Man pleads guilty in ValleyNet embezzlement case

John Van Vught in 2017. (Courtesy photograph)

John Van Vught in 2017. (Courtesy photograph)

By ALAN J. KEAYS

VtDigger

Published: 02-26-2024 3:56 PM

A Northfield, Vt., man has reached a plea agreement with federal prosecutors on charges related to embezzlement of more than $500,000 from a nonprofit organization extending broadband to the Upper Valley. 

John Van Vught, 73, entered a guilty plea Thursday in U.S. District Court in Burlington to a wire fraud charge. He is set to be sentenced in June. 

The charge carries a possible maximum penalty of up to 20 years in prison. However, under the terms of a plea deal, federal prosecutors agreed to seek a sentence at the low range of the federal sentencing guidelines provided certain conditions are met.

A guideline range for Van Vught in this case is expected to be completed ahead of his sentencing hearing. The federal guidelines are advisory, though judges often take them into consideration in sentencing. 

From 2013 to about July 2022, according to charging documents, Van Vught “willfully participated in a scheme and artifice to defraud ValleyNet, and to obtain approximately $560,000 from ValleyNet accounts by materially and false and fraudulent pretenses, representations and promises.”

According to the indictment, Van Vught hid the transfers in his accounting submissions by underreporting the income ValleyNet received.

ValleyNet is a nonprofit organization that provides internet service operations to dozens of Upper Valley communities through contracts with the Vermont communications union district ECFiber and New Hampshire’s LymeFiber.

During the period in question, according to a November 2022 report in the Valley News, Van Vught worked as a contract accountant for the company. He was reported missing by his family in July 2022 and was taken into custody in 2023 in Georgia, where he had been working as an accountant after nearly a year on the run.

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The federal charging documents indicated that Van Vught had used more than $181,000 of embezzled funds to purchase property in Georgia in 2018, and nearly $314,000 to purchase property in Cocoa, Fla., in May 2022. 

Prosecutors and Van Vught agreed as part of the plea deal that the federal government is entitled to forfeiture of a money judgment in an amount of $558,625. However, the deal stated, the government will not seek that money judgment, provided Van Vught transfers to ValleyNet, or its designated agent, his ownership interest in a land parcel in Northfield and property in Cocoa, Fla.

Van Vught is currently in custody at the Northwest State Correctional Facility in St. Albans, Vt.