Hugh Albright, the former road foreman for the town of Johnson, pleaded not guilty at his Sept. 29 arraignment to charges of larceny and embezzlement.
In an affidavit accompanying Albright’s arraignment, Lt. Scott Kirkpatrick, then a detective, detailed the results of the investigation that led to his arrest and the allegations that Albright had spent at least $14,635.73 in town funds on a treasure trove of automotive parts and hardware for his own personal use during his approximately six-month-long tenure.
The investigation was set in motion after someone tipped off Johnson Selectboard chair Eric Osgood. According to Osgood, this unnamed person checked their Facebook feed and photos posted by his road foreman caught their eye.
Johnson officials reported their suspicions to Lamoille County Sheriff Roger Marcoux in late June.
Osgood began to suspect something after saw pictures of a Bulldog 2-speed square trailer jack, worth approximately $200, in images posted to Albright’s public Facebook page, but it was the town that had paid for the jack.
Albright, who was known to perform excavation and landscaping work, had posted eight pictures depicting various alterations he had made to the jack. Albright mounted it on a yellow truck labeled “Hugh’s Trailer Not For Borrowing” accompanied by the caption “jack swap” on his Facebook page.
The case’s investigating officer Katie Palmer sought out an employee at Green Mountain Trailers, who confirmed that the town of Johnson had purchased the same model of jack in Albright’s Facebook photos, that it was the only jack sold in 2021 and that the jack in the photos had the trademark Green Mountain Trailer green tag, clearly identifying it.
This initial identification of a potential incident where Albright purchased equipment with town funds for his own personal use triggered a wider investigation. In a meeting with town administrator Brian Story, Kirkpatrick learned that this wasn’t the first incident where Albright had improperly made personal use of town property.
In January 2021, Story chided Albright, who was paid a yearly salary of approximately $64,000, after it was discovered he improperly borrowed a piece of equipment from the town.
“We had an incident where he had borrowed some new piece of equipment and he’d taken it home. We heard about that from a resident,” Story told Kirkpatrick. “I spoke to him at that time like ‘Hey, somebody says that you took this home.’”
According to Story, Albright said he had just wanted to test the equipment out.
“We had the conversation that you can’t use town property for personal projects,” Story said.
This talking-to did not, ultimately, deter Albright, according to the affidavit.
When the town rented a CAT 311 excavator from Johnson Hardware and Rentals in May, town employees told investigators that Albright took the excavator for his own personal use at the end of the month, right before it was returned. Albright posted images and video to Facebook and the social video-sharing platform TikTok that showed him using the excavator.
In April, according to investigators, the town purchased four Cooper AT3 XLT tires for its 2018 Ram truck for approximately $1,000. In June, this same brand and size of tires were put up for sale by Albright in the Facebook group Vermont Garage Sale for $650.
Later that month, the town purchased air bags and a compressor for an air-lift kit for a Ram truck, together valued over $1,000. According to town employees, those items were never installed on the town’s truck, but they did see these auto parts installed on Albright’s personal vehicle, a 2021 Ram truck.
Further investigation of town invoices revealed other items Albright allegedly purchased with town funds but kept for his own personal use. In late January, barely a month after he started the job, the town purchased two bar stools. Those bar stools never made it to the town garage, but identical-looking stools were visible in a photo Albright posted to his Facebook page in July of the shop owned by Albright’s parents in Jeffersonville.
In June, the town purchased tires that had not been mounted on any town vehicles but were instead observed on Albright’s truck. Tie-down straps that had been purchased by the town that month were never equipped to the town’s hydroseeder machine, but instead were found by detectives in Facebook pictures Albright posted of his own hydroseeder.
By the end of the investigation, Palmer and Kirkpatrick determined they had probable cause to believe Albright was in possession of dozens of items he purchased on behalf of the town, which along with the tires, jack and other auto parts included a leaf blower backpack, a Stihl chainsaw, LED trailer lights, grease guns and tool kits.
Town employees also told investigators that Albright had taken two loads of scrap metal to be recycled in Hardwick in June, but had the two checks for that scrap metal, approximately $700 in total, made out to him personally, a claim later verified by investigators.
Story told investigators that, as road foreman, Albright approved all purchases made on behalf of the town’s highway department and it was his responsibility to review and approve all purchases and submit receipts for them. The town’s policy required Albright only to inform the selectboard of purchases made in excess of $2,000. This requirement made it possible for Albright to allegedly accumulate $14,000 town-purchased items for himself without drawing attention from the town’s governing body.
When Albright was taken in for questioning on July 30 after a month-long investigation, he denied any wrongdoing and insisted to the sheriff's department that he had legitimately purchased and paid for all the items on his truck.
When asked about specific purchases made by the town and where those items were, he made unspecific claims about their location or claimed not to know. When asked about the airbags purchased by the town and allegedly outfitted on his own truck, Albright claimed he had a personal receipt but tried to change the subject when Palmer asked to see it.
When investigators questioned him about the jack and the Facebook photos that set off the investigation, Albright said, “I don’t think I bought it from anywhere, think I had it in my own … or at my uh, shop already, yeah,” Albright said. “I have a lot of crap, I have a lot of parts to put on stuff, so yeah.”
In an Aug. 5 meeting with investigators, Albright admitted to using town funds to purchase 76 items valuing $12,415.27 and contested 21 items purchased, only four of which were verified as having been purchased by him.
The selectboard fired Albright that evening.
On Aug. 8, a week after he was questioned by investigators, Kirkpatrick obtained a warrant to search Albright’s truck, where he found items matching the description of the items purchased by the town but missing from the town garage. At the time, Albright admitted the tires and compressor in the truck were charged to the town, but that he did not plan to reimburse the town for the items.
Despite an initial denial and entering a not-guilty plea to charges of embezzlement, Albright admitted some guilt to two parties outside of the sheriff’s department.
On July 31, the day after he was initially questioned by investigators, Albright sent an apologetic email to the town selectboard, which is partially excerpted in the affidavit, where he claimed he had been using his personal equipment to assist with spring and summer projects.
“Instead of figuring out a way to be compensated for this extra work with you the proper way, I began making some purchases through the town for some items that I thought were of equal value to what I’d provided,” Albright said in the email.
After investigators approached him, Albright claimed, he began to realize that what he had done was wrong and that he realized he had been fiscally irresponsible and was not fit for the job.
“I’m fully prepared to accept my punishments whether it’s being terminated, criminally charged, or a combination of both. I will either return any items in question, or pay for them,” he said.
Also included in the affidavit is the confession Albright made to the News & Citizen, published on Aug. 12, in which he said he used “town accounts to make personal purchases” and took “full responsibility for (his) actions” and claimed to be trying to “make things whole with the town” and planned to pay any money he owed them.
Albright was arrested by the Lamoille County Sheriff’s Department on Aug. 10 and charged with larceny and embezzlement. A letter sent to Albright by the Johnson Selectboard on Aug. 30 requesting he pay back in full the total amount he owed them by Sept. 15 went unanswered.
According to the affidavit, the charges of larceny and embezzlement brought against Albright could potentially result in up to 10 years in prison and a fine as large as $1,000 or both.
This story was updated Oct. 8. While Johnson Selectboard chair Eric Osgood was the one who brought the suspicious photos from Hugh Albright's Facebook page to the Lamoille County Sheriffs Department, an unnamed tipster brought the photos to his attention.