Wednesday February 6, 2013

NEAL P. GOSWAMI

Staff Writer

BENNINGTON -- A woman named in an ongoing criminal investigation into an alleged prostitution ring claims to have been paid for sexual encounters with two local men, one of whom is a prominent local businessman who has been recently subjected to search warrants.

Kayla Foucher, 23, first named in an affidavit used by Bennington Police Detective Anthony Sylvestro to obtain a search warrant, told the Banner of "about eight" sexual encounters she had with Thomas Lyons, owner of Bennington Subaru.

Foucher told the Banner that Lyons communicated with her through a Yahoo email account using the name "Owen." She later learned that "Owen" was Lyons after seeing him in a television commercial for his car dealership about one month ago.

As many as nine men

Foucher said as many as nine men solicited women involved in the alleged prostitution ring.

Sylvestro, the lead investigator in the case, confirmed Tuesday that Foucher’s information was consistent with what she had told police in several interviews. He said, however, that he could not confirm how many men may have solicited sex from Foucher or others.

"I have no idea as of right now. I just don’t know," Sylvestro said.

According to Foucher, she would meet Lyons on the street and the alleged sexual encounters took place in a vehicle.


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The alleged encounters were set up by another man through Facebook, she said.

Every encounter involved Lyons receiving oral sex, for which Foucher said she was paid $50 each time. Another woman was present at least once but did not participate, Foucher said.

"When I met Tom Lyons I was prostituting. He had told me that his name was Owen," Foucher said. "I didn’t meet him as Tom Lyons. I had no idea he was Tom Lyons. That’s how I met him. He was the one that was pretty much a regular for me."

Lyons did not pursue intercourse, according to Foucher.

Foucher described herself as "a junkie" when the alleged sexual encounters occurred last year, but is now clean and no longer using drugs. She said she did not consider potential consequences at the time.

"I didn’t know what to do or think. I was so caught up in the money and the drugs that you don’t think about anything like that. You believe what they tell you," she said.

Foucher said she does not consider herself a prostitute as a result of the very brief period of her life that she described.

"I guess in a way I was. But somebody who does that for a month should not consider themselves that," she said.

A police affidavit indicates that Foucher has told police of at least four other women potentially involved in the alleged prostitution ring. One female, identified only by her initials, is just 17 years old.

Also listed in the redacted document is G.B., and two women both named Danielle. Their ages are unknown.

Foucher told the Banner she also had sexual encounters with Preston Foster, 50, owner of Foster’s Cannery on Benmont Avenue. Foster pleaded not guilty last month to a felony charge that he solicited a prostitute. Court records allege that Foster provided Foucher with crack cocaine in exchange for sex.

A prosecutor said during a bail hearing last week that Foster was not just a client, but also was involved in the business of prostitution.

Sylvestro said he does not know of any personal relationship between Lyons and Foster.

The investigation into the alleged prostitution ring, which began to include Lyons about six weeks ago, according to police, is ongoing. Police have declined to offer details of the investigation, but have corroborated information obtained by the Banner from other sources.

It remains unclear if or when any criminal charges will be filed related to the investigation, Sylvestro said. Police are awaiting additional forensic evidence, he said.

Contacted Tuesday evening, Lyons’ attorney, David Silver, with the Bennington firm Barr, Sternberg, Moss, Lawrence & Silver, said Lyons would have no comment on Foucher’s allegations.

"As painful as it is for Tom to remain silent in the face of the Banner’s reporting of rumors, speculation and unproven allegations, upon my advice, he is not going to make a comment because it would be inappropriate and wrong for him to make a public comment when there is an ongoing investigation with which he is fully cooperating. Just as it is inappropriate and wrong for any town official or police officer to make a public comment on any ongoing criminal investigation," Silver said.

Silver also said it is "unfortunate" and "unfair" that "the Banner feels compelled to print whatever they can get their hands on in this tawdry and unseemly story instead of waiting for the investigation to be complete."

A Facebook account under the name "Jason Balsh," whom police believe to be a fictitious character, according to one source, appears to be a central point of the alleged ring. Sylvestro said Tuesday that police are looking into the possibility that Lyons has portrayed himself online as Balsh.

Balsh’s Facebook account listed 279 friends last week, all of whom appear to be young women. As of Tuesday afternoon, his friends count had dropped to 265 people following an article that appeared in the Banner on Feb. 2.

Foucher said she met Lyons through Balsh. She said she and Balsh were introduced on Facebook by Foucher’s friend, Jennifer Onorato, who is also connected to Balsh in court documents.

Police have served at least four search warrants as part of the investigation. Two were served at Lyons’ Old Bennington home and Bennington car dealership on Jan. 21. Property was removed from both sites, according to police.

A third search warrant targeting Onorato was served on Jan. 23, during which police seized her cell phone.

The Banner requested copies of all three warrants from Bennington Superior Court Criminal Division. Judge Cortland T. Corsones has sealed the warrants targeting Lyons and allowed partial access to the one targeting Onorato.

Corsones also sealed his order, meaning the public does will not know why Corsones is denying public access to the records targeting Lyons. The Banner has appealed the judge’s decision, though a hearing has yet to be scheduled.

A fourth search warrant was obtained by Sylvestro on Nov. 14 for the Facebook account of Jason Balsh. Facebook provided Sylvestro with access to the account in December. The Banner has also requested copies of that warrant and all related materials. A hearing on the Banner’s request will be scheduled by the court, according to a court official.

The partially redacted affidavit targeting Onorato that was released to the Banner by the court includes the text of a July 2012 Facebook chat between Balsh and Onorato, a 31-year-old Bennington resident. In the online conversation Onorato told Balsh that Foucher was willing to "work" for him. During the course of that conversation, Onorato also offered to work for Balsh "if the price is right."

Onorato, in a brief telephone interview last week, denied ever having sex for money or making money from others having sex.

Contact Neal P. Goswami at ngoswami@benningtonbanner.com, or follow on Twitter: @nealgoswami