Crime and Justice

FBI opens criminal probe into 3 troopers over fake Covid-19 vaccination cards

From left: Raymond Witkowski, David Pfindel and Shawn Sommers. Photos courtesy of Vermont State Police

Updated at 7:13 p.m.

Three Vermont State Police troopers out of the Shaftsbury barracks have resigned and a criminal probe is underway to determine whether they may have violated federal law by making fake Covid-19 vaccination cards.

The matter has been referred to the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Vermont, as well as the FBI, which is investigating, according to a statement released by the Vermont State Police Tuesday afternoon in response to questions raised by VTDigger. 

Michael Schirling, commissioner of the Vermont Department of Public Safety, told VTDigger he couldn’t comment beyond the statement. 

“Because there’s an ongoing federal investigation, I can’t get into in any more detail than what’s in the release,” he said.

Two of the troopers, Shawn Sommers and Raymond Witkowski, submitted their resignations on Aug. 10, according to the state police statement. That’s a day after another trooper brought the matter to a supervisor.

As a result of further investigation by the state Department of Public Safety, the third trooper, David Pfindel, resigned effective Sept. 3. 

According to the statement, the troopers “are suspected of having varying roles in the creation of fraudulent COVID-19 vaccination cards,” a possible violation of federal law.

Authorities have not said why the troopers allegedly made the cards or who they may have been providing them to. 

“The accusations in this case involve an extraordinary level of misconduct — a criminal violation of the law — and I could not be more upset and disappointed,” said Col. Matthew T. Birmingham, director of the Vermont State Police. 

“If these allegations are proved to be true,” he said, “it is reprehensible that state troopers would manipulate vaccination cards in the midst of a pandemic, when being vaccinated is one of the most important steps anyone can take to keep their community safe from COVID-19.”

He also said that he is “embarrassed” by what took place and knows the Vermont State Police has had its reputation tarnished.

“That said, the alleged criminal conduct from these troopers does not represent the values and actions of the dedicated men and women of the Vermont State Police,” Birmingham said. 

Schirling, in the statement, said other troopers contacted their supervisors as soon as they became aware of the situation.

Sommers and Witkowski both joined the state police in 2016. Pfindel was hired in 2014. 

Messages left at phone numbers listed for Sommers and Witkowski were not immediately returned Tuesday. Contact information for Pfindel was not immediately available. 

Michael O'Neil, executive director of the Vermont Troopers' Association, the union that represents sergeants and troopers, declined to comment on the allegations when reached Tuesday.

“We are never going to comment on anything where there’s any type of active investigation ongoing,” he said. 

Bennington County State’s Attorney Erica Marthage was out of the office Tuesday and not available for comment. 

Vermont Defender General Matthew Valerio said late Tuesday afternoon that it’s unclear what effect the troopers’ resignation could have on the prosecution of criminal cases they had worked on, although he noted there could be “some impact on their cases if credibility is an issue in the cases.”

Kraig LaPorte, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, confirmed that the matter has been referred to that office. He declined further comment.

Witkowski was involved in a case in January 2019 in which he shot and wounded a man in Arlington who police said had fired multiple shots at troopers. 

Vermont Attorney General TJ Donovan cleared Witkowski of criminal wrongdoing in the case, ruling that the trooper’s use of force was justified. 

The Arlington man who was wounded, Matthew Novick, was later sentenced to two years in jail on a charge of aggravated assault with a weapon, the Manchester Journal reported at the time. 

The newspaper also reported that Witkowski objected to that sentence for Novick as too light. 

“This is more than a disappointment,” Witkowski told the court, the Manchester Journal reported. “This is a slap in the face to me, not only as a victim but as a law enforcement professional who dedicated his life to fair and equal pursuit of justice.”

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