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Out of rehab, Vt. chief in court

Charges linked to use of painkillers

Michael Lowe (left), chief of police in Vergennes, Vt., sat with his attorney, Richard Goldsborough, at his arraignment on multiple charges in Vermont District Court yesterday. Michael Lowe (left), chief of police in Vergennes, Vt., sat with his attorney, Richard Goldsborough, at his arraignment on multiple charges in Vermont District Court yesterday. (Toby Talbot/ Associated Press)
By John Curran
Associated Press / August 25, 2009

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MIDDLEBURY, Vt. - The city of Vergennes’ embattled police chief pleaded not guilty to five new charges yesterday, including allegations that he converted to his own use a pistol seized as evidence and that he fraudulently obtained prescription drugs using a subordinate’s prescription.

Michael Lowe, 51, who was charged with driving under the influence of drugs following a June 7 fender bender, was later charged with embezzlement; neglect of duty; possession of a depressant, stimulant, or narcotic; and two counts of fraudulently obtaining a prescription drug.

In an arraignment in Vermont District Court in Middlebury, Lowe - through attorney Richard Goldsborough - entered the pleas and was released. He declined to comment afterward.

Fresh off a stint at a rehabilitation clinic for what Goldsborough says was an addiction to painkillers, Lowe stood quietly through the five-minute proceeding.

The pistol, a Smith and Wesson model 586, was seized as evidence after it was used in a December 2007 suicide that Vergennes police investigated.

Lowe agreed to give the weapon to Officer Brent Newton in exchange for Newton buying vitamin supplements for Lowe, but Lowe lied in saying he had the blessing of the attorney general’s office’s for disposing of it that way, according to an affidavit by Thomas E. Howell, a criminal investigator for the state attorney general’s office.

It wasn’t immediately clear why Lowe would have wanted someone else to buy the supplements; Assistant Attorney General John Treadwell, the prosecutor, would not comment when asked, nor would Goldsborough.

On March 20, Lowe was told the weapon should have been returned to the suicide victim’s family, and after that, he called Newton “in a panic,’’’ saying he needed the gun back.

The neglect of duty charge was filed because Lowe did not return to the gun to the family until April 15 of this year.

Goldsborough challenged the embezzlement charge, telling Vermont District Court Judge Cortland Corsones that the gun was never the property of the City of Vergennes and that it was ultimately returned to the suicide victim’s family and therefore cannot have been embezzled under Vermont law. Corsones will hold a separate hearing on that issue, he said.

In the affidavit, Howell said:

■ Lowe was being treated for an unidentified medical condition in 2007 and was given prescriptions for hydrocodone and oxycodone before admitting he had become dependent on oxycodone.

■ Lowe obtained prescription drugs using other people, including Officer Robert Worley, who agreed to give Lowe two oxycodone pills prescribed to his wife. Another Vergennes police officer, Matthew Roorda, picked up the pills, while on duty, at Lowe’s request and delivered them to Lowe.

■ Roorda, granted immunity by the state, said he had been refilling his prescriptions for a drug used for treating attention deficit disorder since 2007 and giving Lowe the medication.