BURLINGTON— Alburgh Selectman Bernard Savage was quiet as he sat, his hand bandaged and his arm in a sling, in U.S. District Court in Burlington Monday.
Savage appeared before Magistrate Judge John M. Conroy to be arraigned on a charge of distributing cocaine. The charge stems from a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) investigation that began in late 2013, according to court documents.
Though Vermont State Police, Alburgh volunteer firefighters and DEA agents, raided his home and business, B.P. Autoworks, on July 1 – and even though he waived his rights and told police he used and sold cocaine – Savage was not arrested until last week.
According to VSP, Savage was brought to Northwestern Medical Center Thursday with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to his hand. Following an interview with police and consenting to his home being searched, VSP found the gun with which Savage reportedly shot himself.
Under a lesser-known provision of federal law, it is illegal for a person using drugs to be in possession of a firearm. Savage was arrested on Friday and charged with distribution of cocaine. He did not enter a plea to the charge during his initial appearance in court yesterday, and was ordered to be held until Wednesday, when his detention hearing is scheduled.
Savage, who was elected to the Alburgh Selectboard in March 2014, has been under DEA scrutiny for narcotics trafficking since late 2013. According to an affidavit filed on Friday, a confidential informant (CI) was used to conduct a number of controlled drug purchases from Savage.
The affidavit describes one meeting between Savage and the CI in September 2014. Savage allegedly told the CI, “I’ve been doing this sh*t my whole life. I mean … I deal coke, I deal pills, and I deal pot, I do all that…” He alleged added later in the conversation, “I got pills, I got coke, I got pot, I got everything you want. I’m like a walking drugstore. … And I’m making money like hand over.”
Court documents state that in a November 2014, Savage was recorded in a video giving the CI a half ounce of cocaine and then holding what appears to be a gun and snorting what appears to be white powder. It is also alleged that on April 9 of this year, the CI went to Savage’s house and, in the garage, received 200 oxycodone pills in exchange for $1,000.
The affidavit describes the exchange as involving Patty Savage, Savage’s wife, who Savage allegedly told to pass the pills to the CI and then the money from the CI to Savage.
In that exchange, Savage also allegedly told the CI he had guns hidden that were untraceable to him.
On July 1, Savage’s home and gas and auto station were searched and a number of items were seized. When a VSP officer read Savage his Miranda rights – which he waived – Savage told the officer he used cocaine and sold “a gram or two” of cocaine “here or there,” according to the affidavit.
Documents related to the raid and Savage’s arrest were sealed Friday following a request by U.S. District Attorney Eric Miller. The motion to seal them was made in an effort to protect the enforcement officers and due to the alleged “flight risk” Savage presents.
During his appearance in court yesterday, Savage said very little. As he faced the judge, his gray braided hair lay against the back of his t-shirt on which was written “Bootkill Saloon.” His quick look back at his family, who sat in the last row of benches in the courtroom, revealed Savage’s long beard and mustache.
Burlington attorney Norm Blais represented Savage, though Blais was standing in for Karen Shingler, another Burlington attorney. In the back row with Savage’s family was Thomas Niksa, a St. Albans attorney who said he has assisted Savage with legal representation thus far, but has not yet been entered with the U.S. District Court on Savage’s criminal charge defense.
U.S. District Attorney Wendy Fuller asked that the arraignment be continued for two more days, since she was waiting on information from M & R Guns & Ammo in Highgate that could confirm that Savage recently purchased two firearms – which he is not supposed to be in possession of.
Conroy granted the continuance until Wednesday at 1:30 p.m. In the discussion about the decision whether Savage should be held until then, Fuller said he should be held. “[He’s] a danger to the community, your honor,” she said.
Members of Savage’s family reacted to that from the back row of the courtroom.
Blais pointed out that pretrial services discovered that Savage did not pose a risk, but Conroy said he was concerned about the use of guns.
“You recorded in the pretrial services report that all the guns were seized, but he sustained a gunshot wound, is that right?” asked Conroy.
And with additional documents expected to show that Savage recently bought more guns in Highgate, Conroy decided that the U.S. Marshal’s Service should hold Savage until he appeared back in court at 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday.
Savage did not enter a plea before being escorted from the room.
In Alburgh, there has been little response from Savage’s fellow selectboard members. All were either unreachable or chose not to comment.
According to meeting minutes, Savage was present and made motions on several items during the Aug. 11, selectboard meeting.
Though she chose not to comment about Savage, Alburgh Town Clerk and Treasurer Donna Bohannon said the topic would be broached at a selectboard meeting.
“The board will be discussing this at a meeting,” Bohannon said Monday. When asked whether a special meeting would be called for, she said most likely, though she couldn’t confirm that.
It is unclear what the selectboard will do, and that’s perhaps because the situation itself may be unprecedented. In an email sent Monday, Secretary of State Jim Condos said he had never heard of a town selectman with a federal drug charge before.
“I’m not aware of anything like this in the past,” said Condos. When asked what might happen with Savage’s position on the board, Condos wrote, “Unless a town has a recall position in their charter they would have to wait for a resignation or… when his term is up.”
In a call to Savage’s home yesterday, an unidentified man answered the phone. In response to a question for comment, the man said, “There’s no comment. Goodbye.”