Monday, December 18, 2017

Turbulence in the air: Accusations fly in probe of former Vermont aviation chief

News in pursuit of truth 

Claims of defamation, bribery and political payback are coming to light following news of a probe into the former director of the state aviation program for allegedly playing fast and loose with taxpayer money.

Guy Rouelle is firing back at state officials who are making accusations against him, saying he is perplexed by what he describes as an attempt to discredit him six months after he resigned from the Vermont Agency of Transportation.

Also entangled in “Aviation-gate” is a Stowe attorney who says he has ended up in the crosshairs for his outspokenness in his attempt to hold the state accountable for its alleged role in the largest investor fraud scandal in the history of the EB-5 program.

An internal Agency of Transportation memo uncovered from a VTDigger public records request uses terms like “misappropriation of funds” and “shell game” regarding the aviation program Rouelle had been overseeing.

The former aviation chief didn’t mince words when asked about the allegations in that internal memo, using the term “total horse crap” more than once.

“We never misappropriated state funds, ever,” Rouelle said. “There was plenty of oversight on these things. If they had any problem with any of these things, they should have brought them up at the time.”

Information from that internal memo and interviews by VTDigger regarding Rouelle and the aviation division he ran has led to a crossfire of allegations, innuendo and talk of retribution.

Gov. Phil Scott, speaking last week at an event in Bennington, said an “internal investigation” took place after Rouelle stepped down as head of the aviation program, which oversees the state’s 10 regional airports. Scott recently eliminated the aviation program as a standalone division and rolled it into the rail program.

“There is an investigation at this point in time with the state police,” the governor added. “There is no report yet — they are continuing. We would release that as soon as they come to some conclusion.”

State police and Agency of Transportation officials remain tight-lipped about the probe, saying they can’t discuss the matter while it is still under investigation.

State Transportation Secretary Joe Flynn declined last week to answer questions about the specifics of the allegations or investigation, saying he didn’t want to compromise a probe that is now in the hands of the state police.

“I can say that we had some concerns about potential activities in the aviation program and we feel it’s important to ensure Vermonters we’re managing tax dollars in an appropriate fashion, and I wanted to look into it,” Flynn said.

The transportation secretary said the aviation program review prompted an agencywide assessment of practices and the implementation of tighter financial controls.

Rouelle said he has been contacted by Vermont State Police and has agreed to meet with them, though he wasn’t sure when that would take place.

Allegations against Rouelle laid out in documents, including an email with the subject line “Audit of Aviation,” include keeping one set of books for lawmakers and another for his supervisors, and misusing funds for helicopter training for himself and later for a helicopter rental, all on the state’s dime.

The subject line appears to be a misnomer, as no audit of the aviation program has been conducted, according to Karen Haines, the public information officer for VTrans.

Rouelle called the allegations against him a “smear campaign” and denied any improper actions, saying his supervisors knew what he was doing all along and never raised an objection.

It’s only the helicopter matter that the state police have asked to talk to him about, he added. Rouelle said he’ll “gladly cooperate.”

“I have absolutely nothing to hide,” he said.

Every invoice and expenditure he made for tuition and helicopter training was approved, he said. In all, Rouelle spent about $27,000 on professional training for a helicopter license in 2016 that he says he needed for airport planning.

“I had no inkling there was an issue at the time,” Rouelle said. “Everybody in the agency knew I was taking helicopter training classes.”

Documents show that Michele Boomhower, the director of policy, planning and intermodal development for the Transportation Agency, and Trini Brassard, the agency’s assistant director of operations, signed off on the invoices for Sharkey’s Helicopters in Lebanon, New Hampshire.

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1 comment:

Jim B said...

I smell a skunk, too.

What does the need for a helicopter license have to do with planning rural airports?

Signed off or not you have some explaining to do.

Those of us who pay for our own stuff out of our own pocket have a different model of thinking compared to those who enable themselves to get their stuff at some one else's expense.

That's the rub, Bub.