Vermont’s Teacher of the Year accused in $70 theft
By Patrick McArdle
STAFF WRITER | April 10,2012
BENNINGTON — Tong Chen, who was named Vermont’s 2012 Teacher of the Year, was arraigned Monday and charged with stealing almost $70 in items from a Bennington supermarket in March.
Tong Jessica Chen, 32, of Bennington, pleaded innocent to the misdemeanor charge of retail theft of items worth less than $900 in Bennington criminal court on Monday.
Chen has lived in Vermont since 2003. A teacher at Leland & Gray Union Middle and High School, Chen is Vermont’s only authorized Chinese language advanced placement instructor.
She also works with the Governor’s Institute on Asian Cultures and the University of Vermont’s Asian Studies Outreach Program.
In an affidavit, Officer Amanda Thomson of the Bennington Police Department said she was dispatched to Price Chopper supermarket in Bennington around 6:50 p.m. March 17.
Thomson said she met with the store’s loss prevention officer who said he had seen, through the store’s surveillance system, a woman walking around the store putting items in her purse.
While Thomson said the loss prevention officer told her the woman did not have a standard form of identification, she had a business card. Thomson said the woman told her she was Tong Chen, the same name that was on the business card.
According to the affidavit, Thomson asked Chen to explain what had happened.
“Chen told me that she did not know why she did it. Chen had other items in plastic bags that she did purchase. Chen said she had the money to pay for the items and that she did not know what she was thinking when she was putting items in her purse. Chen told me she took them knowing it was wrong,” Thomson wrote in the affidavit.
The loss prevention officer gave police a written statement that said he had seen Chen place “makeup, oral care items, shaving needs and pistachios” in her purse before leaving the store. He said he approached Chen in the parking lot and asked her to come back to his office where the items were recovered.
According to the affidavit, the items had a total value of $69.86.
On Monday, Chen, who does not have a criminal record, was released without bail.
Jill Remick, a spokeswoman for the Vermont Department of Education, said officials at the department were not aware of the charges until they were called on Monday and asked for comment. She pointed out that Chen had to date only been accused of a crime and not convicted.
According to Remick, a background check was done before Chen was named Teacher of the Year.
“This is disappointing and sad. We know her very well and found her very impressive,” Remick said.
Steven John, superintendent of the Windham Central Supervisory Union, which includes Leland & Gray, said he was unfamiliar with the allegation and said he couldn’t comment.
A call to Steven Wright, of the law firm Donovan & O’Connor was not returned on Monday. Wright represented Chen in court.
There was also no response to messages left at the Washington, D.C., offices of Council of Chief State School Officers, which runs the national program that names a teacher of the year for every state.