Courts & Corrections

Case closed, no charges for Burlington College burglary suspect

The campus of Burlington College on North Avenue in Burlington. Photo by Laura Krantz/VTDigger

BURLINGTON — Police say they’ve completed their investigation into a burglary last summer at the now defunct Burlington College, and prosecutors say, absent new evidence, the only suspect identified won’t face any criminal charges.

Police say that Burlington College’s North Avenue building was burglarized and property destroyed sometime during the night of July 24, weeks after the school closed last May.

“There are still lots of unanswered questions as to motive and other things,” said Burlington Police Detective Jeffrey Beerworth, who handled the investigation.

The Burlington Police Department released their case file on the burglary this week in response to a public records request. They were able to do so, because the inquiry is complete, said Chief Brandon del Pozo.

Det. Beerworth said if new evidence comes to light, they will reopen the investigation.

Prosecutors in Burlington say they won’t bring charges against suspect Brett Seglem because there is a lack of evidence that he committed the burglary. Chittenden County State’s Attorney Sarah George said if new evidence is uncovered, her office can still file charges.

Police identified Brett Seglem, 27, as a suspect after he was arrested in Troy, New York, hours after the burglary is believed to have occurred, after allegedly backing through a fence with a stolen Burlington College van. The van was filled with electronics taken from the main campus building, according to court documents and the case file.

The case file released this week reveals little knew details beyond what VTDigger reported in September based on documents obtained from a court in New York.

His passengers, three people he picked up in the Albany area, said that Seglem offered them a ride to Philadelphia. They told police in Troy that Seglem claimed to have stolen the van and the electronics from Burlington College, the documents show.

The day before the burglary, officers stopped Seglem for public intoxication in Battery Park, not far from Burlington College, but he wasn’t arrested, according to Beerworth.

Prosecutors in New York dropped a malicious mischief charge against Seglem and released him to Pennsylvania authorities, where he was wanted on a fugitive from justice warrant, before Det. Beerworth could get to the New York jail where he was being held in order to interview him.

Attempts to locate Seglem, who authorities said was originally from Pennsylvania, have been unsuccessful.

The U.S. Department of Justice is investigating the 2010 purchase of the school’s North Avenue campus, orchestrated by Jane Sanders, wife of Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., however, nothing in the case file suggests a connection between the land deal and the burglary.

It’s unlikely records sought by the FBI, as part of that investigation, were destroyed in the burglary, because FBI agents subpoenaed and took records in February, 2016 — months before the burglary — according to a former college employee.

School officials thought burglary was an inside job

The case file released by police this week says a woman who met Seglem in Burlington told detective Beerworth that Seglem had been living without permission in a college building left vacant over last summer.

It doesn’t identify the college where Seglem was reportedly squatting in the weeks leading up to the burglary.

Beerworth said he doesn’t recall the woman saying the name of the college. If she had, Beerworth said he would likely have included it in his report. It’s therefore unclear if Seglem was squatting on Burlington College property, which would have afforded him the opportunity to case the building.

Seglem has no known connection to Burlington College reflected in the case file or online. His digital footprint is largely comprised of police blotter items in from local newspapers in Pennsylvania noting arrests for crimes such as driving under the influence.

However, the burglary left three former Burlington College employees convinced that the perpetrator had prior knowledge of the buildings layout, prompting them to speculate that it was the work of a disgruntled former student or faculty member, according to the file.

The bizarre crime involved what police initially believed was multiple suspects entering the building through a backdoor that was likely unlocked, as it showed no signs of forced entry, before disconnecting camera equipment.

A school official told police that it appeared someone had “removed the exact cables needed to disable the video surveillance of the areas which would have been accessed in gaining entry to the building,” and then went to the proper room “to disable the remainder of the system.”

That was wasted effort, according to the file, because school officials said the camera system had already been shut off 10 days earlier.

Offices on all three floors were ransacked, with some locked doors forced open, filing cabinets tipped over and computer screens smashed. Servers in a locked room were destroyed after a large amount of water was dumped on them, according to the file.

The van keys were stolen out of an office and tens of thousands of dollars worth of electronics were carted off, including the main server and an external computer hard drive connected to the main server. Documents relating to Israeli students were also lifted from a safe in one of the offices, the document shows.

Police estimated the total value of the stolen property at $48,260.

The Burlington College employee whose office the keys were taken from told police she thought it was odd that someone would be able to locate them without knowing where they were stored.

The main server, external hard drive and the Israeli student documents were not among items police recovered from the van.

Officers did recover 20 iMac computers, 22 iMac keyboards, 21 computer mice, 21 power cables and an Epson Powerlite projector. Two iMac computers were dumped over an embankment behind the college for reasons police were unable to discern, according to the file.

The van and electronics recovered were turned over to People’s United Bank, the college’s main creditor, to be liquidated at auction.

In the 1990s, Burlington College operated a foreign extension degree program in Israel that was investigated for selling fake degrees. Five senior managers of the company Burlington College contracted with to operate the program were arrested, according to a Haaretz report.

The scandal also led the head of an Israeli teachers’ union to resign and more than 100 people, including a member of the Knesset — the Israeli parliament — were questioned as part of the investigation, according to Haaretz.

The degree selling allegations surfaced during the tenure of former Burlington College president Dan Casey. Sanders succeeded Casey in 2004 and served as president until 2011.

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  • RandyKoch4

    Doesn’t this all sound just a bit unusual? How many times has it happened in Burlington that some alcoholic steals $50,000 or so of stuff, plus the getaway truck, gets arrested by the police in another state but the Burlington detective gets there too late, the suspect has been transferred nobody can find him and so they drop the charges for lack of evidence?

    I hear cops sometimes get finger prints from the crime scene to try to tie the suspect to the crime. It doesn’t seem like the Burlington police were really trying all that hard.

    Does this stuff happen all the time in Burlington or what?

    • Rich Lachapelle

      This stuff happens all the time across the entire State of Vermont. In any sane jurisdiction, the accused would have at least be charged with theft of a motor vehicle and possession of stolen property. However, in the People’s Republic of Vermont, we call auto theft: “operation of a vehicle without owner’s consent” and overlook property crimes as “minor offenses”. We reap what we sow.
      Elections have consequences.

    • Felicia Scott

      Please send your inquiry to Mr. Bernie Sanders or to Mrs. Jane Sanders.

  • Steve Baker

    Case closed, move on there’s nothing to see here.
    I’m not in law-enforcement nor what I want to be but it seems to defy logic that you illegally enter a building, pick things up and fill a van, drive away from said building cross state lines, be apprehended, and there was no crime committed?
    Does this follow the FBI Jim Comey’s New definition of “no intent to commit a crime” so it’s not a crime ?
    Perhaps that’s why there’s been no criminal charges for the largest EB5 fraud in history. Maybe that’s why it’s not a crime in Vermont for the past Attorney General to handle requests from liberals and conservatives differently,
    Obviously, in Vermont if nothings against the law we have no crime.