Taxpayer dollars are supporting an out-of-state sex offender living in St. Johnsbury.
That’s according to court documents filed in the criminal case against Jermaine Robertson-Haney, 21, who pleaded not guilty in Caledonia Superior Court on Monday to a new charge of failure to comply with the requirements of the Vermont Sex Offender Registry (SOR).
According to the SOR, Robertson-Haney was convicted in 2018 in Rhode Island of First Degree Child Molestation on a victim under 13 years of age. He is now accused of failing to file his sex offender paperwork with the Vermont SOR and failing to submit fingerprinting at the state police barracks as directed.
According to his application for a taxpayer-funded public defender, Robertson-Haney is receiving public assistance from the state of Vermont including $230 a month in EBT Card benefits through the Department for Children & Families (DCF) Economic Services Division. The “Electronic Benefits Transfer” card can be used to purchase goods or obtain cash.
DCF administers the General Assistance (housing) program, the federal SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits program and the federal TANF “Reach-Up” (financial assistance and support services) programs for the state.
Robertson-Haney was arrested on his new charge while staying at the Fairbanks Inn motel on Western Avenue in St. Johnsbury.
During his arraignment this week he told the court he was receiving his mail at a Railroad Street address but was still living at the Fairbanks Inn. The application does not specifically indicate whether his motel room is being paid for by the state but his signed application lists no other income other than the EBT benefits. The application also notes that Robertson-Haney is unemployed and that his total monthly expenses are $200 for “food.”
Judge Michael J. Harris approved the application after determining Robertson-Haney is “financially needy” and according to court documents he is now being represented at state expense by public defender Sam Swope of St. Johnsbury.
While applications for public defenders are public, applications for general housing and other financial benefits are not.
But even general questions about the financial support of an out-of-state sex offender were met with little or no response from state officials.
The Vermont Agency of Human Resources - which includes DCF - did not respond to multiple calls and emails this week asking the question: “Why are Vermont taxpayers giving financial support to a Rhode Island sex offender?”
Rep. Ann Pugh of South Burlington, who is listed as Chair of the House Human Services Committee, did respond to an email seeking comment but referred the question to DCF Public Information Officer Luciana DiRuocco who responded by citing privacy statutes.
“Per 33 V.S.A. § 111 we are not allowed to provide information related to applicants or recipients of benefits from the Department,” wrote DiRuocco in an email.
However, Caledonia-Orange Sen. Jane Kitchel of Danville, who is the former Secretary of the Vermont Agency of Human Services, was willing to offer some insight.
“While this individual’s criminal record and the seriousness of his crime that has placed him on the registry obviously creates public concern over the potential risk he poses to others, this would not disqualify him from receiving this housing assistance,” said Kitchel in an email response.
Sen. Kitchel also said that anyone receiving housing assistance from the state this year the money is actually coming from federal taxpayers in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19.
“Regarding assistance for temporary housing, currently this housing is being funded by one of the federal COVID-related bills – not state funds,” said Kitchel. “From the start of the pandemic using federal Corona Relief Funds, temporary housing has been provided to homeless individuals as a public health strategy to reduce the spread of the virus.”