By MIKE DONOGHUE
A well-known Chittenden County coin and jewelry businessman, who faces criminal charges of failing to keep proper anti-theft records for precious metals received at his store, now faces an unrelated felony count of sexual abuse of an elderly woman.
Stephen J. Edwards, 70, has pleaded not guilty in Vermont Superior Court to lewd and lascivious conduct with a vulnerable adult. The woman in her 90s was on her deathbed at Burlington Health and Rehab on Pearl Street at the time of the incident earlier this year, court records show.
Edwards was visiting the facility when he went into the room of a woman who was in hospice care and unable to communicate, Burlington Officer Kyle Yeh said in a sworn affidavit. Yeh said a nurse walked in to provide morphine and found a man committing a lewd act on the elderly woman, who was in bed. The nurse ordered the man, later identified as Edwards, to leave the room, court records show.
The woman died a few days later, Yeh wrote.
The charge involving the nursing home incident came a month after Edwards was charged with two misdemeanor counts of failing to maintain proper business records for his company, Vermont Coins and Jewelry. He pleaded not guilty to those charges and was released on conditions while awaiting trial.
Police believe Edwards had $137,547 worth of undocumented transactions in August 2017 and $97,666 in September 2017, Vermont State Trooper James Vooris said in a court affidavit.
Edwards and a few other coin dealers in Chittenden and Washington counties were charged as part of an investigation into burglars selling jewelry, coins and other items they stole from homes and businesses, court records show.
They were charged under a new Vermont law to discourage drug addicts from stealing valuables and selling them to feed their habits, state police said.
Edwards operated his shop next to Bay Plaza on Route 7 in Shelburne before moving to the Blue Mall at 150 Dorset St. in South Burlington several years ago.
The defendant, also known as John Edwards, lived for many years on Mount Philo Road in Charlotte and now resides on Nicklaus Circle, in South Burlington, records show.
If convicted of the lewd conduct charge, Edwards faces up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
Burlington police said they have a recorded phone call with Edwards admitting to the conduct, Yeh wrote in an affidavit. Police said nursing home surveillance video from shows Edwards there the evening of the incident.
Edwards claimed he was checking whether the woman was still breathing, police said.
Judge Nancy Waples agreed to free Edwards on conditions while awaiting trial, but banned him from Burlington Health and Rehab.
A status conference for both the sex count and the business records case is planned Sept. 25 at the Costello Courthouse.
The business records case
Assistant Attorney General Paul Barkus charged Edwards July 24 with failing to maintain proper business records for August and September 2017.
Vermont Coin and Jewelry “failed to document a large number of transactions and at least 17 specific and different precious metal transactions” during those two months, Trooper Vooris wrote in court papers.
He said those 17 deals involved $63,553, but did not properly reflect the true worth of the stolen valuables.
The charge alleges that, during both months, Edwards purchased precious metals, but failed to record required facts such as the amount of money paid; the name, address and telephone number of the seller; a description of the items; a digital photograph of the items; a copy of the seller’s ID.
If convicted, Edwards faces up to six months in prison and a fine of up to a $10,000 on each count.
Vooris, who works at the Middlesex barracks, said the investigation began when he learned the Country Thrift Store and More in Barre was allegedly buying stolen precious metals from area burglaries, court records show. The investigation led to other stores, including Edwards’ business in South Burlington, according to court records.
Vooris said the property included gold, silver, platinum, palladium, jewelry and coins that sold for more than the face value.
The investigation involved subpoenas for bank records and checks issued. Vooris said state police in Middlesex investigated 51 burglaries between Aug. 1 and Sept. 30, 2017.
After comparing subpoenaed bank records and checks with the transaction documents that Vermont Coin and Jewelry had turned over to state police, “there appeared to be dozens of undocumented transactions,” Vooris wrote.
Some of the undocumented transactions were exchanges with Jerry Savo, 52, and Emily Legacy, 29, both of Burlington, a pair of known burglars who had sold stolen property to precious metal dealers, Vooris said.
They were arrested Oct. 20, 2017 after a lengthy car chase through parts of Chittenden, Washington and Lamoille counties, ending in the woods of Stowe.
Vooris said investigation showed Savo and Legacy received eight checks from an account at Vermont Coin and Jewelry. Investigators reviewed store records and found only three checks documented.
During an interview with police, Savo said Edwards had not been honest with investigators, the affidavit said. “I know for a fact he didn’t tell you guys all that. He is a moneymaker. He said to your people that he had only seen me once. I’m not going to cover for him anymore; he didn’t cover for me,” the affidavit reports Savo said.
Savo said when he visited Vermont Coin and Jewelry for the fifth or sixth time to sell stolen property, Edwards followed him out of the store and warned him that state police “were asking about him and he needed to ‘slow down’ bringing jewelry there,” Vooris wrote.
Savo explained to police that stealing jewelry was quick way to find money to support his drug addiction.
Police found Savo truthful when he led investigators to stolen property he had discarded on the side of a road. Police found and returned it to the owner, Vooris said.
Edwards in April told police that he did not like the requirements of the new Vermont law for storeowners buying jewelry, coins and other precious metals. Vooris also said Edwards told police he had done about $400,000 in business in the previous month and he admitted to police that some transactions might not be in his shop’s books.