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Archive for June, 2009

By PHILLIP BANTZ
Sentinel Staff

The Keene Sentinel: June 30, 2009

Knowing that Bernard L. Madoff will spend the rest of his life in prison provides no solace for Barbara G. Moore, a former Keene resident living in New Mexico, who was left in financial ruins along with thousands of other investors who trusted the once-powerful Wall Street broker.

Madoff, 71, was sentenced Monday to 150 years in prison for bilking investors out of at least $13 billion with the largest Ponzi scheme in history.

He pleaded guilty in March to 11 felony charges of securities fraud, theft and money laundering.

A Ponzi scheme — also known as a pyramid scheme — pays early investors with money from new investors who are lured with the promise of unusually large, short-term returns.

The illegal tactic takes its name from Charles Ponzi, who defrauded New England residents in the 1920s with a scheme involving postage stamps.

Moore invested her life savings with Madoff after learning about him through friends. She lost $350,000.

“I didn’t even have enough money to keep my house. I had to put it on the market,” she said. “I’m 78 years old and I’m not going to be able to get another job.”

Moore now depends on Social Security checks to pay for groceries and other necessities.

She said she’s not worried about being homeless after her house sells because she has a large network of friends.

“I’ll move in with somebody,” she said.

Moore spent 18 years as a nun. She left the convent when she was 35 and obtained a master’s degree in software engineering, securing a job in Boston before she retired in 1992 and moved to Keene.

“I didn’t get a decent pension when I retired,” she said. “I didn’t know anything about investments. I just wanted an income.”

Moore was friends with a couple who invested with Madoff and were seeing large average annual returns, she said. Moore said the interest on her investment with Madoff was enough to live on, at first.

“But the interest was getting lower and lower,” she said.

In the wake of Madoff’s conviction and sentencing, Moore said she does not feel that justice was served.

“I think the SEC should get a term in jail. They’re supposed to be the protectors,” she said, referring to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Moore said she doesn’t care about Madoff’s prison sentence or whether his associates will be charged and convicted.

“There’s no good in thinking about revenge. It doesn’t help you at all,” she said. “I understand there’s the same kind of fraudulence all over corporate America. So I don’t really think of Madoff as ‘The One.’”

Moore also no longer obsesses about the money she lost.

“I’ve discovered that it’s better to have friends than to have money,” she said. “That really makes up for a lot in life.”

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By PHILLIP BANTZ
Sentinel Staff
The Keene Sentinel: June 23, 2009

The N.H. Supreme Court recently issued a landmark ruling allowing a Seacoast woman to visit her Walpole grandchildren, paving the way for other grandparents in the state seeking visitation rights.

The ruling was a decisive victory for Kathaleen Dufton, though one last hurdle still remains.

Dufton and Terry Shepard Jr., the father of her grandchildren Amber, 8, and Kailee, 9, are at odds over the frequency and duration of her visits with them.

Dufton wants to have the children at her Newington home for two weekends every other month, and for one weekend during the months in between, according to her attorney, Justin Nadeau of Portsmouth.

Shepard and his attorney, Douglas Greene of Keene, are asking that Dufton drive to Walpole, where Shepard, Amber and Kailee live, and visit with them for a few hours one day a month.

After hearing arguments from both sides Monday at Cheshire County Superior Court, David Forrest, a marital master, said he would issue a temporary order following further review of the case.

Marital masters may make recommendations to the court as to how a case should be decided, but the recommendation has no effect until a judge signs it.

Forrest said he wanted Dufton and Shepard to attempt to resolve their disagreement through mediation before appointing a legal guardian to represent Amber and Kailee.

“Mediation may be able to cut through some of the hard feelings here,” he said.

If mediation fails, the legal guardian would step in and help the court determine how much time Amber and Kailee should spend with Dufton.

Forrest also indicated any temporary order he issued would likely allow the children to periodically visit Dufton during the summer so they can enjoy the beach.

“That’s a nice thing for kids,” he said.

Dufton sobbed throughout the hearing as she identified Amber and Kailee in photo albums and spoke about what she described as a very close relationship with her granddaughters.

She said she had only seen the girls once in the last year and that she wasn’t trying to take them from their father, but wanted to continue to be a presence in their lives.

“Last time I saw them they were afraid to walk up to me,” she said. “This is very harmful.”

Dufton was a teenager when she gave birth to Amber and Kailee’s mother, whom she placed for adoption. Vicki Shepard was 26 when she tracked down Dufton. The reunited mother and daughter fostered a strong bond before Shepard died of cancer in 2005, Dufton said.

Terry Shepard began denying Dufton visits with her grandchildren after their mother died, Dufton said.

Shepard was leery of Dufton because he believed she’d interfered in his relationship with his wife and children, according to Greene.

“There was friction between (Dufton and Shepard),” he said.

Vicki Shepard had obtained a restraining order against Terry Shepard, but withdrew the order in the months before her death; and the N.H. Department of Children, Youth & Families had investigated allegations that Terry Shepard was abusive, according to court testimony.

Terry Shepard blamed Dufton for the restraining order and abuse allegations, Greene said, though Dufton denied having a hand in either incident.

In 2007, Shepard argued in Superior Court that Dufton lost her rights as a grandmother when she placed her daughter for adoption. The court disagreed, siding with Dufton, but later reversed its decision in favor of Shepard. That’s when Nadeau stepped in and appealed the case to the Supreme Court, which reversed the Superior Court’s ruling June 3.

The Supreme Court found Dufton should be allowed to visit Amber and Kailee because she is their biological grandmother.

Nadeau said he accepted Dufton’s case and is only charging her only for legal research because he felt strongly about her struggle to visit her grandchildren.

“This case is very personal,” he said outside the courtroom. “It is very close to my heart.”

Nadeau said he attended the same school as one of Dufton’s daughters, and spent time at her home, which he described as a “nurturing environment.”

Dufton and Shepard should be able to settle their differences through mediation and possibly after meeting with a priest, which they both expressed interest in doing, Nadeau said.

“I am very much optimistic that we will be able to come to some sort of resolution,” he said, “because it is in everybody’s interest, especially Amber and Kailee’s, that these families get along.”

Since the Supreme Court decision, Nadeau said he has already heard from three other grandparents who want to spend time with their grandchildren, but have been barred from doing so by the parents.

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By PHILLIP BANTZ
Sentinel Staff
The Keene Sentinel: June 17, 2009

BRATTLEBORO — The man accused of murdering a stranger on a Brattleboro street pleaded not guilty to the crime Tuesday during an emotional hearing in Windham District Court.

Andrew E. Sheets, 41, of Brattleboro was arraigned on a charge of second-degree murder as about 30 family members and friends of the slain David T. Snow, 26, sat in the courtroom seething.

Sheets’ mother and a few other relatives also attended the hearing, sitting together among empty chairs on the defense’s side of the courtroom, across from the packed benches behind the prosecution.

Windham County State’s Attorney Tracy K. Shriver asked during the hearing that Sheets be held without bail because he has criminal records in Massachusetts and Florida that date back to 1987 and include arrests for aggravated assault, resisting arrest, drug possession and weapons possession.

Shriver also said Sheets has deep roots in the Sunshine State but apparently minimal ties to Vermont, where he could face life in prison if convicted of second-degree murder.

Shriver described Snow’s death as an “extreme act of random violence.”

Sheets’ attorney during the hearing, Darah Kehnemuyi, did not argue for bail because he was filling in for another attorney, Kerry DeWolfe, who will actually handle Sheets’ case. DeWolfe may still ask for a bail hearing.

After Judge Karen R. Carroll ordered Sheets held without bail, a sheriff’s deputy began to lead him from the courtroom and Snow’s aunt, Lori Adler of Hinsdale, stood and screamed “Coward!”

“Everywhere I look, there’s nothing but victims — everyone David touched,” Adler said in a phone interview today. “Now they’re saying it could be two years before (Sheets) could go to trial. I don’t know how I’m going to keep my family together.”

Sheets was drunk and had been using cocaine before he stabbed Snow in the neck early Monday morning while arguing with Snow’s brother, Travis Sprague, 18, on Elliot Street near the entrance of the Brattleboro Transportation Center, according to police affidavits.

Snow had been walking a dog with his roommate when he saw Sheets, whom he didn’t know, in a confrontation with Sprague, who called out that Sheets had a knife, according to police.

Snow came to Sprague’s aid and Sheets swung a knife at him, slicing open his shirt; Snow then tried to punch Sheets, who lunged again and stabbed his neck, witnesses told police.

Witnesses also said Snow died in Sprague’s arms on Elliot Street.

Snow’s fiancee, Judy Brown, 23, was by Snow’s side after the stabbing. She held his hand as he died.

Snow proposed to Brown the day before he was killed, according to Adler.

“They were trying to save up for their own place. He was trying to get back on his feet to have a place for his daughter,” Adler said. “He loved his family so much.”

Snow’s 5-year-old daughter, Keyaira, lives with her grandfather. She is unaware of what happened to her father, Adler said.

“They still don’t know how to tell her,” she said. “I mean, how do you tell that to a 5 year old?”

Snow, who lived with Brown in a modest apartment on Elm Street in Brattleboro, was also a father figure to Brown’s young son and daughter, according to neighbor Joyce Baker.

“He was just a really nice guy. We’d sit out on the porch and laugh and talk,” she said. “He seemed very respectful and (Brown’s) babies really seemed to like him.”

Adler and others who knew Snow said they were not surprised when they learned he died protecting Sprague.

“Even if it wasn’t his brother, he would have taken that knife for a total stranger,” Adler said. “He was always sticking up for the underdog. He was just an all-around good person who would give you the shirt off his back.”

Snow’s family is planning a cookout and bonfire this weekend in his honor. Snow’s remains will be cremated later and his ashes will be buried with his grandmother at a plot in Hinsdale, she said.

As Snow’s relatives and friends struggle to grasp the killing, employees at True Value Hardware on Putney Road in Brattleboro are still reeling from the news that a co-worker is accused of murder.

Joanna Babbitt, a cashier at the store, said she’d worked alongside Sheets for about three months before he was arrested in connection with Snow’s death.

“He was a friendly guy, seemed very normal, that’s why it was such a surprise,” she said. “No one here is saying much about it. They’re still in shock.”

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By PHILLIP BANTZ
Sentinel Staff
The Keene Sentinel: June 16, 2009

BRATTLEBORO — A car had already driven over the flowers marking the faded blood stain on Elliot Street in Brattleboro, scattering red petals across the pavement Monday afternoon.

Now Carl Dunchus refused to budge from the makeshift memorial for his daughter’s dead fiance, even though a police officer in a marked cruiser was telling him to back away. He was causing a disturbance, the officer said, and he needed to move.

Friends of the slain David T. Snow, 26, watched from the sidewalk as Dunchus stood his ground, arguing for a moment with the officer before he was handcuffed and led to the back of the cruiser.

“I understand it was a tragedy, but … ” the officer said as he walked with Dunchus, his voice trailing off. The two men stopped and spoke for a moment. Then the handcuffs came off.

The officer slid back into the driver’s seat of the cruiser as Dunchus moved the flowers a little closer to the curb so other vehicles would not drive over them. When the cruiser pulled away, Dunchus remained at his post on the street.

“I’ll stay here for the rest of the day, at least,” he said, watching the traffic glide past.

***

Police say Andrew E. Sheets stabbed Snow in the neck during an argument that erupted early Monday morning.

Sheets, 41, of Brattleboro now faces a charge of second-degree murder.

Snow was walking a dog with his roommate when he saw Sheets arguing with his brother, Travis Sprague, 18, and was stabbed as he tried to intervene, according to witnesses.

They said Snow staggered across Elliot Street and Sprague held him at the patch of pavement that would become sacred ground for Dunchus and others who knew Snow.

“He was a decent kid. He’d give you the shirt off his back,” Dunchus said. “He gave his own life to protect his little brother.”

Snow had asked Dunchus’ daughter, Judy Brown, 23, to marry him the day before he died. The two shared a modest apartment in Brattleboro with Brown’s two children and other roommates.

Heather Sprague of Hinsdale got a phone call from Travis Sprague, her younger brother, a few hours after Snow was pronounced dead at Brattleboro Memorial Hospital. He was hysterical.

“I couldn’t understand half the things he said because he was bawling. He said his brother had been murdered. He said he died in his arms,” she said.

“Travis said he took his sweatshirt off, wrapped it around David’s neck and tried to put pressure on it. David told Travis he felt dizzy and he knew he was going to die.”

Snow left behind a young daughter who lives with one of her grandparents, Heather Sprague said.

“He just really wanted to be a good dad for his daughter,” she said.

***

Travis Sprague told police that Sheets, whom he didn’t know, had repeatedly asked him and his group of friends for money to buy cocaine, and then accused them of stealing from him before the stabbing.

Sprague also told Brattleboro police Lt. Michael W. Carrier that he’d seen Sheets ride a bicycle into the path of a vehicle, yell at the occupants for ripping him off and then stab one of the vehicle’s tires with a knife.

Later, Sheets was still holding a knife when Brattleboro police Officer Joshua Lynde stopped on Elliot Street moments after Snow was stabbed, according to Lynde’s affidavit.

“I walked over to Sheets and he got down on his knees and then (lay) out across the ground without me saying anything to him,” Lynde wrote.

“Sheets said he did it because they wanted to fight him. As I walked up I kicked a small switch blade knife away from Sheets.”

Sheets smelled of alcohol after the stabbing and said he was using cocaine, according to Brattleboro police detective Erik Johnson.

***

A shackled Sheets appeared Monday in Windham District Court and invoked his right to withhold a plea for 24 hours.

He said nothing during the brief hearing and kept his head lowered when he entered the courtroom.

Some of Snow’s family members and friends hissed barely audible curses when they first saw Sheets. Some sobbed and hugged in the hallway after the hearing.

Sheets was scheduled to return to the courtroom today and enter a plea. He is being held without bail.

Sheets’ lawyer, Darah Kehnemuyi of Brattleboro, argued during Monday’s hearing that Brattleboro police should wait until after today’s arraignment to photograph and examine Sheets’ body for evidence.

But Judge Karen R. Carroll said investigators should be allowed to examine Sheets as soon as possible because he is claiming self-defense in the incident.

Investigators must check his body for bruises, scratches or other marks that could help substantiate or refute his claim, she said.

Travis Sprague told police that no one provoked Sheets. He said Snow tried to punch Sheets, but only after Sheets lunged at him with a knife, slashing his shirt. He said Sheets then stabbed Snow in the neck and said, “I told you.”

Sheets has a criminal record in Florida, where he was sentenced in March 2007 to a year and a half in prison for fleeing police without regard for the public’s safety.

He was released from prison after serving less than eight months.

If convicted of second-degree murder, Sheets could be sent to prison for 20 years to life.

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By PHILLIP BANTZ
Sentinel Staff

The Keene Sentinel: June 10, 2009

A Cheshire County Superior Court judge decided last year that a West Swanzey man who caused a deadly crash deserved more time in prison than prosecutors recommended.

But the same judge recently agreed that Henri E. Pletzner 3rd, 36, should be released from prison and placed on home confinement after serving a little more than a year of his 21/2-year minimum sentence on a negligent homicide conviction.

Judge Brian T. Tucker’s decision has outraged the family of Kathleen S. Barrett, who was killed in January 2007 when a work van Pletzner was driving crossed the center line on Route 10 in Swanzey and collided with her car.

“I cannot understand for the life of me how this judge could have added time to the sentence and then turn around and say he wants to let him out of prison early,” said Barrett’s father, Richard N. Schnell of Nashua.

In his endorsement of Pletzner’s application for home confinement, Tucker wrote that he believed “home confinement at this stage would not be inconsistent with the purposes of sentencing, including those of deterrence and punishment, and may aid in the defendant’s rehabilitation.”

A month before Tucker issued the go-ahead for Pletzner’s early release, Assistant Cheshire County Attorney Melissa A. Pierce filed an argument with the court urging the judge to reject the home confinement application.

“The defendant has barely served a full year of his sentence. Justice cannot allow someone who has taken the life of another to be released from incarceration prior to serving his minimum,” she wrote.

“To do otherwise diminishes all the Court seeks to achieve in sentencing and violates the promise that the state of New Hampshire makes to victims and their families.”

N.H. Commissioner of Corrections William L. Wrenn will have final say over whether Pletzner is released from prison.

Pletzner’s home confinement plan must receive approval from the state Department of Corrections Probation and Parole Office before it reaches Wrenn’s desk.

Probation Officer Scott Langevin, who is assigned to Pletzner’s case, said he decides only whether Pletzner has an adequate residence waiting for him if he is released from prison.

The residence must offer a “stable environment” and have a phone and electrical system that can support monitoring equipment, such as an ankle bracelet, Reynolds said.

“We’re not the people who make the decision about if he gets out the door or not,” he said.

***

When Tucker sentenced Pletzner in March 2008 to 21/2 to seven years in prison, prosecutors were asking for a minimum sentence of two years as part of a plea negotiation.

Tucker said he tacked six months onto the minimum sentence because Pletzner’s driving record was riddled with traffic violations and he lied to a state police trooper investigating the crash that killed Barrett.

Pletzner told the trooper he had one beer the night before the crash, but multiple people who were familiar with Pletzner came forward and said he had been drinking until at least 3 a.m. the day of the crash, which unfolded at about 7:40 a.m., according to Assistant Cheshire County Attorney D. Chris McLaughlin.

And a motorist who witnessed the crash said he saw the work van Pletzner was driving cross the yellow line and head toward Barrett’s car in the oncoming lane of traffic, McLaughlin said during the sentencing hearing.

Pletzner, who suffered minor injuries in the collision, was convicted in May 1997 for driving while intoxicated, transporting drugs and having an open alcohol container in his vehicle. He was convicted three months later of driving with a suspended license.

In April 2006, Pletzner was cited for illegally crossing the center line of a road.

Less than a year later, he was involved in the crash that made Jeffrey L. Barrett of Winchester a widower.

“We’ll never be the same because of what he did. I lost my wife, my best friend,” Barrett said.

The couple had known each other since middle school and were high school sweethearts. They had five children together. One of their four sons died when he was 18, a year before his mother was killed.

Barrett said he and his surviving children feel like they’re being victimized all over again as Pletzner’s request for early release inches closer to becoming a reality.

Barrett plans to appear at Pletzner’s final hearing for early release from prison and fight to keep the man who caused his wife’s death behind bars. Schnell will also be there, along with many other members of the Barrett family.

“A 21/2-year sentence at the beginning didn’t even seem like enough. We were assured that he would have to serve at least the minimum,” Barrett said. “For him to be able to go home to his family and their support is just unfathomable.”

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By PHILLIP BANTZ
Sentinel Staff

The Keene Sentinel: June 09, 2009

A former counselor for troubled teens who was accused of having sex with one of her students has accepted a plea negotiation with prosecutors after turning down a similar deal last year.

Cathleen Crowley, 30, of Rye was sent to the Cheshire County jail in Westmoreland for a month as part of the deal that was finalized last week.

Crowley withdrew her first guilty plea connected to the student’s accusations during a hearing last November in Cheshire County Superior Court.

The plea Crowley and her attorney, Gary S. Lenehan of Manchester, first negotiated with prosecutors would have kept her out of jail.

Judge Brian T. Tucker was expected to hand down suspended, one-year jail sentences on misdemeanor charges of sexual assault and giving alcohol to a minor.

But after hearing the case against Crowley — she was accused of giving the student alcohol and engaging in sex acts with him in her van and a hotel in Keene in 2007 — Tucker said he would reject the deal she made with prosecutors and hand down a six-month jail sentence.

Tucker said Crowley deserved to spend time in jail because of the boy’s age at the time of the alleged sexual assaults and the position of authority she held over him as his counselor.

The boy’s mother said previously in court that her son was 14 when Crowley became his counselor at a residential treatment program for troubled teens in the state.

“I can’t understand how you live with yourself,” the mother said. “I can’t understand how you could use your job to access young boys.”

The Sentinel does not identify alleged victims of sexual abuse.

After the first plea deal crumbled, Crowley and Lenehan went back to negotiating with prosecutors and preparing for trial.

A Cheshire County grand jury also re-indicted Crowley on two counts of felonious sexual assault. She would have faced up to seven years in prison on each count if a jury convicted her after a trial.

Tucker, meanwhile, removed himself from Crowley’s case because he’d already heard her plead guilty to sexually assaulting the student and giving him alcohol.

Months of negotiations culminated last week during a second plea and sentencing hearing handled by Judge John P. Arnold in Superior Court.

Crowley only admitted during the hearing to giving the student alcohol and endangering his welfare by keeping him out all night at the Keene hotel without his mother’s knowledge.

Arnold sentenced Crowley to a year in jail with 11 months suspended on the conviction for endangering the welfare of a child, a misdemeanor.

She received a consecutive, suspended one-year jail sentence on the conviction for providing alcohol to a minor, also a misdemeanor.

Both suspended sentences could be imposed if Crowley is caught breaking the law in the next five years.

Crowley was placed on probation for two years, ordered to undergo a psychosexual evaluation for sexual offenders and barred from contacting the student.

Crowley has declined to comment on the student’s allegations. She is no longer employed at the residential treatment program where she met the student.

The state Division for Children, Youth and Families has substantiated an abuse finding tied to the student’s allegations against Crowley, Assistant Cheshire County Attorney John S. Webb said.

The finding appears on Crowley’s permanent state record and should prevent her from working again as a youth counselor or in a similar position, he said.

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By PHILLIP BANTZ
Sentinel Staff

The Keene Sentinel: June 03, 2009
WESTMORELAND — Edward Baldasaro. Michael Baldasaro. John DiGregorio. Giovanni Mageri. Karl Spear. William Symare. Geo. Two Ton.

His real name is John P. Baldasaro, a quick-witted, articulate 45-year-old convicted felon detained at the Cheshire County jail in Westmoreland, accused of robbing a pair of local convenience store owners while masquerading as a U.S. marshal.

Baldasaro, who has a history of impersonating federal agents and police, is wanted throughout New England on charges ranging from vehicle theft to kidnapping to being a fugitive from justice.

When he leaves New Hampshire, he expects to serve 19 years in a federal penitentiary for violating parole in Vermont. He’s already spent more than half his life behind bars.

“Am I worried about what’s on the other side of that fence — a prison? No,” Baldasaro said during a recent jailhouse interview.

In the mid-’90s, Baldasaro was convicted of robbing and kidnapping a couple in Vermont while posing as a state trooper. He was featured on the television show “America’s Most Wanted” for the crime, which landed him in prison for 12 years. He was released last September.

“I committed the crime, without a doubt,” Baldasaro said. “At the time I thought they were drug dealers. Unfortunately the people that got robbed were the wrong folks.”

Baldasaro has a wife who works at a law firm in Boston. They were married in a Virginia prison. His wife has a young foster son who calls Baldasaro his father. The boy often asks when he’ll see his dad again. Baldasaro also has an adult son who lives in Texas. And one of Baldasaro’s brothers is a member of the N.H. House.

“We had good parents. He just chose a different road. He had issues mentally growing up,” said state Rep. Alfred P. Baldasaro, 52, of Londonderry. “He was always hyper. He was always on the go.”

‘Champagne taste with beer money’

A sword-pierced heart and “Death Before Dishonor” is tattooed on John Baldasaro’s right forearm. Another tattoo placed higher on the same arm claims allegiance to the Dirty White Boys prison gang, which associates with the Aryan Brotherhood and Texas Syndicate, but does not follow strict white supremacist philosophies.

On his left forearm is a tattoo of a baby devil clutching a pitchfork between the words “Born To Be Busted.”

“When I got that tattoo I was 15. I was a little punk kid. We can sit here and look back from 40 years later and say, ‘Was this destiny?’ I’m not going to take that position,” he said.

John Baldasaro grew up in Cambridge, Mass. — his grandfather was once the city’s mayor — with four sisters and three brothers. He said he spent a lot of time on the streets of South Boston.

“I had an extensive juvenile record,” he said.

Now 6 feet tall and 260 pounds, John Baldasaro was also a large kid, which earned him the enduring nickname “Two Ton” around the same time he was running the streets and committing small crimes.

A doctor prescribed the young John Baldasaro a drug similar to Ritalin to control his hyperactivity, and his parents did all they could to keep him out of trouble, Alfred Baldasaro said.

“Our mother especially was a wreck when he was out on the streets, worrying if he was going to get into trouble,” he said. “He was the type that would not get a real gun, but a fake gun. She worried that he would be shot with real bullets.”

In the early ’80s, five years after Alfred Baldasaro joined the Marines, John Baldasaro visited him at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.

John Baldasaro befriended a Marine who had just cashed a paycheck, lured him away from the base during a night of drinking, and then robbed him and left him stranded, Alfred Baldasaro said.

“My brother is a scammer. My brother has mental issues. His mind races too fast. But he’s no dummy. He’s a very intelligent kid,” he said.

“John wants the big cars and the money and the nice house. He wants that champagne taste with beer money.”

In January, four months before John Baldasaro’s latest arrest, Alfred Baldasaro spoke with his troubled brother for the first time in 18 years.

“I wouldn’t give him my cell number or home address because I was worried that he might come over and help himself to what I’ve got at my house,” Alfred Baldasaro said. “He should have never been released. They should have kept him on a program to help him and treat his psychiatric issues.”

‘He was just really, really smart’

On the morning of May 11, John Baldasaro flashed a holstered gun and badge and convinced the owners of Khyber Convenience Store and the Big Deal store on Route 9 in Chesterfield that he was a U.S. marshal investigating a counterfeit money operation, according to police.

“The guy was professional. He was just really, really smart,” Paul Saba, owner of Big Deal, said shortly after he was robbed. “I was working with him as an agent. I was trying to help this federal agent with what he was trying to do.”

After both store owners handed over money from their cash registers, Baldasaro took Khyber owner Fayyaz Awan to his bank and convinced him to withdraw money from his account for supposed counterfeit testing, according to prosecutors.

Baldasaro allegedly scammed Saba and Awan out of more than $10,860.

He adamantly denies committing any type of robbery or kidnapping in Chesterfield.

“Did I put a gun to somebody and rob them? No. Did I actually threaten to take something from somebody? No. Did I tell somebody, ‘You must go do this?’ No,” he said.

“I find it ludicrous that the police department would state that it was I who committed this particular crime. I was clearly just a known subject that they decided they wanted to put a particular crime on.”

Prosecutors say they have surveillance images of Baldasaro in a bank when the robber was taking money from Awan’s account. He admits to being in the bank, but said he wasn’t doing anything illegal.

Preparing for yet another legal battle

Law libraries in the various prisons where Baldasaro has lived off and on for 28 years have given him a working knowledge of the legal system. He worked as a law clerk in one prison library. He also obtained his GED in prison.

He represented himself in court during a trial in White River Junction, Vt., that resulted in his latest stint in prison. He was already serving a three-year sentence in Connecticut for impersonating a U.S. marshal when the trial began.

Baldasaro said he represented himself during an armed robbery trial in Boston, and the jury found him not guilty.

“Any good court case, I guess it’s like playing chess,” he said. “It’s about strategy. That’s what it really comes down to.”

Baldasaro said he plans to defend himself against the charges tied to the Chesterfield robberies.

“Do I think that Cheshire County would be so naive to think I would get a public ‘pretender’ who’s going to come in and tell me he’s got 70 other cases and he’s going to give my case about five minutes a week?” he said. “I’m not going to allow that to happen.”

An evidence hearing in Keene District Court was scheduled today for Baldasaro.

Cheshire County Attorney Peter W. Heed said today that he was unaware of Baldasaro’s intent to represent himself in court.

“If he wants to handle his own defense, that will be up to the judge to decide whether he’s competent to do that,” Heed said.

If probable cause is found at today’s hearing, Baldasaro’s case will be moved to Cheshire County Superior Court.

Baldasaro said he will not negotiate a guilty plea with prosecutors. He wants to face off with Heed.

“I can guarantee that this is going to be an interesting trial,” he said. “Him and I are going to have a battle.”

An endless boat ride; no place to dock

Vanessa D. Baldasaro waited a dozen years for her husband to be released from prison. They spent the time talking and dreaming. They wanted to save their money to buy a house. John Baldasaro wanted an automotive shop.

“We had all these plans and dreams of owning our future, starting from scratch and working our way up,” she said. “And then he came out. I’d waited 12 years for this and in 12 seconds it was gone.”

They met through one of John Baldasaro’s sisters. He was in prison, but they talked over the phone and, once she thought she knew him well enough, visited him in 2000 for the first time.

“I’m African-American and he’s Italian. But we just hit it off. He actually listened to me. We took the time to really know each other first. I just understood John,” Vanessa Baldasaro said.

They were married a year after their first face-to-face meeting.

“You just call and tell the prison you want to get married on a certain day. I drove 10 hours down there and that’s what we did,” she said. “The pastor was there. He married us right there in the visiting room.”

When John Baldasaro finally left prison behind to start another life with his wife, he said he was slapped with the reality that the world had changed dramatically and no one wanted to hire him.

“Employment, I guess, in a sense, was probably not forthcoming. When I went to prison there were no cell phones, no computers,” he said. “You get out of prison after 17 years — you’re not going to be getting a job.”

Vanessa Baldasaro noticed her husband’s frustration. He became more and more restless. The life they’d planned together began to unravel.

“He wanted to catch up with what he lost and his mind just started to go too fast,” she said. “His mind just goes so fast. It could be 5 o’clock in the morning and I wake up looking for him and he’s sitting out in the living room, just thinking.”

In the mornings, he dropped her off at work at the law firm and then drove her car to his job as an oversize load escort on the highways — or at least that’s what he told her.

She said she eventually figured out that he was lying.

“The streets make him kind of crazy,” she said. “If he’s not confined … when he’s out there there’s only so much to do. He needs that confinement.”

Then her car disappeared in November. John Baldasaro said it broke down in New York and he needed her to wire him $1,000 to have it fixed. Vanessa Baldasaro said she rented a car and drove to an address in the Bronx where her husband said her car was parked.

“It was a bogus address. My car was in Boston the whole time. My sister had already wired him the money,” she said. “I was surprised he was doing all that to me. I know I’m supposed to forgive, but inside I’m still angry.”

Then one evening she was watching TV and saw John Baldasaro’s mug shot on the local news. She hadn’t seen her husband since the incident with her car. Federal agents and police throughout New England were searching for him, the newscaster said.

Her anger gave way to fear.

“When the (U.S. Marshals Service) task force was really going after him, I told them the gun they thought he had was a toy,” she said. “I was scared for him.”

John Baldasaro was arrested a few days after the Chesterfield robberies at a Manhattan hotel.

It wasn’t the first time he was nabbed in the Big Apple. Many years earlier, the authorities found him in the city and he leaped from a second-story window to avoid arrest and broke both his ankles, Alfred Baldasaro said.

Vanessa Baldasaro has begun listening to her friends who had warned her to stay away from John Baldasaro.

She said she is trying to erase him from her life, but it’s difficult. She still cries when she thinks about him going back to prison.

“I am moving on,” she said. “I still think about what we could have been together.”

Her 5-year-old foster son, Louis, who looks at John Baldasaro as a father figure, is still waiting for his dad to come home. Vanessa Baldasaro said she hints that it will be a long time before he returns, but she cannot bring herself to tell the boy the truth.

“I tell him he’s on a boat,” she said. “He’s on a boat ride and he cannot dock.”

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