By MIKE DONOGHUE
A well-known South Burlington coin and jewelry businessman — who police say accepted valuable stolen property from burglars and thieves — has pleaded guilty to failing to keep proper anti-theft records for precious metals and other treasures received at his store, court records show.
Stephen J. Edwards, 71, of Nicklaus Circle received a suspended 3-to-6 month prison sentence on Friday in Vermont Superior Court. He was placed on probation for two years by Judge Kevin Griffin.
The longtime owner of Vermont Coins and Jewelry in the Blue Mall at 150 Dorset Street also was assessed $147 in court fees and surcharges. It was unclear why, but the court gave the businessman until April 24 to pay the assessment.
Edwards moved his business to South Burlington several years ago after having his shop on U.S. 7 in Shelburne next to Bay Plaza. The defendant, also known as John Edwards, lived for many years on Mount Philo Road in Charlotte
He still faces a more serious unrelated felony count of sexual abuse of an elderly woman.
Edwards has pleaded not guilty to committing lewd conduct in July 2018 with a vulnerable adult woman, who was on her deathbed at the Burlington Health and Rehab on Pearl Street.
The woman who was in her 90s died a few days later.
Edwards is due back in criminal court on Feb. 28 for a change of plea hearing in that case, records show.
Attorney General T. J. Donovan’s office, which prosecuted the precious metals case, has said it would support the sentences in the two cases to run at the same time.
However, the Chittenden County State’s Attorney’s Office, which is prosecuting the sex crime, has not weighed in on whether it will support having the sentences run consecutively or at the same time.
Edwards faces up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000, if convicted on the lewd conduct charge filed by Deputy State’s Attorney Dana M. DiSano.
If Edwards changes his plea on Feb. 28 to guilty or no contest, it is likely the judge will order a presentence investigation. The report will outline for the judge the life of Edwards before a sentencing is held in the lewd conduct case.
Edwards was visiting the rehab 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 in bed. The nurse ordered the man, later identified as Edwards, to leave the room, court records show.
The coin case
Edwards and a few other coin dealers in Chittenden and Washington counties were charged last summer as part of an elaborate investigation into burglars and thieves selling jewelry, coins and other items they stole from homes and businesses.
They were prosecuted under a new Vermont law to discourage drug addicts from stealing valuables and selling them to feed their habits, state police said.
A frequent home burglar said when he visited Vermont Coin and Jewelry for the fifth or sixth time to sell stolen property, Edwards followed him outside to warn him state police “were asking about him and he needed to ‘slow down’ bringing jewelry there,” police said in court papers.
The man with the stolen loot explained to police that stealing jewelry was a quick way to find money to support his drug addiction, records show.
Police believe Edwards had $137,547 worth of undocumented transactions in August 2017 and $97,666 in September 2017, State Trooper James Vooris said in an affidavit.
Edwards in April told police he disliked the requirements of the new Vermont law for storeowners buying jewelry, coins and other precious metals.
Vooris stated Edwards told police he had done about $400,000 in business in the previous month and he admitted to police some transactions might not be in his shop’s books.
In his court case, Edwards failed in August 2017 to secure the six requirements under the law when buying valuables, prosecutors said. Court papers show Edwards failed to record the amount paid for valuables and the name, address and phone number of the seller. Edwards also failed to obtain both a digital photograph and a legible description of the purchased items. He also failed to get a government-issued identification of the seller and to document ownership of the items, the records note.
As part of the plea bargain, Assistant Attorney General Paul Barkus agreed to drop the second charge of Edwards failing to maintain proper records as a precious metals dealer in 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 August and September 2017, 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.
Vooris said the investigation began when he learned the Country Thrift Store and More in Barre was reportedly buying stolen precious metals from area burglaries, records show.
The investigation led to other businesses, including Edwards’ store in South Burlington.
Vooris said the property included gold, silver, platinum, palladium, jewelry and coins that sold for more than the face value.
State police in Middlesex investigated 51 burglaries between Aug. 1 and Sept. 30, 2017, Vooris said.
Troopers used subpoenas to obtain bank records and checks issued. 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.
Several undocumented transactions involved Jerry Savo, 52, and Emily Legacy, 29, both of Burlington, a well-known pair of burglars who had sold stolen property to precious metal dealers, police said.
Police arrested Savo and Legacy after a lengthy car chase through parts of Chittenden, Washington and Lamoille counties and ending in the woods of Stowe on Oct. 20, 2017. It was during that chase that then-Richmond Police Chief Alan Buck had a heart attack, but was revived on the side of the road by veteran State Police Sgt. Paul Ravelin.
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.”
Police determined Savo was honest when he led investigators to stolen property he had discarded on the side of a road. Police found and returned the items to the owner, Vooris said.