BARRE — The alleged ringleader of a gang that police say has taken root in central Vermont has been charged with sexually assaulting his underage followers.
Police say they are still investigating others in the group, which is blamed for multiple acts of vandalism in the area.
James A. Manning, 21, aka “Rabbit,” of Barre, pleaded not guilty to two counts of felonious sexual assault on a victim under 16 and a misdemeanor charge of unlawful mischief Wednesday in Washington County criminal court in Barre. If convicted, he faces a maximum of 40½ years in prison and a $20,500 fine.
According to the police affidavit, Manning was in charge of a group called the Brotherhood Mafia that started in Burlington and moved to Rutland and then Barre. Police say a 15-year-old member of the group told them he saw Manning rape a 14-year-old boy for an hour as a form of initiation into the group.
The witness said that if he and two other juveniles refused to watch the rape then they would be beaten up, according to police.
Police say the witness also told them he was raped by Manning.
The witness told police that for his initiation in September, Manning drove him to a soccer field and hit him in the head with a wooden baseball bat. He said he lost consciousness for five minutes, according to the affidavit.
The witness told police he was driven home by Manning. The boy said he told his mother he hurt himself at a playground and his mother took him to the hospital, according to police. Police say they were given hospital discharge paperwork by the boy’s mother saying the witness had a head injury and a concussion.
The witness also told police the Brotherhood Mafia would go around the city setting fires, slashing vehicles’ tires, breaking into vehicles and writing graffiti on walls under the direction of Manning and another man, according to the affidavit. He said the boys would be given handwritten notes on what they were ordered to do and would have to destroy the notes after the jobs were complete.
Police say the witness told them the group was responsible for fires at places like St. Monica School and a Third Street garage. The affidavit says the Barre City Fire Department responded to those two fires and that the school was left with black markings on the side of the building, while the garage was a total loss.
The witness said they also went to Eastman Auto in Barre Town in September and slashed tires and took vehicle emblems. In a supplemental affidavit, police say three vehicles’ tires were slashed and a Mercedes emblem was taken Sept. 20, totaling $240 in damage.
Police say that when they spoke to the 14-year-old boy whom the witness said had been raped, he told them Manning raped him three times and forced him to sell drugs. When pressed for details, however, the boy said Manning only tried to rape him.
Manning was interviewed by police Jan. 29 and denied that his club was a gang, according to the affidavit, but instead called it a “group of friends that would hang out.” He said the group would wear black and white and was for “troubled youth that needed people to talk to,” police say.
Police say Manning denied raping the 14-year-old boy for an hour but did admit to having oral sex with the boy twice. He also admitted that he had oral sex with the 15-year-old witness twice, sex with a 14-year-old girl once, and oral sex with another 14-year-old boy once, but claimed all the sex acts were consensual, according to records.
Police say Manning admitted to them that he wrote on the Barre Civic Center sign and a walkway on North Main Street with a black marker. He also admitted slashing two tires at Eastman Auto, police say.
In court Wednesday, Deputy State’s Attorney Jason Hart said the allegations “involved a sustained pattern of manipulation, control and violence against these young children.”
In an interview Wednesday, Mayor Thomas Lauzon called the charges against Manning “great police work.” He said the group was responsible for a tremendous amount of vandalism throughout the city.
“We’re not going to tolerate this type of activity within our city,” Lauzon said.
He called the members of the gang “a bunch of wannabes” who wanted to become notorious.
“I congratulate them in that regard because they have,” he said. “They’ve risen to the level where they have absolutely attracted the attention of the mayor and the City Council. We will be following them until they are sent to prison.”
Judge Thomas Zonay increased Manning’s bail from $50,000 to $75,000.
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