were purchased through a legitimate transaction, and Chetwynd said yes.
Fuller stood up again and pointed out that in his pre-trial services report, Savage checked the “no” box next to a question asking him whether he illicitly used controlled substances – a contradiction to Chetwynd’s affidavit.
Due to that affidavit, Judge Conroy found that there was probable cause for the charge against Savage.
During the detention hearing portion of Savage’s appearance yesterday, the focus was centered around his ownership of guns.
Fuller argued that Savage’s ownership of guns, and his continued purchases into July, showed his blatant disregard for the law, under which he is not allowed to own firearms as an illicit drug user.
Furthermore, Fuller argued that Savage should know that as a licensed firearms dealer.
“What my concern is,” she said, “how to supervise a person who believes, regardless of what federal law says, he has the right to own firearms?”
Fuller said she felt Savage posed a danger to the community, and safety couldn’t be ensured by any set conditions of release.
Shingler, in turn, argued that Savage owned firearms purely as a collector, and had no direct court order not to possess firearms following the July raid. She also argued that his business, his involvement in his community as a selectboard member, the lack of violent history, and needed medical attention for his hand, all warranted Savaged to be released with conditions.
“He has never done anything to put his community at risk,” said Shingler. “This is a man who loves his community.”
Conroy agreed that stringent conditions could be set for Savage for his release. Conditions include drug counseling and screening, travel restrictions, mental and psychiatric treatment, refraining from excessive use of alcohol, and no possession offirearms.
“You will have no guns, you understand that?” Conroy asked Savage.
Savage responded, “I do.”
Savage must now go through the pre-trial services process before any more court action will be taken.
In the meantime, he is back home in Alburgh. He is still running his business and acting as a member of the selectboard. According to town clerk Donna Bohannon, his position on the board will likely be addressed at the next meeting on Tuesday at 7 p.m.