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Archive for April, 2009

By PHILLIP BANTZ
Sentinel Staff

The Keene Sentinel: April 22, 2009

The Hancock man who plotted to kill the mother of his young son was sent to prison today for at least eight years as part of a plea deal with prosecutors.

Guido “Tony” Boldini, 43, pleaded guilty in Cheshire County Superior Court to one count of solicitation to commit murder, a special felony that carries a 30-year maximum prison sentence.

Boldini and his public defender, Hampton W. Howard, struck a deal with prosecutors for a N.H. State Prison sentence of eight to 20 years in exchange for the guilty plea.

Boldini answered Judge John P. Arnold’s questions about his competency and guilt during the brief hearing, but said nothing else. He was handcuffed at the waist and his head had been shaved since his arrest in September.

Boldini and his mother, Constance “Connie” Boldini, 76, were taken into custody after they met with an undercover police officer posing as a hit man named “John,” and offered him $10,000 to kill Michelle Hudon during a videotaped conversation, according to Cheshire County Attorney Peter W. Heed.

Heed said the case Keene police prepared against the Boldinis was among the tightest he’d ever seen, because of the ample evidence they were able to gather against the duo.

“That’s one of the reasons we’re here for a prompt resolution,” he said in court.

Guido Boldini hatched the murder-for-hire plan because he wanted to protect his 4-year-old son, who he believed was being abused at Hudon’s home, Howard said in an interview before today’s hearing.

“This case is fundamentally a tragedy. Our enormous love for our children and concern for their well-being can sometimes sweep away our judgment and lead us into terrible error,” he said. “Mr. Boldini was desperately concerned for the well-being of his child and simply did not believe the state could successfully protect the child.”

Guido Boldini admitted to hatching the murder plot shortly after he was arrested, and he never tried to place the blame on his mother, Heed said.

Guido Boldini also has no criminal record, which played a role in the plea deal, he said.

While Hudon was not in the courtroom, she wrote a statement that victim witness coordinator Priscilla L. DeHotman read before Guido Boldini was sent to prison.

Hudon thanked the police investigators involved in the Boldinis’ case for “the life you all saved and the lives you’ll save in the future,” along with prosecutors for the “swift and just outcome.” She also called DeHotman a “bright star in her tumultuous life.”

She said she will allow the young boy at the center of the incident to decide whether he wants to meet with Guido Boldini when he is released from prison.

The boy, who still lives with Hudon, will be “able to protect himself mentally” when that time comes, she said.

As part of the plea deal, Guido Boldini was barred from contacting Hudon.

Constance Boldini and her Keene attorney, Christopher F. Wells, struck a plea deal with prosecutors nearly two weeks after Guido Boldini negotiated his deal.

She expects to serve 41/2 to 15 years at a state prison. Her age and lack of a criminal record factored into her pending sentence, Heed said.

If a judge hands down a sentence that is harsher than Constance Boldini expects during her sentencing hearing, which has not been scheduled, she may back out of the deal and pursue a jury trial.

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By PHILLIP BANTZ
Sentinel Staff

The Keene Sentinel: April 21, 2009

The Hancock mother and son at the center of an alleged murder-for-hire plot have struck plea deals with prosecutors, court documents show.

Guido “Tony” Boldini, 43, and Constance “Connie” Boldini, 76, each face one count of solicitation to commit murder, a special felony that carries a maximum prison sentence of 30 years.

The Boldinis met with an undercover police officer acting as an assassin named “John” in September in a Keene parking lot, according to Cheshire County Attorney Peter W. Heed.

During a conversation that was captured on surveillance video inside John’s vehicle, the Boldinis agreed to pay $10,000 to have a woman murdered and provided photographs of their target, according to Heed.

Guido Boldini signed a notice of intent April 2 indicating he will plead guilty to the murder plot in exchange for a N.H. State Prison sentence of eight to 20 years.

He is expected to plead guilty in front of a judge and be sentenced Wednesday at Cheshire County Superior Court.

If the judge hands down a sentence that is harsher than Guido Boldini expected, he can back out of the deal and pursue a jury trial.

Any defendant who signs a notice of intent form is not locked into a guilty plea. The form is simply a statement of intent, and the guilty plea is not official until the defendant confirms it during a court hearing.

Twelve days after her son notified prosecutors of his intent to plead guilty, Constance Boldini took the same step.

Her pending deal is for 41/2 to 15 years at a state prison. She also may back out of the plea if she doesn’t like the judge’s sentence. Her court hearing has not been scheduled.

Constance Boldini’s age and lack of criminal record factored into her plea negotiation, Heed said.

Heed declined to comment further on the details behind the Boldinis’ plea negotiations until they have their plea and sentencing hearings in court.

Constance Boldini’s Keene attorney, Christopher F. Wells, did not respond to a message seeking comment on the case.

Guido Boldini’s public defender, Hampton W. Howard, also did not return a message seeking comment.

The apparent target of the murder-for-hire plot, Michelle Hudon, was involved in a custody dispute with Guido Boldini, her ex-boyfriend and the father of her young son, neighbors who were familiar with the situation told The Sentinel.

The neighbors also said Hudon and Guido Boldini were involved in a conflict over land. Constance Boldini owns nearly 44 acres off Bonds Corner Road in Hancock, where she and Guido Boldini lived before their arrests, according to property records. Hudon’s home sits on 5 acres at the edge of Constance Boldini’s property, and Guido Boldini believed that if he obtained Hudon’s land he would have an easier time selling his mother’s property, the neighbors said.

They said Guido Boldini believed Hancock was becoming too populated and wanted to use the profits from the sale of his mother’s property to relocate to a remote area in Canada and live off the land.

Hudon, who was trying to sell her house and land when the alleged murder plot was hatched and foiled, has not been reachable for comment.

She obtained a restraining order against Guido Boldini in March 2007 after she accused him of pulling their son out of her arms and punching her in the chest. Guido Boldini’s pending plea negotiation bars him from having any contact with Hudon.

The Boldinis have declined comment through Cheshire County jail Superintendent Richard N. Van Wickler. They remain at the jail in Westmoreland.

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By PHILLIP BANTZ
Sentinel Staff

The Keene Sentinel: April 19, 2009

If the marijuana protest and guerilla gardening in downtown Keene failed to raise many eyebrows, the sight of a handful of handcuffed Free Staters being taken out of the city’s District Court earlier this week surely had plenty of residents scratching their heads.

The reader comments piled up under online coverage of Monday’s protest at the District Court on The Sentinel’s Web site, where some people ridiculed and criticized the Free Staters for wasting taxpayer dollars and the time of city police officers.

“Time and again, the Free Staters come off as insolent children who stomp their feet and hold their breath until their faces turn blue because they don’t like being told what to do,” commenter Arch wrote.

The Free Staters hit back, outnumbering the opposition with post after post, saying that District Court Judge Edward J. Burke had blatantly stomped on their personal freedoms when he banned the use of video cameras in the District Court lobby.

“What many commenters here are showing is how slavery is enforced. Slavery was enforced by the slaves themselves. It isn’t the government that keeps people down — it is the people,” wrote commenter Frake.

The District Court blowup unfolded during the arraignment of Manchester videographer Dave Ridley, who was arrested in March because he refused to turn off his video camera in the court lobby. Ridley and others showed up to cover the arraignment of Free Stater and marijuana activist Andrew Carroll.

Carroll was arrested in January when he stood in Keene’s Railroad Square carrying a small amount of marijuana while surrounded by Free Staters and curious onlookers.

Though state law allows media representatives to record public court proceedings in most cases, lobbies and hallways are gray areas. Police officials say there is a fear that rape victims and juveniles could be captured on film while in these areas, which are generally off-limits for videotaping and photography, according to state judicial branch spokeswoman Laura A. Kiernan.

“We’ve talked about this at length and the Free Staters know that,” Kiernan said in a previous interview. She did not return a phone message seeking additional clarification on the law.

Free State movement still on recruiting trail

The Free State Project, the brainchild of Dr. Jason Sorens in 2001, a Yale-educated assistant professor of political science at the University at Buffalo in New York, aims to convince 20,000 activists to uproot their lives and move to the “Live Free or Die” state.

So far, about 700 have relocated to the state and more than 9,200 have committed to making the move, according to the project’s Web site. Sorens said he’ll make the move when he gets 20,000 signatures from people willing to do the same.

“If I can get an academic job in or near New Hampshire before then, that would be great,” he said.

Ian “Freeman” Bernard, an outspoken Free Stater and the host of “Free Talk Live,” a nationally syndicated radio talk show based in Keene, described the group as decentralized, with members pursuing their own agendas.

“There are more people coming here all the time,” he said. “These are self-starters. These are people seeing a gap where something needs to be done.”

Pam K. Martens, a Westmoreland writer who spent 21 years covering free market capitalism on Wall Street, recently set her sights on the Free Staters. Most project members support a free market without government intervention.

Martens penned an unflattering article on the group, which compared them to an invading army that can only be stopped with stricter zoning laws to prevent them from moving into small towns, buying up property and trying to infiltrate the local government.

“I felt it was more appropriate, and actually overdue to study them,” Martens said. “Why should we sit here being studied by this group and do nothing about it?”

In her article — Free Staters say it is inaccurate and slanderous — Martens focuses on a group that organized the Free Town Project in an attempt to take over the small New Hampshire town of Grafton, in the Lake Sunapee area, population of about 1,100. The project failed, and the group tried again in the desolate Texas county of Loving, where they were also ousted.

The Free Town Project’s Web site advocates the legalization of victimless crimes, such as “dueling, gambling, incest, price-gouging, cannibalism and drug handling.”

One of the group’s founders, Lawrence E. Pendarvis, also known as “Zack Bass,” was banned from the Free State Project because of his views and “outlandish statements,” Sorens said. He described Pendarvis as “an Internet crank who advocated extreme positions and claimed to want to implement them in New Hampshire.”

Any person who promotes violence, racial hatred or bigotry can be banished from the project, Sorens said. Fewer than 10 people have been booted since the project’s inception, he said.

The project has a six-member board of directors — Sorens is chairman — along with a president, vice president, treasurer, advertising director, media spokesman, bookkeeper and many other officials.

Internet spreads news of Free State Project

Most Free Staters joined the project after learning about it on the Internet, where YouTube videos of members’ acts of civil disobedience, including the District Court arrests, attract thousands of viewers.

Patrick Shields left his home in Shawnee, Kan., in February and moved to Keene after learning about the Free State Project online. He was among the five people who were arrested at District Court. Two others were given summonses.

Shields volunteers at the Keene Community Kitchen and is considering a run for city council in November, along with a handful of other Free Staters. He said he wants to change the perception that Free Staters do nothing but protest.

“From my experience, people make it seem like Free Staters are gnats annoying people but not doing anything meaningful,” he said.

When asked what meaningful changes Free Staters have brought to Keene, Shields said he had no answer.

“I’m not sure of any right now,” he said. “It’s slowly building momentum.”

Nick Ryder, a Keene native who identifies with the Free Staters, is also gearing up for a run for city council. Ryder said he has a 5 percent chance of being elected.

“People say the first time you run is all about name recognition,” he said. “I guess this (election) is going to be a gauge of how our views our perceived by this community. I think we do have a lot of silent supporters out there.”

Ryder was given a summons during the District Court protest, because he cooperated with the police by providing identification. He said he needed to get back to work — he works as a wedding videographer.

Some Free Staters refuse to carry drivers’ licenses or register their vehicles with the state because they believe the government should not have a say over how they use their property, though others, such as Ryder, choose to do the opposite.

“I have a license and I’m about to re-up my registration,” Ryder said. “I do wedding videos, and if I were pulled over on the way to a wedding, my business would be taken away forever.”

As for legalizing cannibalism, as some fringe Free Staters openly advocate, Ryder said he believes people should be able to eat human flesh if they want and have sole possession of the body they’re consuming.

“If you’ve killed someone and eaten them, then you are guilty of murder,” he said. “If there is no family member or other person who has higher claim to a dead body than you, I guess you can do whatever you want with that. I can’t say that I agree with it, but I can’t say I would throw you in jail if you did it,” Ryder said.

Arrest in Keene court adds fuel to group’s fire

The Free Stater who made the biggest splash during the District Court protest remains at the Cheshire County jail in Westmoreland because he has refused to provide identification for the booking process.

Samuel Dodson, who moved from Texas earlier this year, reportedly went on a hunger strike after he arrived at jail. The Free Staters are holding a candlelight vigil for Dodson tonight in Keene’s Central Square.

Dodson’s screams could be heard through a closed door Monday while he was being arrested in a room adjoining the District Court lobby. Only Dodson and the police know what happened in that room.

Keene police Sgt. Eliezer Rivera said Dodson screamed every time he was touched. Some of the Free Staters who heard his screams thought he was being brutalized by the police. An audio file of his screams has been posted on one of the Free State Web sites.

“My personal opinion is that he was not hurt as bad as he was sounding, but any time you are carried like that (Dodson and other protestors went limp when the police tried to arrest them) it’s going to be uncomfortable,” Ryder said. “Maybe he did it to draw attention, but maybe it was because he did not want to become an unfree person at that time.”

Regardless of whether Dodson was acting or really injured, his actions and the District Court protest has undoubtedly added fuel to the Free Staters’ fire. Postings on the group’s online message boards indicate that people who have viewed video footage from the incident are already making plans to join the Free Staters and move to Keene.

“Keene has already had a burst of movers because of the recent crackdown activity,” Bernard, the Free Stater and radio talk show host said. “It seems the more they crack down, the more people want to come here.”

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By PHILLIP BANTZ
Sentinel Staff

The Keene Sentinel: April 16, 2009

Letters from a jilted ex-girlfriend to a man awaiting retrial in a bank robbery case indicate he may have been framed, according to his attorney.

Jesse Garcia, 32, sits at the Cheshire County jail in Westmoreland awaiting a second trial after the first ended in November with a deadlocked jury.

Prosecutors say Garcia robbed the Bank of America branch in downtown Keene in August. Garcia’s court-appointed attorney, Theodore W. Barnes, said it was a setup.

Barnes has filed a request to have the second trial rescheduled from May 4 to a later date, because of a pair of letters Garcia’s ex-girlfriend, Cynthia Wood, sent him in jail.

His request also cites a delay in receiving court transcripts from the first trial.

Barnes writes in his request that Wood makes statements in the jail letters that “call into question the truthfulness” of what she told Keene police and, later, the jury when she took the stand during last year’s trial.

Wood also partially identifies a person who may have planted evidence that was used to connect Garcia to the robbery and indicates that the police were aware of evidence that proved Garcia’s innocence, according to Barnes.

Garcia was arrested at a Brattleboro hotel after Wood went to the police with a pellet gun and a black mask she said she found among Garcia’s belongings. Prosecutors say that the bank robber used both items during the crime.

Wood later testified in court that she was furious with Garcia when she went to the police because he left her for a stripper.

Barnes declined to comment on the jail letters when reached at his office in Manchester. He said in court during the first trial that he believed Wood framed Garcia, and suggested that her son committed the bank robbery.

Cheshire County Superior Court Judge Brian T. Tucker has yet to answer Barnes’ request for a continuance. Tucker has denied several other requests Barnes filed in preparation for the retrial.

Barnes asked that the pellet gun and ski mask be kept out of court because Wood’s testimony linking Garcia to both pieces of evidence was unreliable.

Tucker decided to let the next jury determine Wood’s credibility, and ruled they should see the pellet pistol and ski mask.

Technicians at the state crime lab in Concord found Garcia’s DNA on a cutting of fabric from the ski mask, and witness descriptions of the robber’s gun match the appearance of the pellet pistol, according to Assistant Cheshire County Attorney Kathleen G. O’Reilly.

Barnes also asked the court for additional funding to hire a private investigator to track down the original jurors and determine whether their deliberative sessions were tainted by news coverage of the trial, which detailed Garcia’s previous conviction for armed robbery.

The jurors were initially leaning toward acquittal with an 11-1 vote, but came back after a weekend break between deliberations with a vote of 9-3 in favor of conviction. Barnes said he took the wild swing in votes as a sign of a tainted jury.

When asked to describe the eight hours of deliberations that led to the mistrial, jury foreman Mark Griffin held out his trembling hands as evidence of how high tensions ran.

He said jurors were yelling at each other as they discussed Garcia’s guilt or innocence. Griffin said he believed Garcia was guilty.

“I’m certainly upset about the outcome. I find it to be very frustrating,” he said. “Unless the guy was tackled in the foyer of the bank and held until police arrived, it’s difficult to come to a unanimous decision with all the different personalities involved in this jury.”

Barnes also writes in his request for a private investigator that Griffin’s “vehemence” and “emotion” may have affected other jurors and the outcome of the trial, furthering his concern about jury prejudice.

O’Reilly argued that jurors were repeatedly instructed to avoid news accounts of the trial as it was unfolding and during deliberations, and that there was no evidence that showed they disobeyed those orders. Tucker agreed, and denied Barnes’ request.

Barnes said he is exploring other options to track down and interview the jurors, but declined to comment further on the case.

If he was able to prove juror bias, Barnes said previously that he would try to convince a judge that retrying Garcia is unconstitutional.

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By PHILLIP BANTZ
Sentinel Staff

The Keene Sentinel: April 12, 2009

HINSDALE — While the Hinsdale Greyhound Park was struggling financially, its president and chief executive officer kept his two daughters on the payroll in “phantom jobs,” sources say.

Joseph E. Sullivan 3rd filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in mid-December, citing the sour economy as a factor, and the track closed its doors.

Hundreds of bettors with an estimated half a million dollars in their unsecured wagering accounts were told their money was gone, because it had been commingled with the track’s general funds.

The state Attorney General’s Office has launched an investigation into Sullivan’s handling of the bankruptcy, and a trustee is trying to secure and liquidate the track’s remaining assets to repay bettors and other creditors.

Meanwhile, two former high-ranking track employees who asked to remain anonymous have independently told The Sentinel Sullivan’s daughters Meghan and Brianna were on the payroll for years, but they did not hold steady jobs at the track. The sources said they held “phantom” or “ghost jobs.”

“As long as I can remember, they were showing up on my department’s payroll,” said the first source, who began working for Sullivan in 2002. “Most of the employees there already knew these girls were getting paychecks.”

Sullivan has declined to comment through two of his attorneys, who also declined comment or did not return phone messages and e-mails seeking comment about his daughters’ salaries and other financial information pertaining to the track.

Meghan Sullivan was paid $393 a week throughout 2007, earning approximately $20,460 before taxes, according to payroll documents obtained by The Sentinel.

She received one paycheck for $393 at the end of the first week of 2008, and then she no longer appears on the payroll. She was living and going to college in Washington, D.C., while she was receiving the checks, according to the second source, who began working for Sullivan in 2001.

Brianna Sullivan occasionally worked at the track as a fill-in when she wasn’t away at college, and was paid $200 to $300 a week, the second source said.

Brianna Sullivan does not appear on the track’s payroll during the past two years because she took a job with Major League Baseball, which frowns on employees having ties to gambling institutions, the first source said.

Joseph Sullivan’s wife, Virginia, was being paid $823 a week, but had steady employment at the track as director of food and beverage and “was well worth every dime she got,” the first source said. Her salary in 2007 and 2008 was approximately $42,830 before taxes, according to payroll documents.

Joseph Sullivan drew weekly checks of between $3,340 and $9,100 in 2007 and 2008, bringing in more than $279,700 before taxes during 2007 and about $225,000 in 2008, when he began taking weekly pay cuts in the period leading up to the bankruptcy filing.

Sullivan also borrowed $650,000 from the track between 2002 and 2008. In 2005, the bulk of the loans he took out against the track went toward personal expenses, according to the second source.

The bankruptcy trustee is now attempting to trace and recover the money Sullivan borrowed from the track to repay the creditors.

The track lost $330,912 in 2006 and $470,816 in 2008, but reported a profit of $378,928 in 2007, according to bankruptcy filings.

Why the track profited the year before it went bankrupt remains a mystery. The N.H. Racing and Charitable Gaming Commission had no answers, and Sullivan’s attorneys declined to offer an explanation.

In 2007, the track obtained a $1 million loan from TD Banknorth in an attempt to stay afloat, but cash from the loan should not be counted as revenue, according to Sudhir K. Naik, deputy director of the gaming commission.

More than a year before Sullivan filed for bankruptcy, he 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 deal with the holding company and its pending sale of land to Wal-Mart will be investigated as part of the bankruptcy process.

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By PHILLIP BANTZ
Sentinel Staff

The Keene Sentinel: April 10, 2009

Forty miles outside Keene earlier this week, a 35-year-old man with a history of dealing drugs was gunned down during a home invasion.

The brazen murder unfolded in the middle of the afternoon in a seedy section of a city that supplies a large amount of the cocaine and heroin that ends up on local streets, according to Keene police.

While insulated from much of the drug violence that plagues larger cities such as Fitchburg, Mass., where the violent death is being investigated, the Elm City still has no shortage of buyers willing to shell out big bucks for hard drugs.

In recent weeks, city police, working with the N.H. Attorney General’s Office Drug Task Force, among other agencies, have arrested four alleged dealers trafficking cocaine into Keene from other Bay State cities, including Boston, Holyoke and Springfield.

The Keene police have noticed an alarming increase in cocaine and heroin arrests, along with dealers who are trading drugs for guns.

“Over the years I have seen cycles for everything, and it seems as if we are on the upswing for people trading drugs for weapons,” said Keene police Lt. Peter S. Thomas, who has 27 years of law enforcement experience.

“As most people involved in crimes have some sort of conviction, they are unable to lawfully purchase a weapon. If they desire a weapon they must purchase it illegally.”

The dealers who travel to Keene for business often set up shop in hotels, motels, apartments and houses for a few days at a time, selling their drugs as quickly as possible to a steady stream of customers.

The method is nothing new — dealers have been selling from rented or borrowed rooms in Keene for years — and it can be an effective way to avoid the police, especially if the dealer is unfamiliar with the city, Thomas said.

“On different occasions we have had heroin dealers, cocaine dealers and crack cocaine dealers stay at local hotels for a short period of time,” Thomas said. “It is a way for someone outside the area to have an established ‘safe base’ for operations.”

Hotel and motel employees frequently work with the police in drug investigations, Thomas said. Citing “investigative reasons,” he declined to discuss how the employees assist the police and how successful they are in spotting dealers.

‘You can only sit in a car for so long’

Because drug investigations are tedious and usually involve dozens if not hundreds of hours of surveillance and other forms of intelligence gathering, such as recruiting confidential informants, not all police officers are gung-ho about going after dealers.

The decision-makers at a police department may also be apprehensive about jumping into drug investigations because they can strain an already-thin budget.

“A drug investigation is a lot of time consumption and a lot of boredom followed by a very quick culmination, the actual arrest,” Thomas said. “You might spend 12 to 15 hours in a car doing surveillance. You can only sit in a car for so long before you start to go crazy.”

The Keene Police Department, though, has a small group of officers who excel at busting dealers and one officer in particular who has a knack for prying information from sources and turning criminals into informants, which has been one factor behind some of the recent arrests, Thomas said.

“I don’t want to make it sound like one officer is the driving force behind all these cases,” he said. “While we have an officer who has a strong interest in these types of cases and does a great job of following up on it, he’s not alone in the effort.”

During an undercover operation in late March, detective Charles I. Newton of the state drug task force and a confidential informant orchestrated a crack cocaine deal with a man from Holyoke known as “Black.” He was later identified as 21-year-old Dexter Thaxton, according to an affidavit Newton wrote.

The affidavit provides the following details about the surveillance operation that led to the arrest of Thaxton and his alleged accomplice, 22-year-old Springfield resident Orlando L. Rodriguez:

After several recorded cell phone conversations with the informant, Thaxton rented a room at the Holiday Inn Express in Keene, where he stashed a scale for weighing drugs behind a bed pillow. He had two to three ounces of crack.

When the police raided the hotel room, Thaxton and Rodriguez tried to flush crack down the toilet before they were handcuffed. They had been coming to Keene to sell drugs every week for “many months,” and only stayed for a day or two during each visit, Thomas said.

The crack deal with the informant took place in the hotel room, after Thaxton and the informant drove to a nearby gas station to buy cigarettes as drug agents followed in an unmarked car. The informant gave Thaxton $300 in cash, which the drug agents provided after documenting the serial numbers on each bill, then the two discussed trading drugs for guns during future meetings.

After the informant completed the deal and walked out of the hotel, drug agents gave him $50 for his help and secured the crack he bought as evidence.

The agents stuck around and witnessed three other apparent crack deals in less than four hours between Thaxton and a local woman who has yet to be charged with a crime.

The agents also watched their informant return to the hotel to see Thaxton again, this time without their authorization.

When he was later confronted by the agents, the informant admitted to setting up a crack deal between Thaxton and a Vermont man who is under investigation for drug sales. The informant had been working with the state since March 2008 — he was immediately released from the program.

‘We don’t necessarily choose informants’

Informants are rarely caught buying drugs from the dealers they’re helping the police bring down, Thomas said. Most of them have a good reason to stay in line, at least while they’re working with the police, he said.

“We don’t necessarily choose informants. They choose us. They’re either people who are in trouble and seeking to help themselves out, or people trying to help their communities,” Thomas said. “It’s usually the latter. We don’t often have people coming to us saying they’re fed up with their drug dealer.”

In exchange for their help, informants are typically given leniency come sentencing time on whatever criminal charges they face, or the charges are dismissed, in addition to a small cash payment. But mercy from the courts seems to be the biggest incentive.

“Certainly if you have a judge looking at someone who’s in trouble and they’ve put their own person at risk helping the community, a judge is hopefully going to take that into consideration when handing down the sentence,” Thomas said. “But that’s not the case every time.”

‘There is no drug haven here’

In Fitchburg, Police Chief Robert A. DeMoura is dealing with the city’s first murder of 2009, while he continues to wage war against drug-dealing locals. DeMoura called Fitchburg a “source city for narcotics,” but said he was unaware of its connection to Keene, though not surprised.

When DeMoura became police chief in Fitchburg a year ago, he immediately put his decade-long experience in street-level drug investigations as a narcotics officer in Lowell, Mass., to use. He said he sat down with state police and planned a covert operation aimed at dealers. The four-month operation netted 30 arrests.

“This sent a clear message to a large population of our city; I would assume that word travels fast and a percentage might have moved to parts unknown,” he said. “This may be one cause” of the upswing in drug arrests in Keene.

Identifying drug houses and having police officers go out and perform “knock and talks” at the residences to gather information; stopping suspicious vehicles; patrolling problem areas; and “following the money” trail from street-level dealers to their suppliers are techniques DeMoura said he relies on daily in his city’s war on drugs.

But in Keene, there are no drug corners or consistent hotspots of drug activity, according to Thomas, which makes life more difficult for the city police investigating dealers and drug crimes.

“We don’t have the same concentration like they have on street corners in larger cities,” he said. “Any place where there’s a congregation of people has a potential to be a drug area. There is no drug haven here. If we were aware of it, we would saturate it.”

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