The Office of the United States Attorney for the District of Vermont stated that Jeffrey M. Nolan, 62, was arrested by federal agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) on Friday January 22, 2021 at his home in Stowe, Vermont. He has been charged by a criminal complaint in federal court with the malicious damage or destruction, by means of fire, of property used in or affecting interstate commerce. Nolan made his initial appearance in court on the complaint on Monday, January 25, 2021. On the government’s motion, the Court detained Nolan pending further proceedings.
Over the course of more than five years, a series of fires occurred in the Town of Stowe that resulted in millions of dollars of damages to structures, displaced several people from their jobs, and endangered lives of residents and first responders. Local, state, and federal investigators worked together to investigate the individual or individuals responsible for setting the fires and creating an atmosphere of anxiety for the residents of Stowe. Following a fire at the Stowe Cable Systems building on Thomas Lane on January 7, 2021—the second fire at that specific building in five months—investigators circulated security footage in the community and received multiple tips about the individual seen setting the fire. On January 12, 2021, investigators obtained a state search warrant for Nolan’s residence and interviewed him about his potential involvement in that and other fires. The detectives interviewing Nolan reported that he admitted to having set the January 7 fire and to having set at least seven other fires dating back to March 2019. Nolan was arrested by state law enforcement authorities that day. He was charged in Vermont Superior Court in Lamoille County with various arson-related felonies on January 13, 2021, and was released by the court.
ATF and the United States Attorney’s Office worked closely with the Stowe Police Department, Vermont State Police, and other investigative agencies throughout the multi-year arson investigation. Following Nolan’s state arrest, the United States consulted with the Lamoille County State’s Attorney and elected to pursue federal charges against Nolan. A federal arrest warrant issued on January 21, 2021, and Nolan was arrested the following day. The state charges will remain pending, at least initially, during the federal proceedings.
U.S. Attorney Christina Nolan commended the joint investigation and collaboration between state and federal agencies in this case including ATF, Stowe Police Department, and Vermont State Police. “Federal law enforcement agencies like ATF provide resources not always available to local departments,” she said, “but nothing can replace the knowledge of local officers and detectives in small communities like this. A series of fires like this has public safety and psychological impacts well beyond the costs of property damage. Our office will always coordinate with state and local agencies to protect the safety and vitality of our towns and their residents.”
“The effects of arson have far-reaching implications and are detrimental to the safety of our communities,” said Kelly D. Brady, Special Agent in Charge of the Boston Field Division of ATF. “Beyond the malicious destruction of property and infrastructure, acts of arson are extremely dangerous and risk the lives of innocent persons and our first responders. In addition, these acts sow fear in the hearts of our communities, often over a lengthy period of time. ATF takes these acts of violence seriously. This investigation proves, yet again, that collaboration amongst all levels of law enforcement is extremely effective in solving violent crime, and we want to thank both the Stowe Police Department and the Vermont State Police Fire & Explosion Investigation Unit for their persistence in this investigation.”
Stowe Chief of Police Donald Hull noted the local impact of the fires and thanked the investigators and the United States Attorney. “The Town of Stowe has been plagued by more than a dozen intentionally set fires. There is no doubt these fires caused anxiety and great concern with the public. The response and investigation have consumed an enormous amount of time and resources. These investigations comprised a true team effort among all of the agencies and those investigators involved. I want to thank everyone that helped from the Vermont State Police Fire and Explosions Unit, ATF, and the Stowe Police Department.”
A federal criminal complaint is a preliminary charging document. As with all charging documents, it is an accusation only, and the defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty at trial or by a guilty plea. The United States will seek formal federal charges before a grand jury in the coming weeks. The exact number and type of charges to be presented to the grand jury have not yet been determined. If convicted of the same crime charged in the complaint, however, Nolan would face a minimum penalty of 5 years and a maximum possible penalty of 20 years in prison. The ultimate sentence imposed by the Court would be advised by the United States Sentencing Guidelines and statutory factors for sentencing.
The defendant is currently represented by David McColgin, an Assistant Federal Public Defender. The federal case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Matthew Lasher and Jeffrey Davis.