Thursday March 7, 2013

KEITH WHITCOMB JR.

Staff Writer

BENNINGTON -- A man whose appointment to a town service officer position was revoked last year because of alleged false credentials is facing charges that he took and kept a man’s heater under the guise of repairing it, and possessed a radio that did not belong to him.

Christopher J. Gagne, 38, of Union Street, pleaded not guilty Monday in Bennington Superior Court Criminal Division to false pretenses, possession of stolen property, false information to police, and false advertising. He was released on conditions that he not contact Edward Corey or James Loftus, and not harass Betty Swartz.

In April of last year, Gagne was appointed town service officer by the Select Board, but his title was revoked in early May after the board learned from local police that Gagne has a criminal history which included allegedly impersonating a police officer in the late 1990s. The information from police led Town Manager Stuart Hurd to look deeper into Gagne’s references. Gagne’s appointment was revoked after the board discussed Hurd’s findings in an executive session.

According to an affidavit by Bennington Police Officer Lawrence Cole, police learned that in April 2012 Corey sought someone to repair one of two $300 space heaters he owns and uses for his construction business. He saw an advertisement in the Tristate Pennysaver placed by a "Mr.


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Fix-It" claiming "If it’s broken ... we can fix it." Corey told police he called the number on the advertisement and spoke to a male, and the two made arrangements for the heater to be picked up and repaired.

Multiple calls

Corey said the heater was retrieved while he was not around and he never met the person face-to-face but over the next few weeks made multiple calls to "Mr. Fix-It" inquiring about the heater, but never got a response.

Later, Corey was speaking to his friend, Swartz, who is Gagne’s landlord and knew he ran the Mr. Fix-It business.

Swartz and Gagne are currently involved in a legal dispute in Bennington Superior Court Civil Division. Swartz claims through court filings made by her attorney Raymond Bolton that Gagne owes her a year’s worth of rent, while Gagne has filed a counter claim through his attorney Brian A. Sawyer claiming that Swartz breached an agreement they had for him to do remodeling work in lieu of rent. He also claims that town building inspectors found 39 safety violations in the apartment and incorporated a copy of the report into the filing.

According to the police affidavit, Corey went to Bennington Police about getting his heater back and put them in touch with Swartz, who told police she has had numerous issues with Gagne and claimed he has not paid his rent in over a year and has complained about faulty heating in his apartment and lead paint.

In an interview with the Banner, Cole said Swartz told him a contractor working for her entered Gagne’s apartment on Jan. 23 and took picture’s of a heater matching the description of the one Corey had given her. Cole said that in his affidavit he mistakenly wrote that Swartz entered the apartment and he plans to file an amendment to the affidavit.

Cole wrote in the affidavit that past experiences with Gagne made him think it would not be wise to ask Gagne about the heater without first obtaining a search warrant and seizing it, so that was done on March 3. Police found a heater matching the description of the one Corey had given as well as a portable Motorola Radio, the same kind used by local police and firefighters, along with a list of radio frequencies used by police and fire departments. Gagne told police he was given the radio by James Loftus, however Loftus told police he never did this. Loftus, in July, reported to police his truck being vandalized and said he suspected Gagne of doing it but because he did not realize the radio was missing he never reported it was gone.

Gagne told police after he determined the heater was too expensive to fix he called the owner to inform them, but could not recall that person’s name.

Corey denied ever receiving such a call.

Gagne told police that when he took the heater he was using an "online ticketing program" to track repair accounts but then suffered carbon monoxide poisoning and let the service lapse, losing the information he had logged into it. He said the poisoning has also caused him to suffer memory loss and he has been diagnosed with early dementia.

According to the affidavit, Gagne used to be named Hans Peterson and under that name has convictions for false information to police, running a private investigating service without a license, theft of services, impersonating a public officer, unlawful restraint, simple assault, burglary, unlawful trespass, and vehicle operation without owner’s consent. Police said these convictions happened between 1993 and 1998.

Gagne declined to comment for this article.

Contact Keith Whitcomb Jr. at kwhitcomb@benningtonbanner.com or follow him on Twitter @KWhitcombjr