By Katie Foster '15
The recent drug busts in the town of Bennington were not this winter’s only scandal: police are currently investigating an alleged prostitution ring that could include up to six women. Search warrants and an affidavit, filed by the police in December, were released in February after being requested by reporters at the Bennington Banner. The documents include a transcript of a Facebook chat between Jennifer Onorato, 31, a Bennington resident, and Jason Balsh – a figure local police believe to be a fictional alias. The transcript suggests that “Balsh” used his account to solicit various local women to perform sex acts in exchange for money or drugs, often crack cocaine. He also encouraged his contacts to recruit other women, offering to pay back a portion of the new recruit’s earnings. One of the search warrants released to the public was served on January 21 at the home of Thomas Lyons, the owner of Bennington Subaru. Lyons had been under investigation for involvement with the prostitution ring since early January: police believe he is behind the Jason Balsh alias.
Audio recordings of an interview between police and Kayla Foucher, 23, an alleged prostitute linked to the ongoing investigation, were also released. In the interview, Foucher names six male clients and at least five other women also involved in the ring. In a separate interview with the Bennington Banner, Foucher names the owner of Foster’s Cannery, Preston Foster, 50, as one of the men with whom she exchanged sex for money and drugs.
Onarato, Foucher, and Lyons have not been charged with any crimes, and Foster has pleaded not guilty to the misdemeanor of soliciting a prostitute. Investigations into other potential offenders are ongoing.