By Mike Donoghue, news correspondent
A career criminal, who impregnated a Vermont prison guard while she was on duty at work, is now facing a federal firearm charge after a shotgun was found at the apartment the couple now share on Hartford Avenue in White River Junction, authorities said.
James R. Ingerson, 53, of Hartford pleaded not guilty in U.S. District Court in Burlington on Thursday to a federal charge of possession of a Savage 20-gauge shotgun at his residence on June 7, records show.
The joint investigation by Hartford Police and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives led to a raid at the apartment shared by Ingerson and the former prison guard, Leanne Salls, 41, also of Hartford, police said.
The one-month investigation, which was known as “Operation Hurricane Alley,” started as a state prosecution, but at least part of it has now been moved to federal court, which has stiffer penalties, especially in gun cases. Court records indicated that probation officers had reported that they had heard from clients about drug overdoses connected to the Ingerson/Salls apartment.
In one case, a parolee reported needing Narcan four times after an overdose in the parking lot of the apartment house, which is across the road from the Hartford High School, records show.
Hartford Police said Ingerson was initially ordered into state court to face charges of being a prohibited person (a felon) in possession of a firearm and possession of cocaine. He was turned over to Vermont Probation and Parole for a violation of parole charge for a previous aggravated assault conviction, records note. He had been convicted for aggravated assault and reckless endangerment with a deadly weapon in January, court records show. The Windsor County incident stemmed from the victim owing Ingerson money for drugs, police said.
A federal grand jury in Burlington indicted Ingerson on July 13 and issued a forfeiture notice that if Ingerson is convicted the government wants the shotgun forfeited.
Defense lawyer Matthew Anderson of Rutland asked for 90 days to review the evidence in the case and prepare possible pre-trial motions.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Barbara Masterson said in court besides the search warrant, the defense will need to review police reports, a statement Ingerson provided investigators and his criminal record. She said in court papers that Ingerson admitted to the illegal possession the day of the raid. State court records indicated he said he bought the shotgun for $20 at a gun show in Brattleboro a few months earlier.
Federal Magistrate Judge Kevin Doyle set a Nov. 15 deadline.
Masterson asked that Ingerson be detained both as a danger to the community and a risk to flee. She said in court papers that Ingerson has eight felony convictions. Doyle noted he was going nowhere because he is serving time in state custody.
Anderson said he would not contest detention for the time being, but left the door open to come back and argue for his client’s release.
Ingerson said in federal court that he had gone to Valley Vista, a residential drug rehabilitation center in Bradford about a year ago, but he is now off the medications it had provided him.
Hartford Police said investigators also ordered Salls to appear in state court for possession of cocaine, which was recovered during the raid. Norwich Police and Lebanon, N.H. Police assisted in the raid.
Former Windham County State’s Attorney Dan Davis charged Ingerson with a March 2002 nighttime burglary at Walker’s restaurant on Main Street in Brattleboro, where he worked, and with unlawful mischief, records show. The illegal entry through a back window was caught on video, court documents noted.
Once inside Ingerson tried to break into the safe, but only ended up damaging it, court records show. They noted he stole some money from the desk and the burglary happened when he was out of prison on furlough, court records show.
After the Windham County jury convicted him on both counts, Judge Karen R. Carroll ruled Ingerson was a habitual offender, which made him eligible for up to life in prison because he had four earlier felonies. He had 22 convictions and several probation violations, Davis said at the time.
Judge Carroll, while imposing a 20-to-30 year prison term for the burglary and mischief charges, said it was clear Ingerson needed to be punished, court records show.
“I’m frankly surprised that you haven’t killed anybody yet. You’ve got 7 DWI convictions, aggravated assault, two simple assaults, sexual battery, and here you are with all these victims in your wake, luckily none of them dead or seriously injured,” Judge Carroll said according to court records.
Ingerson maintained the 20-to-30-year sentence was disproportionate for the burglary offense and was due in part to bias by the judge and prosecutor. The Vermont Supreme Court rejected the claims.
The sentencing judge noted Ingerson’s “criminal history goes back to 1988 and includes repeated, successive violations of probation and furlough conditions.”
A 2006 Vermont law, introduced by then-State Rep. Kurt Wright, R-Burlington made it illegal for guards to have sexual relations with inmates they supervise. Vermont was the last state to adopt the law.
Courts papers say the couple had sex multiple times in the staff bathroom in 2011 and that Salls gave birth to the baby in May 2012. A judge in Windsor County agreed to a request by the state for a DNA test from Ingerson, Salls and the baby.
Salls pleaded was initially charged with sexual exploitation of an inmate — a 5-year felony — but it pleaded guilty to a reduced misdemeanor charge of prohibited act. She was issued a 1-year deferred sentence, which meant her record could be wiped clean.
Ingerson maintained at one point he had approached her, but he also filed a civil lawsuit against Salls, the Vermont Department of Corrections and the Commissioner on claims they failed to keep him safe and he was sexually exploited, records show.
Co-workers were suspicious of the relationship for many months and an internal investigation was conducted. At one point a message from Ingerson to Salls was intercepted by the prison staff. The message was simple:Are you happy about the loaf of bread we have in the oven,” court papers stated.