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Archive for March, 2009

By PHILLIP BANTZ
Sentinel Staff

The Keene Sentinel: March 25, 2009

A Connecticut man who was sent to prison Tuesday for committing a string of alcohol-fueled crimes in New Hampshire is a modern-day Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, his public defender said.

Kenneth W. Jefferson, 36, pleaded guilty in Cheshire County Superior Court to charges of robbery, theft, criminal mischief, receiving stolen property, reckless conduct and being a felon in possession of a gun.

Jefferson was sentenced to N.H. State Prison for four to 12 years, followed by a suspended jail sentence of 31/2 to seven years. The jail sentence could be imposed if he gets into any more trouble with the law in the next 15 years.

“I think you realize you’re lucky you didn’t kill someone,” Judge Brian T. Tucker said before handing down the sentence. “You’ll have to use the time in prison to turn things around, otherwise you’ll find yourself back here.”

The series of crimes that led Jefferson to Tucker’s courtroom began the weekend of June 13, 2008, when he began drinking and tried to kill himself by crashing a car into a tree in Hamden, Conn., public defender Alex S. Parsons said in court.

“He wanted to die, but he was afraid to do it,” Parsons said. “He was afraid to put a gun to his head and pull the trigger.”

The failed suicide attempt was the start of a five-day bender in which Jefferson stole a gun and a dump truck, robbed two convenience stores, led police on a high-speed pursuit and escaped in a stolen SUV, according to an affidavit prepared by N.H. State Police Sgt. Russell B. Lamson.

Jefferson said in court that his life went into a downward spiral when he was a teen and his parents split. He said he started drinking and smoking marijuana, and later developed a serious cocaine habit and became an alcoholic.

He’d been an honor student in high school and was accepted to the University of Notre Dame, but was unable to attend after the divorce, he said.

He was convicted of assault, burglary and criminal restraint in Connecticut and Vermont in the mid-1990s and early 2000s, according to Assistant Cheshire County Attorney Melissa A. Pierce.

In 2006, Jefferson was sent to a Connecticut prison for six months on a larceny conviction. He received substance abuse treatment in prison and managed to stay sober for a year before the crash, but fell off the wagon after he lost his girlfriend and his job.

“I just didn’t have the will to live anymore,” said Jefferson, a large, stocky man with a shaved head and a dark black goatee.

“There are two Kens: The normal Ken, when he’s not drinking, who is good and nice and a family man and a hard worker,” Parsons said. “Then there is the Ken who is affected by drugs and alcohol.”

After walking away from the crash, Jefferson stole a dump truck from a construction site two miles away. He then drove to a friend’s house in Wilmington, Vt. He stayed there for three days, and stole a Tec-9 submachine gun from his friend before leaving, Pierce said.

A surveillance camera at the Wal-Mart in Hinsdale recorded Jefferson trying to buy a single bullet and arguing with a clerk who refused to sell him one, Parsons said. Jefferson eventually bought a box of bullets and left the store.

Witnesses later saw Jefferson speeding out of a gas station in Spofford, where he pumped $100 of fuel into the dump truck without paying.

He walked into a convenience store in Dummerston, Vt., that evening and ordered the clerk to give him money while displaying the submachine gun tucked in his waistband, but the clerk refused and he left after stealing a 12-pack of Twisted Tea, an alcoholic beverage, according to police.

Early the next morning, Jefferson tried to rob the Big S Discount Store in Winchester, and was also turned away. He stole five cartons of cigarettes before he walked out.

“They thought it was a joke,” Parsons said of the two clerks who refused to give Jefferson any cash. “It was almost laughable. It was, frankly, pitiful, desperate and despondent.”

Jefferson still planned to kill himself after he crashed the car in Connecticut, but kept putting suicide off to continue drinking and committing crimes, Parsons said.

“This was a terrified, wounded animal acting out of extreme despondency and intoxication,” he said.

Winchester police spotted the stolen dump truck and chased it into Massachusetts, then back into New Hampshire at speeds that reached 100 mph. The truck’s front tires blew out during the pursuit, and the rims shot sparks off the pavement as the chase continued, according to Pierce.

The truck eventually turned into Pisgah State Park in Winchester, where it stopped and suddenly reversed into a cruiser driven by N.H. State Police Trooper Sean Eaton, setting off the airbag and causing minor injuries to Eaton’s head.

Fellow Trooper Daniel Brow attempted to shoot out the truck’s rear, dual tires as it drove deeper into the park.

Jefferson then ditched the truck and disappeared into the woods. He emerged hours later and stole an SUV parked in a driveway on Old Spofford Road.

Days later, Jefferson’s ex-girlfriend told police that she picked him up in Connecticut after he ditched the SUV. He was arrested without incident July 3.

Jefferson became teary-eyed and choked up while apologizing in court for what he’d done.

He said he believes his addiction may be the result of an undiagnosed bipolar disorder, and that his drinking and drug use is self-medicating.

“I can’t apologize enough to the people I’ve hurt,” he said, “and I will do all I can to get the help I need.”

The sentencing hearing in Cheshire County was only the beginning for Jefferson.

His case in Connecticut is resolved, but he still faces charges in Massachusetts and Vermont stemming from the chase and first convenience store robbery.

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By PHILLIP BANTZ
Sentinel Staff

The Keene Sentinel: March 22, 2009

Betting is Herschel Bird’s business. The Nevada resident has etched out a comfortable living beating the odds. Not much slips past this guru among horse racing aficionados.

But if you told Bird four months ago that the five-decades-old Hinsdale Greyhound Racing Association was on the verge of sinking and taking his six-figure wagering account along for the ride, he wouldn’t have believed it.

“Ironically, I felt very loyal to that track. I dealt with them for five years,” Bird said in a recent phone interview. “Even after they lost their competitive edge and there were better rates available elsewhere, I kept my money there. I was doing less business, but I still stayed.”

While sitting in a jet on a runway in December in Los Angeles, Bird answered a call from a friend telling him the Hinsdale track, which offered simulcast greyhound, thoroughbred and harness racing from tracks across the country, had filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

Bird was told that the $138,000 he had in his wagering account was as good as gone, and the state laws that were in place to protect him and the other bettors were inadequate. He immediately called the N.H. Racing and Charitable Gaming Commission, which referred him to the track owner’s lawyer.

“The lawyer said he looked for two months and couldn’t find anything that prevented them from taking this money,” Bird said. “Basically, he was saying that because there’s nothing there to prevent us from taking it, we’re going to take it. Do you know how infuriating that is?”

State law has changed since Hinsdale went under and highlighted the need for more comprehensive protections for gamblers. Tracks are now required to maintain a balance in a secure bank account that would cover creditors in the event of bankruptcy, closure or sale.

The Hinsdale track’s last president and chief executive Joseph E. Sullivan 3rd said in a mid-January meeting with creditors that approximately half a million dollars in wagering accounts, including Bird’s money, was commingled with funds used to pay for overhead costs.

Before the track collapsed, Sullivan said he pulled cash from the general fund to pay employees and there wasn’t enough left to cover the wagering accounts. Bettors were not warned about the impending bankruptcy and given a chance to withdraw their accounts, he said.

The state racing and gaming commission accused Sullivan of breaking a verbal promise he made during private meetings to repay bettors. Sullivan disputes the commission’s claim.

The state attorney general’s office is in the middle of an investigation into Sullivan’s handling of the bankruptcy, while a trustee attempts to secure and liquidate the track’s remaining assets to pay its creditors.

The trustee, Michael S. Askenaizer of Nashua, has identified approximately $200,000 in receivables from the track that could be used to repay approximately 200 unsecured creditors – this includes the bettors and various businesses that dealt with the track — who are owed $1.75 million.

The tables, chairs, television monitors and other items that belong to the track will be auctioned in mid-April in an attempt to collect more funds for the creditors, Askenaizer said.

“The auction will bring whatever the auction brings, and that’s it at this point,” he said. “The next big thing is the promissory note.”

Sullivan took out a $650,000 loan from the track while he was its president. He declined to say where that money went when asked by The Sentinel after the meeting with creditors.

“Right now all I have is the promissory note he gave to the company,” Askenaizer said. “We’re going to be trying to unwind how that came to be.”

A year and a few weeks before the Hinsdale track declared bankruptcy, Sullivan formed Hinsdale Real Estate LLC with Carl B. Thomas of Spofford-based Thomas Construction Corp. and sold the track’s 102 acres and buildings to the holding company for $3.3 million.

Sullivan remains in the middle of negotiations to sell 22 acres of land that now belongs to the holding company to Wal-Mart for $2.1 million.

The land transaction with the holding company and its pending deal with Wal-Mart will be investigated as part of the bankruptcy process, Askenaizer said. He declined to comment further on either issue.

Under state law, any fraudulent transfer involving a debtor can be undone if it occurred less than four years prior to the bankruptcy filing. Federal bankruptcy law was changed in 2006 to extend the look-back period from a year to two years.

Sullivan’s bankruptcy attorney, John M. Sullivan of Concord, previously said creditors would not be able to go after the track’s former land because it belonged to the holding company. He could not be reached for comment late Friday afternoon or throughout the day Saturday.

Jennifer Rood, a Manchester attorney representing Bird and 11 of the Hinsdale track’s other biggest bettors, said she’s simply awaiting the outcome of Askenaizer’s inquiry into the land transaction with the holding company before making any moves.

“The transaction looks fishy and the trustee is investigating it,” she said. “I know my clients feel strongly that it was an improper transfer and it had the effect of depriving them of their money.”

While confident that the trustee will find in favor of the creditors, Bird said he has a backup plan.

“Unless indications from the bankruptcy are positive, we’re considering bringing a civil lawsuit and putting a lien on the property they’re trying to sell to Wal-Mart,” he said. “Forget the money I lost. I feel betrayed. I have deep enough pockets to fight this the whole way.”

A former high-ranking employee at the Hinsdale track, who asked to remain anonymous, said he does not believe Sullivan intended to defraud his creditors when he created the holding company and sold the track’s land.

“Joe Sullivan was an eternal optimist,” he said. “Chapter 7 bankruptcy is usually the last option for any business, and I’m sure that, had the land deal with Wal-Mart gone through in a timely fashion, (the track) would still be attempting to operate and hold out for the New Hampshire legislature to pass a slots bill.”

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By PHILLIP BANTZ
Sentinel Staff

The Keene Sentinel: March 17, 2009

A big drug problem is festering beneath the surface of this little city, police say.

Cocaine and heroin appear to be flowing into Keene at a higher rate than in previous years, although police aren’t exactly sure why.

“We are seeing more of it,” Keene police Lt. Peter S. Thomas said. “It’s just hard for me to say if it’s from enforcement efforts or if there’s more of it out there or if people are just being sloppy.”

The spate of bank heists that plagued the city last year and many of the property crimes that frustrate residents and police on a daily basis can be traced to local drug addicts, Thomas said.

“A lot of our breaking into vehicles and into homes is all related to the drug activity in the area,” he said.

The bulk of the drugs in Keene are coming from nearby Fitchburg, Mass., Thomas said. Other large suppliers include Boston and Hartford, Conn., he said.

For drug dealers based out of larger cities, Keene represents an untapped market, because competition from other dealers is weak and buyers are willing to shell out more money.

“The prices are drastically greater here than in Boston,” Thomas said. “You pay two or three times more here (for a drug) than what you’d pay in Boston, because of the options you have there and the distance” dealers have to drive to deliver their goods to Keene.

Moving past the dealers to focus on the suppliers

Two suspected street-level drug dealers have been arrested in Keene since late February. Both men are accused of trafficking drugs into the city.

“We have also made some arrests that you’re not aware of because they’re part of ongoing investigations,” Thomas said.

“We’re looking to move past the street dealers to their suppliers.”

A weeklong drug-dealing investigation involving a single suspect can consume more than 70 working hours.

“If an officer’s working 40 hours on street patrols, it doesn’t leave a lot of time to devote to this sort of thing,” Thomas said.

City police officials say the department is already stretched thin, and the number of drug investigators is expected to dwindle this summer. That may mean less time to devote to drug investigations.

“With manpower issues looming as they are, we may have to scale back a little bit,” Thomas said. “We’re already short one guy and we’re going to be short another guy in July with a retirement. When we have shortages we must take people from other positions and put them on patrol instead of doing investigative work.”

Police say they broke up drugs-for-guns trade

The latest publicized arrest in the city’s drug battle came Friday, when Raymond Wolfe, 32, of Boston was arrested during a traffic stop.

Detectives received a tip that Wolfe was coming into the Elm City to trade drugs for handguns, and began investigating him about a week before his arrest, Thomas said.

“You get somebody like that, we’re not going to mess around with him,” he said. “We want them in jail. We don’t want them around firearms.”

Wolfe attempted to swallow a few small bags of crack cocaine and to discard some marijuana before he was arrested, Lt. Eli Rivera said Monday during Wolfe’s arraignment in Keene District Court.

Wolfe has multiple drug-related arrests and convictions out of Massachusetts and Rhode Island, and was sentenced to serve three years in a Bay State prison in 2003, Rivera said in court.

Rivera asked that Wolfe’s bail be set at $50,000 — the judge agreed — after calling him a “danger to society.”

Three weeks before city police closed in on Wolfe, they arrested a man who is also suspected of trafficking cocaine into Keene from Massachusetts.

Naik Howard, 30, was arrested after a monthlong investigation. Like Wolfe, he was picked up during a traffic stop.

Investigators had information that Howard was storing guns at a Citizens Way residence, and city police did not want to confront him there, Thomas said.

“It’s also a timely thing because these guys will change their methods and ways and habits to avoid the police,” he said. “When we receive information, we need to act in a reasonably quick time frame.”

Howard had been bouncing between multiple residences in Keene for about a year before he was arrested, Thomas said. A search of the Citizens Way residence turned up crack cocaine, handguns and rifles, Thomas said.

He said the search also revealed evidence that may lead to the arrests of lower-level drug dealers who were helping Howard.

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By PHILLIP BANTZ
Sentinel Staff

The Keene Sentinel: March 14, 2009

Five years ago, a jury acquitted Brian R. Chevalier on multiple charges alleging he raped and terrorized his ex-girlfriend, a Jaffrey woman, but convicted him on a single count of kidnapping related to the incident.

The jurors deliberated for two days, then came back with the conviction minutes before Cheshire County Superior Court was scheduled to close for the weekend.

Chevalier, 42, now sits in a state prison in Berlin, serving a sentence of 10 to 30 years.

The conviction carried a harsher penalty because Chevalier, formerly of Merrimack, had prior convictions for property crimes.

Throughout his 2004 trial and ever since, Chevalier has maintained his innocence.

“I’m not claiming to be an angel,” he said. “I’ve done a lot of things. I’ve been in prison before. But I did not do this. I did not rape or kidnap anyone. I’m just hoping that somebody will take another look at this case.”

Two former police officials have taken up Chevalier’s cause, and they aim to free him from prison.

State Rep. Dudley “Dan” Dumaine, R-Auburn, who spent 15 years as a Keene police officer, and John M. Healy of Warner, a retired N.H. State Police lieutenant, believe Chevalier is innocent.

They base this belief on an analysis of the ex-girlfriend’s written statement to police, and what they say are inconsistencies in her retelling of events surrounding the kidnapping and alleged sexual assaults to hospital workers, prosecutors and investigators.

During his trial, Chevalier’s public defender, Hampton W. Howard, said the ex-girlfriend concocted the rape and kidnapping story because her estranged husband and young daughter walked in on her and Chevalier the morning after they spent the night together.

The ex-girlfriend feared she’d lose custody of her daughter if her husband brought up her infidelity during divorce proceedings, Howard said. Dumaine and Healy agree with that theory.

“I truly believe that Brian is not guilty,” Dumaine said. “He is sitting up there in prison and he doesn’t belong there.”

*****

After leaving law enforcement, Dumaine and Healy became private investigators.

They didn’t know each other as officers, but their lives would intersect later, when Dumaine enrolled in one of Healy’s seminars.

Healy trains local, state and federal law enforcement officials on the use of a written statement analysis technique known as Scientific Content Analysis or SCAN.

The SCAN technique is used to examine the words a person chooses to describe an event, and can help investigators narrow their line of questioning during repeat interviews with the same person.

When used correctly, SCAN can be as effective as a polygraph test, according to Dumaine and Healy.

“This is very scientific,” Healy said. “Think of it just like you would a polygraph test. My analysis of a statement is only as good as my training and experience, just the same as a polygrapher is only as good as their training and experience.”

The technique can be applied to victims or suspects, but authorities most often use it on the latter.

“I would be hesitant to use it on a victim’s statement,” Keene police Lt. Peter S. Thomas said. “We don’t want to re-victimize the victim of a violent crime. I’m not saying we wouldn’t ever use it on a victim, it just isn’t something we’ve ever done as far as I know.”

Two Keene police officials have received SCAN training and they’ve successfully used the technique in conjunction with other investigative methods, Thomas said.

“It’s a tool we use to get to the truth,” he said. “We have an officer who’s solved numerous cases with this. It’s not just this technique by itself, but it certainly played a role.”

*****

Healy was teaching a SCAN seminar in Boston after Chevalier’s conviction when a police officer, who asked to remain anonymous, brought in the sworn statement Chevalier’s ex-girlfriend gave to authorities.

The officer handed the three-page document to Healy, who analyzed it and began using it during his seminars as a textbook example of a potentially deceptive statement.

The ex-girlfriend’s statement begins just before Chevalier allegedly ambushed her inside her basement when she returned from work. She wrote that he forced her upstairs and said he wanted to spend one last night with her before being sent back to prison for violating his parole.

“Whenever you see a statement that starts at the significant or main event, the author is hiding everything that happened before that,” Healy said. “That is a huge red flag to me or anybody else that studies this.”

Other “red flags” include the way the woman referred to her husband and Chevalier later in the statement, the investigators say.

She wrote: “My estranged husband was not pleased that I had violated his homestead by permitting Brian in.”

The person introduced near the end of a statement — in this case it’s the husband — is often the factor that triggered the initial allegation, Healy said.

He said the most obvious sign of deception is when a person uses the term “we” to describe his or her relationship with an alleged attacker.

“The whole statement was alarming, but the most important thing is that there ain’t no ‘we’ after a rape. She never uses the term before the rape, but afterward she uses it at least five times,” he said. “When you’re reading a statement by a victim you will never see ‘we.’ The person cannot psychologically use the term ‘we’ after they’ve been frightened, assaulted or raped.”

*****

While Healy used the ex-girlfriend’s statement during his seminars, the identity of its author and subject remained a mystery. Chevalier’s last name was redacted from the statement and the ex-girlfriend’s name was omitted.

It wasn’t until Dumaine attended one of Healy’s seminars in 2005 that the two met and considered tracking down Chevalier.

The two private investigators uncovered Chevalier’s last name by digging through public records and old newspaper clippings. Dumaine finally visited Chevalier in prison in March 2008.

“I was told that a private investigator was here to speak with me,” Chevalier said. “I didn’t want to see him at first because I had no idea what it was about.”

Dumaine was persistent, though, and eventually convinced Chevalier to leave his cell and meet him in a visiting area.

“I was sitting waiting for him and he walked in with his arms folded with a look on his face like, ‘What are you up to?’ He stood there in the doorway and you could see the attitude,” Dumaine said. “He recognized that I was part of the system and he thought I was there to hurt him.”

Dumaine avoided discussing Healy’s analysis of the ex-girlfriend’s statement with Chevalier. He only said that he was there to help.

When Chevalier started talking, his story matched what Healy had gleaned from the ex-girlfriend’s statement.

“He gave me a blow-by-blow description of his relationship with this lady,” Healy said. “When he was finished, it literally mirrored what John had said. It was amazing.”

*****

Dumaine and Healy, who are not being paid for their work on Chevalier’s case, want to overturn his conviction or convince a judge to grant him another trial.

Chevalier has exhausted his appeals to the state’s courts and is now trying to convince the U.S. District Court in Concord that he deserves an evidence hearing, a new trial or the dismissal of his conviction. He is awaiting a judge’s ruling.

Assistant Cheshire County Attorney Kathleen G. O’Reilly, who prosecuted Chevalier, and Jaffrey Police Chief William J. Oswalt, who investigated the case when he was a detective, declined comment.

Several attempts to reach Chevalier’s ex-girlfriend were unsuccessful.

Cheshire County Attorney Peter W. Heed also declined to comment on the concerns raised by Dumaine and Healy, but said his office stands by the conviction.

“Obviously we support any verdict that a jury reaches until such time as a judge tells us otherwise.”

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