More people have come forward, saying they were ripped off by a Waterbury CBD businessman, who now faces additional criminal charges.
Douglas Bell, 58, of Middlesex was arraigned late last month on the added criminal counts, all involving allegations of failing to pay farmers for hemp harvests and other people who provided services to his business.
Bell owned CBD-Vermont, a now-closed business on Route 100 in Waterbury.
“I think the grand tally of what we charged is somewhere in the neighborhood of $370,000 worth of obligations,” said Washington County State’s Attorney Rory Thibault.
Bell was arraigned in December on several charges involving five different parties. Since that time, a handful of other parties have come forward. Bell now faces more than 15 criminal charges, including theft of service, writing bad checks and false pretense. He has pleaded not guilty to all the charges, and entered his latest pleas at an arraignment Aug. 27 in Washington County criminal court in Barre.
Thibault said the cases against Bell involve 11 alleged victims.
“They are predominantly family farms,” the prosecutor said. “From the state’s perspective, this represents a common scheme or plan.”
In addition, Thibault refiled theft of services charges against Bell stemming from the five earlier cases. When Bell was arraigned in December on those counts, Judge Mary Morrissey ruled those charges lacked sufficient evidence. At issue was whether the prosecution could show Bell “knowingly” agreed to contracts with the farmers that he couldn’t fulfill.
After that December hearing, Thibault said, he asked Vermont State Police to go through Bell’s bank records to show that Bell never had enough money to follow through on the contracts he was agreeing to with farmers and other service providers.
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“What the bank records show, he was effectively insolvent at the time of making and entering into these contracts,” Thibault said.
Morrissey, with the new information from the bank records, has since found probable cause for those theft of services charges.
“By the defendant’s own admissions to some of the alleged victims and by his conduct,” Thibault wrote in a court filing, “it is clear that he was aware he possessed no wherewithal to compensate the alleged victims for their services prior to and during the period in which harvesting and payment should have occurred.”
Thibault said he expects Bell’s attorney to seek dismissal of those theft-of-services charges. Ultimately, it may be up to the Vermont Supreme Court to decide whether the allegations leading to the theft of service charges should be decided in a criminal court or handled as a breach-of-contract claim in a civil court.
Shortly before Bell was taken to court in December, the Vermont Department of Labor ordered his shop closed for not providing a workers’ compensation insurance plan. After the shop closed, a number of parties alleged that he had failed to pay them and that checks had bounced.
Andrew Schmidt, Bell’s attorney, could not be reached for comment.
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