By Maggie Cassidy
Valley News Staff Writer
White River Junction — In a powerful victim’s impact statement read while his family wept and consoled each other in the courtroom, a 27-year-old Vermont man told his abuser that the man had “murdered (his) soul,” but that he would persevere through the alleged yearslong sexual trauma that he said started at age 12.
“As difficult as life is for me from day to day, I will not give you the satisfaction of dying,” the victim, Jeff Wyman, said at Thursday’s sentencing hearing for 45-year-old Brett Bartolotta. “I have good qualities, and I will continue to find and nurture those qualities.”
In 2013, Bartolotta, who was living in Cavendish, Vt., was one of two men charged with aggravated sexual assault and slave trafficking, felonies punishable by up to life in prison, in relation to the alleged abuse. The other man, Frank Meyer, of Connecticut, died by suicide days after the charges were filed.
Minutes after Wyman finished his statement in Windsor Superior Court, though — and after Bartolotta offered an apology that the judge deemed “not satisfactory” — Bartolotta walked out of the courtroom and left the courthouse through a side door, while Wyman’s brothers, overcome by emotion, shouted in the streets.
As part of a plea deal that prosecutors said was a necessary compromise because of problems related to the statute of limitations and evidence, Bartolotta pleaded guilty to felonious aggravated assault and engaging in lewd acts, a misdemeanor, both in relation to a bondage scenario in April 2011.
Bartolotta’s five- to 10-year prison sentence all was suspended, except for six months he served earlier this year in anticipation of the deal. His eight-year probation requires him to stay away from minors, except for his own children, and to undergo sex offender therapy, although he will not have to register as a sex offender.
Members of Wyman’s family, who live in and around Ludlow, Vt., exchanged words with Bartolotta as he left the courtroom, with Wyman’s mother accusing the defendant of “smirking” and Wyman’s two brothers shouting injustice as they left the courtroom. When a court officer asked them to go outside and followed them out, one of the brothers, Joe Wyman, became even louder.
“He touches kids!” Joe Wyman shouted, visibly upset. “I’ll scream all day.”
As a general policy, the Valley News does not identify victims of alleged sexual assaults, except in certain circumstances when they choose to be named. In an interview after the hearing, Wyman said he wants other victims to feel safe and empowered to come forward when something is happening to them.
Police and prosecutors have said that Bartolotta lured Wyman into the sexual encounters by capitalizing on Wyman’s interest in dirt bikes, manipulating the 12-year-old into paying for the bikes with sexual acts that progressed into a long-term paid arrangement including bondage, Meyer, and eventually other young people. Wyman told police there were hundreds of encounters.
In his statement, Wyman said he was particularly vulnerable because his father was shot to death when Wyman was 4 years old. He said he kept the arrangement with Bartolotta a secret from his family out of guilt and shame.
Windsor County State’s Attorney Michael Kainen said in court that because of problems with evidence, including Wyman’s memory of certain events in relation to when certain bikes were manufactured, and the statute of limitations, Kainen’s “chances of losing (a trial) were greater than my chances of winning.”
Kainen said he felt that Bartolotta having a violent felony on his record and undergoing eight years of probation — with a significant sentence possible if he violates probation — were better than him walking away from a trial acquitted.
“Obviously (Wyman) wasn’t satisfied with the result,” Kainen said in an interview, “and I don’t think that either he or his mother really got the idea that the sentence that he got was in any way proportionate for what Brett did to Jeff, but the evidence made it difficult to do anything like that.”
“Certainly, if somebody had been violating my kid, I would be nuts and think that was way too lenient a sentence,” Kainen added. “But the sentence wasn’t really a function of what he did so much as my ability to prove it.”
In court, Kainen said he was confident in his ability to tie Bartolotta to an alleged incident 12 years ago, when Wyman was 15, because of a police report about a stolen dirt bike.
In the interview, Kainen said when Wyman came forward at age 25, the statue of limitations was six years from the time of the event or until a minor reached age 24. Although the Legislature in 2013 extended the statute of limitations to 40 years, Kainen said it was too late to apply to this case.
Bartolotta spoke in a matter-of-fact tone throughout the hearing as Judge Theresa DiMauro asked him perfunctory questions, at one point answering “yep” when she asked if he had received a particular document.
When DiMauro asked Bartolotta if he had anything to say, Bartolotta offered this: “I would like to say sorry, Jeff. We can get through this, get my life back together, hope Jeff gets his life back together. Sorry for what I caused,” adding there are some “things that (he) used to do” that he would get treatment for.
But the judge, speaking quietly from the bench, clearly was not impressed. “To say that was an apology …,” DiMauro said. “It’s not satisfactory, for sure.”
In the interview, Wyman said he found the apology to be insincere and inhuman: “I wanted to jump over the table,” he said. “He might as well not even have said anything to me — would have made me feel better.”
In court, Bartolotta’s attorney, Cabot Teachout, agreed with Kainen’s assessment that the plea deal was a “compromise,” asserting that everyone was walking away “with something to be unhappy about.”
Teachout said although he found that some of the claims were supported, others were unsupported or fell into a “gray area.” There was “no question” that there was a sexual relationship between Bartolotta and Wyman that it “sometimes crossed the line,” Teachout said.
DiMauro said she understood and accepted the state’s explanation of why greater charges appeared to be out of reach, recognizing the “evidentiary risk” and calling the statute of limitations “insurmountable,” but acknowledged that everyone was left “with a certain level of dissatisfaction.”
“We are left with what we are left with,” she said.
She said there is “little doubt that some deviant behavior occurred between Mr. Bartolotta and Mr. Wyman that should not have occurred to Mr. Wyman or anyone else,” underscoring that Wyman is “not responsible in any way for what happened to him at his age.”
“He is not to blame. … Hopefully he can understand that he was not at fault,” she said.
Kainen said that Bartolotta plans to transfer his probation to Connecticut, where his wife is living.
In interviews outside the courtroom, the family — Wyman, his mother, grandmother, sister and two brothers — said they felt the justice system had failed them, criticizing Kainen’s handling of the case and wondering how Bartolotta could serve such a short time behind bars.
“That’s it. That’s all we got,” said Laura Wyman, Wyman’s mother. “(Bartolotta’s) done. He’s walking home now.”
Wyman says he suffers from severe trust issues, post-traumatic stress disorder and other conditions as a result of the abuse, and said he visits a psychiatrist weekly to cope. Although he wanted a tougher sentence, fearing that “just because (Bartolotta’s) on probation, he’s (not) going to stop,” Wyman said he felt vindicated that people would be aware of Bartolotta’s past.
“My actions will prevent you from damaging the lives of any other young boys,” he said during the statement in court. “It will take time, but I refuse to give any more control of my life to you.”