MIDDLEBURY — Addison District Court Judge Cortland Corsones on Monday accepted a plea agreement between former Vergennes police chief Michael Lowe and state prosecutors in which Lowe pleaded guilty to driving under the influence of prescription drugs, a felony, and to one count of obtaining prescription drugs by fraud. Lowe also agreed not to contest a charge of neglect of duty.
Prosecutors agreed with Lowe and his attorney, Richard Goldsborough of South Burlington, to drop a second charge of obtaining prescription drugs by fraud, plus charges of illegal possession or prescription drugs and embezzlement.
Prosecutors also agreed in the deal approved on Monday to request a sentence ranging from 18 months in jail to no more than four years, and not to “oppose recommendation of work camp for any incarcerative portion of the sentence imposed.” Corsones will preside over a sentencing hearing at Addison District Court on March 15 at 1 p.m.
Lowe, 51, who served the Vergennes force for eight years, resigned in September after two August arraignments on six charges. He spent most of the summer in Florida undergoing treatment for addiction to prescription drugs.
Lowe’s legal troubles began in June, when a city cruiser he was driving while off duty struck a parked car. On Monday, he admitted that was a DUI-drugs accident. Court documents made public in August revealed that the attorney general’s office in June was already investigating Lowe for his drug problems, as well as an alleged conflict of interest in a case Lowe had handled in Vergennes.
The other charge Lowe pleaded guilty to stems from his persuasion of a young officer on the city force to turn over prescription drugs to him. The neglect of duty charge stems from his failure to return a gun used in a suicide to the family of the victim. Lowe also allegedly traded that gun to another officer in exchange for the purchase of vitamin supplements and “fat-burner” pills, an act that led to the embezzlement charge that was dropped.
Goldsborough said after Monday’s court session that he would seek a sentence without jail time for Lowe.
“He accepts responsibility for what he’s done and the focus should be on rehabilitation as opposed to punishment,” Goldsborough said.
Goldsborough briefly outlined after the court session how Lowe’s drug problems took root.
“Mike has had several cervical neck surgeries in his past. The prescriptions were for narcotic prescription medications prescribed lawfully, and it really snowballed for Mike in his life. It really turned into a tolerance and then abuse of prescription meds,” he said.
Lowe was not available for comment, but Goldsborough expressed regret on Lowe’s behalf.
“He’s accepting responsibility for what he’s pled to. He wants to put this behind him for himself and his family and the residents of the city of Vergennes,” he said.
After the court session, prosecutor Robert Menzel from the Vermont Attorney General’s office said he and Stuart Schurr, the traffic safety resource prosecutor for the Vermont Department of States’ Attorneys and Sheriffs who is working with him on Lowe’s case, would seek a sentence within the range of the 18-month-to-four-year term outlined in the plea agreement. But Menzel declined comment on exactly how stiff a punishment they would request Corsones to impose.
After the half-hour court session, Goldsborough said in arguing for leniency on March 15 he would cite Lowe’s “positive record” of service during his eight years in Vergennes and his successful treatment for drug dependency, which he said was at the root of Lowe’s legal problems.
Goldsborough said Lowe had takEN “a big step today” in accepting responsibility for his actions, which included persuading a young patrolman — also since resigned — to hand over his prescription drugs to Lowe on an ongoing basis.
“My game plan will be that Mike’s made significant strides to maintain his sobriety, and being clean for the last six months, that’s an important element,” Goldsborough said.
New information did surface in the court session. Menzel, who along with Schurr is handling the case because Lowe worked closely with the local state’s attorney’s office, said that prosecutors believe Lowe’s misconduct extended beyond the charges that were filed.
Menzel made a statement in court that the plea agreement included a deal that prosecutors would not file more charges based on further evidence collected in the investigation conducted by the attorney general’s office into Lowe’s drug problems.
“During the course of the investigation, the state had come to possession of potential evidence regarding additional charges, but the agreement was that no ... further action would be taken in light of the agreement to these charges. So there would be no additional criminal charges brought against Mr. Lowe as a part of the plea agreement,” Menzel said.
In a brief interview after the court session, Menzel said the additional evidence came to light after Lowe’s two August arraignments and responded, “Right, yes,” to a question of whether the misconduct stemmed from Lowe’s drug problem.
“It was similar in nature to some of the charges that were brought to court,” Menzel said.
Menzel said regardless of the arguments that he, Schurr and Goldsborough would make on March 15, ultimately Corsones would determine Lowe’s punishment.
“It’s up to the judge,” Menzel said. “Four (years) is the maximum he can get.”