Saturday April 6, 2013

NEAL P. GOSWAMI

Senior Staff Writer

BENNINGTON -- Criminal charges are expected to be filed "imminently" in an ongoing investigation into what police have called a prostitution ring, Bennington County State's Attorney Erica Marthage said on Friday.

That investigation has targeted Bennington Subaru owner Thomas B. Lyons, who told police last year that he had sex with an admitted prostitute, according to search warrant materials released to the Banner by a judge on Friday.

Lyons, 54, an Old Bennington resident, has been under investigation since December for his alleged role in the so-called prostitution ring. Search warrant affidavits, released Friday after the Banner appealed a court decision to seal them, included some previously unknown information about the case. They connect Lyons to Kayla Foucher, a 23-year-old Bennington woman who told both police and the Banner in separate interviews that Lyons paid her for sex.

According to an affidavit written last November by Bennington Police Detective Anthony Silvestro, Foucher spoke with investigators in September about her relationship with Lyons, who was known to her as Owen.

"Kayla described him as a white male in his 50s, perfect teeth, medium build and drives a white Subaru vehicle. Wanted oral sex, paid $50 a time and wanted more than one female at a time. Kayla described Owen as a regular and they would go to the Subaru dealership parking lot and a driveway unknown to have sex. Det. Urbanowicz recognized the description of the male with the vehicle information Kayla provide(d). Det. Urbanowicz showed a photograph to Kayla who identified the male as Owen. The male in the photograph is Tom Lyons DOB 08/11/1958," the affidavit states.

The affidavit describes a subsequent interview with Lyons by a Bennington Police detective in which Lyons admits to having sexual contact with Foucher.

"Det/Sgt. Rowland later interviewed Lyons who admitted to driving on School Street and pulling over to talk to a female. Lyons identified the female as Kayla. Lyons admitted to having sex with Kayla. Lyons did not provide any further information to Det/Sgt. Rowland," it states.

Lyons' attorney, David F. Silver, has previously denied that Lyons was involved in any prostitution ring. Lyons did not admit to paying for sex with Foucher in the released affidavits.

Several search warrants have been executed in the case by the Bennington Police Department, including two at the home and business of Lyons.

Another search warrant targeted Jennifer Onorato, a 32-year-old Bennington resident. According to court documents, Onorato introduced Foucher to a man named Jason Balsh on Facebook. It was Balsh who led Foucher to Lyons.

Silver, of the Bennington law firm Barr, Sternberg, Moss, Lawrence & Silver, filed motions to seal those two search warrants, as well as another search warrant granted to police for the Facebook account of Jason Balsh. Corsones ordered the first two sealed, which the Banner appealed, and ordered a hearing on the Banner's request for the other.

All of the search warrants and affidavits used to obtain them were released Friday by Bennington Super Court Criminal Division Judge Cortland T. Corsones.

Police believe Balsh, whose Facebook profile picture shows a young black male, is a fictitious character. Bennington Police Detective Anthony Silvestro previously told the Banner they are investigating the possibility that Lyons pretended to be Balsh on Facebook.

Facebook has turned over to the police conversations that Balsh had with other people online. The court did not release those conversations on Friday. However, a released affidavit written by Silvestro alludes to the contents.

"In reviewing the account of Jason Balsh I began reading some of the conversations he was having with other females. Balsh in speaking with these females would solicit them about performing sexual acts for money and/or narcotics. Balsh would then ask the females to send him full-length pictures of them both clothed and unclothed. Balsh provided two Yahoo email address(es) for the females to send him the photos. Balsh would tell some of the females he needed to sell them to his clients. Balsh would also encourage these females to suggest friends of theirs who may be interested and if so, they would receive a percentage of whatever Balsh received in using their friends."

Marthage said Friday that criminal charges arising from the ongoing investigation will be filed against the person "portraying themselves as Jason Balsh."

"The investigation into whether Tom Lyons is, in fact, Jason Balsh is continuing," she said. "The person portraying themselves as Jason Balsh, that is the subject of the investigation."

According to the documents released Friday, police seized several computers, computer disks and other media storage devices, cell phones, and a digital camera from Lyons' home and Northside Drive business. Marthage said Friday that computers are undergoing forensic examinations by experts, but a report has not yet been completed.

"We have received a preliminary oral report. We'll probably be doing something on this case in the next week or so," she said. "The initial computer analysis is complete. I just need to review all that and make sure I'm comfortable with whatever it is I'm going to do."

Marthage said charges in the case will be filed before information from Lyons' computers is available.

"It would take more than a year for me to get a full, written report," Marthage said. "I have a significant problem with waiting more than a year."

Silver said Friday that Lyons is working with police and Marthage to resolve the criminal investigation.

"We're cooperating with the criminal investigation. We're cooperating with the state's attorney's office. We're working together to find an appropriate resolution to this matter," Silver said.

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