Courts & Corrections

Details emerge in sex assault suit against McAllister

Norm McAllister
Sen. Norman McAllister, R-Franklin, returns to his seat in the Senate on the opening day of the Legislature. The Senate voted to suspend McAllister in January. File photo by Roger Crowley/VTDigger

Editor’s note: VTDigger does not identify alleged victims of sexual assault without their permission. For clarity, she is referred to in this article by the pseudonym Anna.

ST. ALBANS — Five months after Sen. Norm McAllister pleaded not guilty to sexual assault charges, one of his alleged victims filed a lawsuit seeking damages for years of abusive sexual encounters with the senator.

The suit filed in the civil division of Franklin County Superior Court provides greater detail about the relationship between McAllister and one of his accusers.

The filing contains a new allegation that at one time McAllister coerced Anna into having sex with a stranger to help cover the rent McAllister was charging her to live on his Highgate farm property.

It also formally accuses McAllister, 64, of abusing his power as a senator by promising to use the office to help Anna regain custody of her children in exchange for sex.

Now McAllister is suing his alleged victim. McAllister’s suit was filed in civil court on Feb. 12, and is not yet a public record because Anna hasn’t been served with the filing, according to Court Operations Manager James Pelkey. As a result, it’s unclear why McAllister is suing her.

The civil case is on hold until criminal charges are resolved. McAllister filed a motion on Sept. 25 requesting a stay in the proceedings, arguing that his constitutional right against self-incrimination outweighed Anna’s “interest in expeditiously receiving monetary damages.” The judge has granted that order.

McAllister was arrested at the Statehouse in May last year. He pleaded not guilty to three counts of sexual assault and three counts of prohibited acts at his arraignment in Franklin County criminal court.

The sexual assault charges are felonies and carry a potential sentence of 3 years to life in prison and a fine of up to $25,000.

The senator was subsequently stripped of his committee assignments, and earlier this year his colleagues took the unprecedented step of suspending him from the Senate.

The criminal case is now scheduled to go to trial in early May.

Norm McAllister
Sen. Norm McAllister. State police photo

Prosecutors allege he repeatedly sexually assaulted Anna and another woman who he was providing work and lodging over a period of several years, and solicited sex from a third woman. The woman whom he solicited has since died.

McAllister’s defense attorney in the criminal case, Brooks McArthur, has said he will argue that McAllister had consensual sex with Anna and his other accuser.

Much attention has been paid to the younger of the two women McAllister allegedly sexually abused, who was 20 when the allegations became public. Her situation attracted attention because she worked as an intern for McAllister at the Statehouse. Several of the instances where McAllister is alleged to have assaulted her took place at a Montpelier apartment he shared with two other lawmakers.

Anna, who was 40 when the allegations became public, lived and worked on McAllister’s Highgate farm for more than two years.

The civil lawsuit Anna brought suggests in lurid detail that, beginning in 2012, McAllister sexually abused her, sometimes subjecting her to painful sex acts, including anal sex and vaginal fisting. All the while McAllister told Anna he would kick her out of lodgings on the farm if she refused. He also promised that if she cooperated, he would help her get her kids back.

Farm help wanted, housing included

It all began with an ad on Craigslist looking for a farm hand. The ad said housing would be part of the compensation.

The ad appealed to Anna when she came across it in November 2012. She had just been told by the halfway house where she was living that she would need to be out in a few weeks, according to the civil complaint.

Earlier that year she got in an altercation with her husband that landed him in prison, and resulted in the Department of Children and Families taking custody of their kids. In order to get custody back, Anna was told she would need to find a home and stable employment.

When she called the number on the Craigslist ad, McAllister answered. McAllister was, at the time, a state representative and senator-elect, having just won his his first countywide race.

McAllister said the job involved caring for and milking his goats, and asked why he should hire her. Anna described her previous experience with farm work and said she’d also be willing to run errands, do housekeeping and anything else he needed on the farm.

“Anything?” McAllister asked.

When Anna said “yes,” McAllister allegedly responded, “No I mean like … anything.” Again Anna said “yes.”

“As a man, that’s what I like to hear,” McAllister said, according to the civil complaint.

During that phone call Anna explained that she needed the job and the housing because her kids were in state custody and she was fighting to get them back.

McAllister immediately raised his position as an elected official, expressed sympathy for Anna and was critical of the Department of Children and Families. He then told Anna that he was willing and able to intervene on her behalf if the state sought to terminate her parental rights, according to the civil complaint.

The senator insisted on an in-person interview before he would hire Anna, and arranged a ride for her from the halfway house to his farm. He showed her the trailer where she would be living and they toured the farm.

Norm McAllister
The trailer on Sen. Norm McAllister’s farm, where one of the alleged victims was living. Photo by John Herrick/VTDigger

At one point during the tour McAllister began to kiss and grope her, an incident reflected in the affidavit supporting the criminal charges against him. Anna agreed to work for McAllister despite her reservations, because she was facing “imminent homelessness,” and he had assured her he would help her get her kids back, according to the civil complaint.

For the first month, he drove her to and from the farm, saying the housing he originally promised had fallen through, but she would be able to stay in a trailer on the property soon.

When she moved into the trailer it was in a “state of extreme disrepair,” the lawsuit states, with rotten floors, poor heat and water, little insulation and the plumbing was not working, according to the civil complaint.

Though they weren’t living together, Anna’s husband began doing repairs on the trailer “without financial contribution or other assistance” from McAllister, according to the suit.

Anna milked and cared for the goats, tended a vegetable garden, cared for chickens and collected eggs, cleaned the barn and did housework in the home McAllister shared with his late wife Lena Mae McAllister.

She worked between 25 and 50 hours per week. For that she was paid a flat rate of $300 per week, $150 of which McAllister deducted as rent, according to the civil complaint.

McAllister demanded Anna have sex with him as a condition of keeping her job, living in the trailer and in return he would use his position as a senator to help her reunite with her kids.

Anna “reluctantly acquiesced” to the arrangement because she had nowhere to go and she hoped that McAllister would make good on his promise to help her get her kids back.

During the two-and-a-half years Anna lived and worked at the farm, McAllister consistently “coerced, demanded or otherwise” forced her into sex or, more often, oral sex, despite her telling him on multiple occasions that she wanted it to stop, according to the civil complaint.

Anna alleges that McAllister would call or text her for sex several times each month. On at least one occasion, McAllister made her perform anal sex as “punishment” for injuring another farm worker with a tractor, according to both the civil and criminal cases.

Both cases also refer to an instance where McAllister vaginally fisted Anna causing her extreme pain.

In one instance, McAllister allegedly coerced Anna into having sex with a stranger. The stranger paid McAllister for the sex, and McAllister kept the money telling Anna it would come out of her rent, according to the civil complaint.

McAllister also allegedly tried to convince her to work as a prostitute for migrant farm laborers, according to both the civil and criminal cases. McAllister refers to Anna having sex with a stranger in a conversation recorded by state police where they discuss the nascent prostitution scheme.

In that conversation Anna asks if McAllister was still “going to bring me to a farm and potentially like Mexicans or whatever kind of see how many I could do in a night or whatever?”

“Well yeah. Yup. Like you did with that one guy one time? Umm, that’s totally up to you. I mean we were trying to figure out a way to get you money,” McAllister responds.

That appears to be what formed the basis for a human trafficking charge filed by state police that prosecutors ultimately chose not to pursue.

At one point McAllister arranged for Anna to speak with an attorney who McAllister said could help her get custody of her children back from DCF. In the criminal affidavit, Anna describes the lawyer as “an attorney to the Vermont Senate.”

The criminal affidavit states that Anna spoke with a female attorney, whom she could not identify, on several occasions. The civil complaint says those conversations ended when Anna began trying to avoid having sex with McAllister.

The abuse continued even when McAllister’s wife became sick and was admitted to the hospital in 2013. It continued when she passed away later that year.

It did not stop when Anna’s now ex-husband moved into the trailer with her in 2014 — which was part of a failed attempt to end her sexual relationship with McAllister, according to the civil lawsuit.

It did not stop during a pregnancy in 2015, or after Anna gave birth in March of that year.

“I made it pretty clear to Norm that I didn’t want to do it,” Anna told detectives, referring to their sexual relationship generally and not a specific incident, according to the criminal affidavit.

“I’m not sure he ever really heard that,” she said. “I told him I felt exploited.”

In one of the conversation recorded by investigators, McAllister told Anna “I knew I was forcing you to do something you didn’t want to do.”

McArthur, McAllister’s defense attorney, has said the senator used the word “forcing” not to imply the sex was nonconsensual, but to acknowledge the “vibe” he was getting from her while the sex acts took place.

“During these consensual sex acts, she may not have enjoyed it and he may have picked up on the fact that she wasn’t enjoying it, but the sex acts themselves were not against her will,” McArthur said.

There’s a “wide divide” in the law between a nonconsensual sex act and not enjoying a sex act, he said. McArthur thinks that’s a distinction he will be able to get a jury to understand.

Police included only portions of the recorded conversations in the affidavit, McArthur said, adding that the full recordings will provide context that will bolster that interpretation.

In April, 2015, McAllister began threatening to evict Anna and her ex-husband, according to the civil complaint.

Anna’s ex-husband turned to his mother for help. She is the third victim in the case, whom McAllister solicited. They discussed an arrangement where she would have sex with McAllister to cover her son’s portion of rent on the trailer.

However, Anna’s former mother-in-law chose instead to go to police. That’s how the investigation began, which ultimately led to McAllister being arrested charged and now facing trial for sexual assault.

She died last June of natural causes.

McAllister is being represented in the civil suit by Enosburg Falls attorney Richard Gadbois, according to a court official. Gadbois did not return a call from VTDigger seeking more information about the suit. McAllister also did not return call requesting comment for this report.

The Burlington law firm Montroll & Backus, P.C. is representing Anna. Attorney Rob Backus said he did not want to comment on the case, citing the pending criminal litigation against McAllister.

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  • Sam Lincoln

    A lawyer twisting the definition of the word forcing in this way, in this circumstance, is a perfect representation of why people just can’t stand lawyers.

    • Sam Lincoln

      Sorry if my off the cuff comment comes across that way, and I certainly never used or implied the word “all”. This was a reaction to the thought that another human being, a trained and licensed legal representative working for hire, was somehow justifying this act while in the process, if successful, possibly opening the door to allow this interpretation be used down the road in defense of others. To me, just a reader, this seems as bad or worse than the initial criminal act and I was, and still am, repulsed.

  • Janice Prindle

    If his defense is that a woman in desperate circumstances consented to be exploited in this disgusting manner– regardless of whether he legally guilty or not, this man has no business anywhere near the statehouse. His personal character is nonexistent.

    • Neil Johnson

      Women and Men are equals, smart capable and strong. It’s been proven, day after day. I personally experience it every day.

    • Scott Jennings

      If he is found guilty than so be it, he gets what he deserves. But Janice, lets apply your comment to bill Clinton and the total collective silence from the dems about his serial sexual abuse of women. And how many VT dems still support hillary despite her well documented attacks on his victims to further their political gain?

      • Fred Woogmaster

        This, in my opinion, is a textbook example of the clever use of a Red Herring.

  • Barry Kade

    One minor correction: Although the term “countywide” is often used to describe Franklin County Senate elections, it is not accurate. Montgomery and Richford are in Franklin County, but are not part of the Senate District. I can’t speak for Richford, but Montgomery voters have the common sense to reject someone like McAllister, even before these allegations became known.

    • Jon Corrigan

      Any chance, BK, that the rest of us could borrow your crystal ball? Perhaps you should quit the legal profession and become a fortune teller.

  • Tom burke

    Who was that female lawyer described as an attorney to the state senate?

    Thank you legislators for making sure he received his full pay during this session. Don’t do anything to make sure the alleged offender has 100% of his rights protected.

    I expect if his attorney can pull it off, the criminal trial and law suit will be posponed for another year so he can again collect his well deserved salary from vt tax payers.

    • Jamie Carter

      He already has pulled it off, this trial won’t start until after the legislative session is over. By next year McAllister will be out of office.

  • Craig Miller

    As a reminder the following Senators voted to allow Norm to remain an active member of the Vt Senate:

    Brian Collamore R Rutland
    Peg Flory R Rutland
    Dick Mazza D Grand Isle
    Dick McCormack D Windsor
    Mark MacDonald D Orange
    Norn McAllister R Franklin
    Kevin Mullin R Rutland
    Alice Nitka D Windsor
    Robert Starr D Essex-Orleans
    Jeanette White D Windham

    Be sure to reach out and give them a hearty “Job Well Done”

    • Neil Johnson

      Under the concept that one is innocent until proven guilty? Perhaps that’s not a bad thing to hang your hat?

      The headline states details, but actually they are allegations. Yes it’s a sorted mess no doubt. If our court system wasn’t a such a maze and so difficult to reach a judge this would have been settled long before our legislative session even started.

      Women are strong, smart and capable, to suggest anything else implies that they don’t have the same status as men. Women and men are equals in most every way, which has been demonstrated over and over, day after day. (men can’t bear children, etc.)

      No doubt this case will be continual fodder for the press. When we actually have a court date we’ll perhaps learn more.

      People are in desperate need of housing all over. 90% of all homeless people are men. We as a state can do a better job of supplying affordable housing, the easiest way is to have zoning allow for it. We can have housing that is affordable for those making $10/hour.

      • Jamie Carter

        “Under the concept that one is innocent until proven guilty? ”

        That’s in a court of law, not in the Legislature. Perhaps that’s why they have such a hard time writing common sense laws, they are confused as to what role they are in.

      • Bonnie MacBrien

        So he should get special protection on his job because he is a legislator when anyone who works in the private sector would lose their jobs just because of allegations like these (or even less serious ones)? No one else gets the presumption of innocence at their jobs – that’s in a court of law. Big difference.

        Not to mention his own words “I knew I was forcing you to do something you didn’t want to do”.

        • Neil Johnson

          There are very few politicians that could keep any job with a reputable private business, the unending promises, failed accounting and inability to contain costs to within operating budgets would have all of them fired within in year.

          That’s aside from all the outside influence from lobbyists & pledges to the party rather than the people.

          We need to be able to get to judges, in a timely fashion and we can’t. If we could just keep to the basics of providing a timely trial, this would have been solved 8 months ago.

          However, it is exposing and my guess will further expose some failings in how our state is run. Every position and job has different rules. I’m not defending Norm, but am defending his rights to a fair and speedy trial, which solves all issues. Reading this article is really disturbing on so many levels.

      • Craig Miller

        So Neil, under your argument should school teachers be allowed to continue to teach and interact with kids after they have been charged with sexual assault? How about police officers, should they be allowed to continue to perform daily highway patrols?
        Frankly I’m not sure what is more disturbing and disgusting in this case; an elected senator that has been charged with sexual assault on 3 different women, or that 1/3 of the Senate thinks it’s OK that he continues to actively serve in office.

  • John Walters

    McAllister has previously acknowledged having sex with his accusers, but insisted it was consensual — and said it didn’t begin until “months after” the death of his wife.

    Well, she died on September 27, 2013. The abuse of “Anna” began the previous November. Gosh, how about that: Norm lied.

    • R. F. Wilson

      How Norm managed that may be learned in the following, slightly abridged, sentence from the story: “Anna milked and cared for the goats . . . and did housework in the home McAllister shared with his late wife Lena Mae McAllister.”

  • Carolyn Hanson

    I am disappointed that he was not charged with human trafficking. It is clear from his admissions during the police monitored call with Anna that he did just that. It certainly shows he felt entitled to compel her to engage in a sex act, even with other people. The fact that he phrased this as ” helping her out to earn alittle money” shows the psychological hold he used to exploit her economic disadvantages. It took ALOT of courage for her ex’s mom to go to the police with his proposal that she prostitute herself for the rent. It’s easy to overlook how hard & scary it must have been for her to stand up to power like that. Unfortunately she didn’t live to see how this injustice unfolds. I hope Anna gets a nice fat check to help her move forward from the mess he made of her life.

  • “Plea Agreement”? When “Anna” consented to trading sexual offers for housing, was she chained to the home? A sensible person would not agree to sex for rent. They would leave. Anna made her choice. Threat of homelessness no excuse for her to consent. Threatening Mr. McAllister with life sentence or sign paper is not innocent until proven guilty.