Stepdad of missing Vt. girl faces federal charge

/ Source: The Associated Press

The former stepfather of a missing Vermont girl was arrested, and authorities said Tuesday he would be charged with obstructing justice by destroying evidence.

Neither the FBI nor the head of state police discussed what evidence Ray Gagnon is alleged to have destroyed or whether that evidence was part of the investigation into 12-year-old Brooke Bennett's disappearance or unrelated sexual assault accusations against him.

Gagnon had been scheduled to be arraigned Tuesday on a sexual assault charge involving a minor, but the arraignment was canceled as federal authorities took over. At an afternoon news conference, state police head Col. James Baker said that case was still being investigated and the charge could be refiled.

Baker said authorities were making progress in the search for Brooke, who was last seen June 25, but he gave few details.

"I think we're eliminating possibilities where she may be," Baker said. "Our efforts right now, our unfettered efforts, are to locate Brooke and bring her home to her family."

Baker reiterated that Michael Jacques, Brooke's uncle and the person with whom she was last seen, remains a "person of interest" in her disappearance. He declined to say if the same is true of Gagnon.

Gagnon, 40, is set to appear Wednesday in federal court to answer the obstruction charge. His home phone number in San Antonio was unlisted, and information on an attorney was not available until his court appearance.

Authorities said Gagnon was on a regular visit to Vermont from Texas when he was arrested Monday. He was being held at the Southern State Correctional Facility in Springfield.

Police continued Tuesday to scour Jacques' property, using search dogs.

'Program for sex'
On Monday, Jacques, 42, was arraigned on an aggravated sexual assault charge involving a different girl, who is quoted in court papers as saying Jacques told her he would be her trainer in a "program for sex."

This undated photo, supplied by the Vermont State Police, shows Michael Jacques, the uncle of a missing 12-year-old girl, who was arrested on unrelated sex charges, police said Sunday, June 29, 2008. Jacques, 42, of Randolph,Vermont, was one of the last people to see Brooke Bennett before she vanished when he dropped her off at a convenience store Wednesday and was seen leaving it in a different direction on a surveillance camera video, was charged with aggravated sexual assault against a minor. The alleged victim wasn't Bennett, who remained missing Sunday, despite an intensive search by state police, the FBI and other agencies.(AP Photo/Vermont State Police)POLICE

The girl said she had met three men in the program, including Jacques, and that she was told two other girls also were in the program. "The first who does it lives and the second gets her throat cut," she told police, according to an affidavit filed in court Monday.

Jacques dropped Brooke off at a convenience store on June 25, and surveillance video shows they left in separate directions. She had told family members she was going to meet a friend and visit a hospitalized relative of the friend, but police believe that was a lie.

In the sex assault case, Jacques pleaded not guilty and was being held in lieu of $250,000 bail. His attorney called the evidence in the case "very sparse."

Jacques has 1993 convictions for kidnapping and aggravated sexual assault. Prosecutors argued against bail, saying he posed a threat to the accuser and had violated probation.

James Bennett, Brooke's father, said Gagnon had been married to Brooke's mother, Cassandra Gagnon. He said they separated about four years ago and may have divorced.