By Emma Cotton/VTDigger
RUTLAND — An unlicensed fight promoter in Rutland has been ordered to pay $22,500 after promoting fights between children as young as 6 years old and violating the governor’s Covid-19 executive order.
Lauren Hibbert, director of the Vermont Office of Professional Regulation, said it was the largest administrative penalty she has ever seen.
Randy Felion, who has used the business names Fight Night Promotions and VTBeefs, is not registered as a fighter or promoter with the state or the National Boxing Registry, but he has held a total of eight mixed martial arts events between May 2019 and June 2020.
The offices of the Attorney General and Secretary of State issued Felion a cease and desist order last June, which detailed violations within his general operation and said the spectator crowd violated Gov. Phil Scott’s limit on gatherings. It also decried the organized fights with children. But Felion continued to hold events.
Michael Warren, an investigator with Vermont’s Office of Professional Regulation, attended Felion’s events and detailed what he saw in testimony at a March 22 hearing, which Felion did not attend.
At one event, in May of 2019, between 200 and 300 people gathered to watch fighters compete in “The Cage” — a matted floor surrounded by a chainlink fence. Seven or eight fights took place, the order from the Office of Professional Regulation said. Spectators paid $30 to $40 for admission.
“The combination of roving strobe lights, including on the audience as well as on the fighter, the loud music facilitated and achieved a boisterous atmosphere,” the order read.
Several of the matches included young children, all boys, “ranging from age 6 who were almost 7 years old through 10 years old” fighting in the cage, and using choke holds and armlocks. Other than watching “a few videos,” the boys had not received any training. A fighter could win by placing his opponent in a choke hold.
“One of the children in the choke hold had trouble breathing and speaking because of the choke hold,” it said. “One child who had ‘lost’ his match was crying while the crowd was yelling and screaming in the whipped-up atmosphere fueled by the loud music, roving strobe lights and alcohol.”
The order names nine instances of illegal practice, which include the seven fights in Rutland organized by Felion’s Fight Night Promotions, LLC; one event billed as a barbecue under VTBeefs, where fighting took place and spectators were charged for entry; and instances in which Felion himself participated in fighting while lacking registration as a fighter.
Hibbert said Felion engaged in unauthorized practice of a profession, which is a crime. Her office spoke to prosecuting authorities in the Attorney General’s Office and the State’s Attorney’s Office, and ultimately concluded that a fine would be the “fastest and most effective method,” she said.
She said the Office of Professional Regulation encountered Felion’s conduct last summer, just as the Legislature gave the office administrative power to issue a regulatory order if any conduct was unsafe due to Covid-19.
“We have used it a good handful of times since Covid hit us, and this was one of those key instances where I think it was very powerful,” Hibbert said.
A concluding section of the order, signed by Stephen A. Reynes, an administrative law officer with the Office of Professional Regulation, names three “egregious” elements of Felion’s conduct.
The first offense was the use of child fighters.
“The respondent was making money by putting young untrained children at physical risk, and additional risk of trauma from being made a spectacle of before a raucous crowd,” the order said. “It is one thing for an adult to give informed consent, even in violation of the law. Taking advantage of young children for monetary benefit while placing them at physical and mental health risk is another thing entirely.”
The second was holding large events with unmasked spectators during the pandemic, and the third was continuing with events despite the cease and desist order from state officials sent to Felion in June.
Felion declined VTDigger’s request for comment.
Fights have also lacked the required presence of certified health care providers with the knowledge and equipment to resuscitate a fighter if necessary. A fighter who formerly fought with Fight Night Promotions previously told VTDigger he had trouble breathing for a week after a referee didn’t immediately stop the fight after he tapped out.
Felion’s fine is due within 90 days of the order, issued March 31.
“The Respondent’s flagrant, broad, and continuing disregard of public health and safety in a time of pandemic, including the Respondent’s exploitation of young vulnerable children in a way that placed them at great and continuing risk, is heinous and justifies imposition of the maximum penalties allowed by law,” the order concluded.