Swindle in Swanton, VT
Houghton had heard enough. He and some other investors went to the FBI in Burlington.
Tatiana Bechard grew ill when she heard the news. But she still couldn’t believe it — she’d be admitting that her money was gone. Byors, who was calling her two and three times a day, fumed that the consultants were trying to discredit him so that they could steal his business, and that only he could save the company.
“I was hanging in there,” she says. “I’m a very loyal person. When someone counts on me, I don’t like to let them down — until they take all I have, financially and emotionally.” When the FBI came to see her, Bechard questioned why Byors hadn’t fled, if he were really a con artist. But the authorities did worry that Byors might flee, and they arrested him on December 20, 2005. He was freed on bail, with the condition that he not try to borrow any more money.
Three days after Christmas, he begged Bechard to meet him at Al’s French Frys, a South Burlington diner. Wild-eyed, he implored her to guarantee a $50,000 loan from a local businessman so that he could hire a lawyer and straighten everything out. He wouldn’t let her leave until she agreed. “He was relentless,” she recalls.
When federal prosecutors found out about the loan, they moved to revoke Byors’s bail. He was imprisoned in
St. Albans until he tried to borrow money from the family of another inmate. He was then transferred to Clinton County Jail in upstate New York.
On April 13, 2006, Byors was indicted by a federal grand jury in Burlington on 57 counts of fraud, wire fraud, mail fraud, bank fraud, and money laundering. Byors was accused of taking up to $8 million from more than 75 people while repaying only 16 of them — one of the largest frauds in Vermont history.
Byors, who is married and has two young children, one born while he was in jail two years ago, passed his 50th birthday behind bars. To visit him, his lawyer has to take a ferry across Lake Champlain, where the marble boats once sailed.
Last spring, Byors signed a plea in which he agreed to admit to three counts and pay $8.3 million in restitution to his victims — a hollow figure, since few believe he has that kind of money. In return, prosecutors would recommend a prison sentence of six to seven years. But the deal fell apart. Bechard says that the feds told her that they had revoked the agreement because Byors was continuing to solicit loans from fellow inmates. (His lawyer, who was seeking a change of venue, and federal authorities in Burlington declined to discuss the case with Yankee.) His trial is scheduled to begin in March.
Byors’s investors don’t expect to ever see their money again, but some wonder. “I feel that he has this stone buried up in Canada somewhere,” says Pasquale. “His personal expenses don’t add up to $10 million. A lot of marble went out of that quarry. So where’d it go? Maybe it’s just lying on the ground in Canada, and you’d never know to look at it.”
Wolfe, who is pressing Bonnie Akerley’s lawsuit, also wants to go after those business associates he believes aided and abetted Byors in recruiting investors. Conant, the Gloucester lawyer, went to prison in Massachusetts for stealing money from clients in an unrelated real-estate deal and was disbarred. He moved to Vermont, where he made snow last winter at a ski resort.
Tatiana Bechard was Byors’s biggest victim, losing $1.2 million and the Boston house where she’d hoped to live one day. She remembers going to court in Burlington and watching as Byors was led into the room in handcuffs. She sat directly in his line of vision, but he refused to meet her eyes, staring past her “like a ghost.”
“After he went to jail, I started connecting the dots between all the stories,” she says. “It was actually a relief that he was locked up, because he couldn’t call me anymore. He had become a haunt. Now I didn’t have to deal with him asking for stuff. It was like an obligation was gone — and along with it, everything else.
“He squeezed everything out of me that he could. He had absolutely no conscience,” she continues bitterly, wiping away tears. “Everything that I saved and never spent on myself, it’s all gone. Thirty years of denying myself. I feel like the biggest loser.”
Back in Swanton, life goes on. Dick Thompson, the town administrator, drives a reporter down Route 7. “It’s a sad story all around,” he concludes. “John used to say that there was enough marble here for our grandchildren and our grandchildren’s grandchildren.”