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No Arrests in NHPR Vandalism, but Possible Links to Spofford Associate

It has been almost a year since an unknown vandal attacked the homes of New Hampshire Public Radio personalities, incidents that are now part of former Granite Recovery CEO Eric Spofford’s defamation lawsuit filed against the broadcaster. The investigations seem to be stalled.

In April and May of last year, an unknown assailant threw bricks at and spray-painted threats on the current or former homes of NHPR News Director Dan Barrick and reporter Lauren Chooljian. The attacks happened in Hanover, Hampstead, Concord, and Melrose, Mass.

Spofford has denied any role in the vandalism and claimed in court records that NHPR illegally used the vandalism to gain an advantage in his civil defamation case, just as the case was headed for a settlement.

However, NHJournal has uncovered details that seem to link one of Spofford’s friends, Eric Labarge, to the vandalism. Labarge is himself a recovering addict and owner of the Starting Point Recovery Centers.

Labarge has not been charged in the vandalism cases. He has a criminal history that includes violence against women and spent time in state prison.

He is also currently awaiting trial on charges of assaulting a man in Manchester. That assault occurred on May 31, 2022, days after the last vandalism attack in May. According to court records, the alleged victim was a man who had been a resident at a Starting Point center. 

Labarge’s attorney, Charles Keefe, did not return requests for comment.

Spofford confirmed his relationship with Labarge to NHJournal and praised Labarge’s work in recovery. 

“I worked closely with Eric Labarge to help him overcome his addiction in the early days of his sobriety,” Spofford said. “I’ve had the opportunity to watch him grow through the ups and downs of recovery for almost 10 years. He’s done great things for the recovery community, and I believe he will continue to for years to come.”

Hanover Police began investigating vandalism on April 24 when the resident reported someone threw a brick at the home and spray painted the word “C–T” on the building, according to the reports. The home was not occupied by anyone connected with NHPR during the vandalism, but Chooljian had lived in it a few years earlier, according to police.

Hanover Police soon learned the spray-painted vulgarity and thrown bricks matched the vandalism that took place in other communities where NHPR reporters lived. During the investigation, detectives talked to police in Hampstead and learned Labarge was a suspect in that town, according to the report.

The Hanover police report has been retracted, but it appears the victim in the Manchester assault may have also been a suspect in the vandalism, according to the Hanover report. The Hanover report obtained through a Right to Know request obscures the names of the suspects, but it does include the Manchester Police Department’s incident number for the assault, which matched the court records for Labarge’s arrest.

Hanover police were given information from the Hampstead department on the vehicle used in the attack, and it seemed to match the one used in Hanover. However, after being unable to develop further leads in the case, Hanover police closed the investigation last year.

Spofford, who was called a person of interest by police in Massachusetts, claimed in court documents that NHPR took advantage of the vandalism, canceling settlement talks and using its media reach to cast blame on him for the damage.

Spofford reportedly made himself available to investigators as soon as he learned of the vandalism in Melrose, but police have never questioned him. 

Spofford’s attorney, Ben Levine, claimed NHPR’s use of the criminal case to cancel the settlement talks may have been criminal.

“Whether and to what extent NHPR used these acts of vandalism in an opportunistic way to evade accountability for defaming Mr. Spofford should be investigated as it is criminal in nature,” Levine wrote last year to New Hampshire Attorney General John Formella’s office.

Chooljian reported last March that Spofford engaged in sexual misconduct while head of Granite State Recovery Centers. The allegations against Spofford made national news. He has denied any sexual misconduct.

Sigmund Schutz, the attorney representing NHPR, did not respond to a request for comment. NHPR is trying to dismiss Spofford’s defamation lawsuit on First Amendment grounds. A ruling on the motion to dismiss is pending in Rockingham Superior Court. 

Spofford’s Attorney Tells Judge NHPR Engaged in ‘Reckless Disregard’ of Facts

Despite hundreds of pages of evidence already submitted by Granite State Recovery founder Eric Spofford’s legal team, New Hampshire Public Radio says none of it adds up to malice, the key component for a defamation case.

“Zero plus zero still equals zero,” said Sigmund Schutz, NHPR’s attorney during Tuesday’s hearing in Rockingham Superior Court.

Spofford filed the defamation lawsuit against NHPR in October, claiming the public radio station ruined his life and career when it reported a story in which three women accused him of sexual harassment and assault. NHPR is trying to get the case dismissed before it can go to trial, arguing that Spofford aims to silence any critic who might come forward against him.

“This kind of lawsuit has a real chilling effect,” Schutz said. “The objective of this litigation is that just by filing, win or lose, is to silence critics,” Schutz said.

Howard Cooper, representing Spofford, said a trial is needed so a jury can weigh in on the radio station’s reporting, which he characterized as reckless at best.

“This case is about the intentional ignoring of the facts pre, during, and post-publication,” Cooper said. “There is no constitutional value in defamatory speech, and there is no chilling effect by requiring the media not to make up facts.”

Schutz said NHPR reporter Lauren Chooljian thoroughly reported, corroborated, and documented the story, which was published online in March, and the subject of over-the-air broadcast reports and podcasts. In the story, a former Granite State Recovery client and two former employees alleged they were harassed. The employees alleged that they were sexually assaulted.

At no point did NHPR report that Spofford was guilty of any crime when it laid out the women’s story, Schutz said. Schutz said that Spofford was given ample opportunity to comment on the story as it was being reported, and his denials of the accusations were reported.

“(Spofford) can deny the accusations are true, but he can’t deny that the accusations were made,” Schutz said.

But Cooper claimed NHPR’s reporting process is dubious, leaving out key details and using suspect sources to corroborate the story it wanted to tell.

In one instance, NHPR reported Spofford sent pictures of his penis to one of the women using Snap Chat, despite the reporter never seeing the photos for herself. She relied on claims from the alleged victims.

“That is so outrageous and improbable, no responsible news organization or reporter would have reported that,” Cooper said.

Another breach in NHPR’s reporting happened when former Granite State Recovery Human Resources Director Lynsie Miterer called Chooljian after one part of the story aired to correct her reporting on one of the accusations of sexual assault. Cooper said Chooljian reacted with hostility and never used any of the information from Miterer that challenged the reporting.

There is also the matter of the third alleged victim, known in the story as Employee B. NHPR reported Employee B claimed she was sexually assaulted by Spofford, but Chooljian never spoke to that woman. Instead, the reporter spoke to other people who claimed to have corroborating information.

“They should not have reported that,” Cooper said.

Cooper said the totality of the evidence already gathered shows sources who were ignored when they contradicted NHPR’s storyline, and weak corroboration, was used to push a narrative. All of it, he said, adds up to a case that needs to go to trial.

“This story never should have been published, reporters knew or recklessly disregarded facts that were staring them in the face and given to them,” Cooper said.

Judge Dan St. Hilaire will now consider the arguments from both sides. He is expected to make a ruling sometime in the next 30 days. If he finds for Spofford, NHPR would find itself before a jury to defend how it reports the news.

Did NHPR Reporting Withhold Key Details in Spofford Story?

New Hampshire Public Radio listeners were shocked by reporting that Granite Recovery Center CEO Eric Spofford was accused of sexual harassment. They may also be shocked to learn the publicly-subsidized news outlet never reported key facts when NHPR broke the story last year, according to new court filings. 

The story about the sexual harassment allegations aired over two days last March and was also the subject of NHPR web and a podcast.

Spofford is suing New Hampshire Public Radio reporter Lauren Chooljian, alleging she engaged in a biased campaign targeting the politically-connected businessman. He and his lawyers are heading to Rockingham Superior Court on Tuesday to challenge NHPR’s motion to dismiss the case. Part of his argument will be that the original radio broadcast held back facts like Spofford’s vehement denials, that New Hampshire’s attorney general was not investigating Spofford, and that a crucial witness contradicted NHPR’s reporting.

“That truth is that they knew their reporting about (Spofford) was false, or at least recklessly disregarded that falsity, but published it anyway,” Spofford’s attorney Michael Strauss wrote in a motion filed Friday.

According to Strauss, the left-leaning media outlet did not hand over copies of the radio story as it aired in March until Wednesday after weeks of legal wrangling over the discovery process. The station also tried to withhold promotional recordings.

And now, just days ahead of the hearing on NHPR’s motion to dismiss, Spofford has learned the split broadcast resulted in a misleading story presented to the listeners, Strauss wrote.

“NHPR defendants necessarily appreciated that publishing their salacious story in two parts over two days would mean that some listeners would only know part of the story,” Strauss claims.

The first day of the story’s broadcast did not include information about the New Hampshire attorney general having never received a complaint alleging Spofford engaged in sexual harassment. That would have to wait until the second day. Nor did the first day include Spofford’s legal representative issuing a denial of the accusations. That would again have to wait, according to Strauss.

More troubling, listeners were never informed that a Granite State Recovery executive challenged the facts NHPR reported on the first day. Chooljian heard from the executive after the first story aired, Strauss wrote.

“NHPR Defendant Lauren Chooljian spoke to former GRC Director of Human Resources, Lynsie Miterer, who gave information to Chooljian that cast serious doubt on the veracity of her reporting about (Spofford,)” Strauss wrote. The station never included any information from Miterer in the second broadcast, according to Strauss.

NHPR’s attorney, Sigmund Schutz, dismissed Spofford’s claims in a response to Friday’s filing. Schutz wrote there should have been no surprise that the story was broadcast.

“Given the distinctly non-secretive nature of a radio broadcast, and NHPR’s openness about being in the radio broadcasting business, it should have been patently obvious that its story had been broadcast on the radio,” Schutz wrote.

The questions about the two broadcasts come weeks after Spofford claimed in court that evidence Chooljian used in her reporting simply does not exist. Chooljian reported on sexually harassing texts and a Snap Chat photo of a penis one of the victims received from Spofford. However, Spofford claims those texts and photos were never created by him, to begin with.

“Chooljian did not see the picture on which Elizabeth’s claim is based (because it never existed,)” Strauss wrote in a previous filing.

Strauss has also signaled to the court that one of the key sources used by Chooljian was Spofford’s aggrieved ex, Amy Anagnost, who was motivated by a desire to defame Spofford to get the upper hand in a custody battle over their son.

NHPR denies Anagnost was one of the sources used for the reporting.

Spofford is a Republican who has supported Gov. Chris Sununu in the past, and NHPR makes no secret of its left-of-center politics or its animosity toward GOP politicians. During the 2022 election cycle, it arranged a U.S. Senate debate with incumbent Democrat Maggie Hassan before Republicans had even held their primary, and they brought in a far-left journalist who formerly worked at “Bitch Media” to help moderate the debate.

Shoddy Reporting and ‘Woke’ Bias: Spofford Sues NHPR

Former Granite Recovery Centers CEO Eric Spofford is suing New Hampshire Public Radio reporter Lauren Chooljian, alleging she has engaged in a biased campaign targeting the politically-connected businessman.

According to his lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Rockingham Superior Court, “Chooljian viewed Eric as her opportunity to ascend the journalism ranks. To Chooljian, a #MeToo-styled report about a white male, Republican donor, and bold and successful businessman, who made money in the substance use disorder treatment business, had all the markings of a career-defining piece.”

Spofford is being represented by high-powered attorney Howard Cooper with the Boston firm Todd & Weld. Jayme Simoes, a communications consultant with NHPR, declined to comment on the lawsuit, saying the public radio station had not yet been served.

“NHPR has not been served with a lawsuit and cannot comment on a suit they haven’t seen,” Simoes said.

Chooljian made waves when she reported in March that Spofford sexually harassed multiple women. The accusations included at least one sexual assault Spofford committed on a former Granite State Recovery Centers employee.

Spofford is a big, and potentially attractive, target for the left-leaning media outlet. Politically connected to Gov. Chris Sununu, Spofford’s drug abuse recovery centers became the largest recovery facilities in New Hampshire. According to Chooljian’s reporting, Spofford even counseled Sununu on the response to New Hampshire’s opined epidemic.

“Sununu championed Spofford, saying he is ‘one of the first guys I’ll pick up the phone to’ for advice about responding to the opioid crisis,” Chooljian wrote.

Spofford sold Granite Recovery Centers to BayMark Health Services, a Texas-based treatment company, last year. The sale price was not disclosed.

Spofford’s lawsuit claims that one of the sources Chooljian relied on, former GSC employee Piers Kaniuka, retracted his statements that linked Spofford to the abuse. That retraction has gone unreported by NHPR, according to the lawsuit.

“Specifically, I am concerned with your use of my statement comparing Mr. Spofford to Harvey Weinstein and my statement that Mr. Spofford should be prosecuted. At the time I made those statements to Ms. Chooljian, I naively assumed that I would have been provided an opportunity to vet any statements I made, and to provide permission for them to be used, prior to their publication as part of the article,” Kaniuka wrote to NHPR’s board in May. “I regret making those statements. I did not have any direct personal knowledge concerning any sexual abuse, misconduct, or other inappropriate behavior by Mr. Spofford with employees, clients, or former clients.”

According to the lawsuit, “Kaniuka was one of only four on-the-record sources identified in Chooljian’s reporting. Of those four, Kaniuka was the only one who had known Eric for nearly two decades. Two of the others had been acquainted with Eric as employees of GRC for less than three months each, and one had never even met Eric.”

Since Kaniuka wrote that letter to NHPR, the retraction has been suppressed by the radio station, according to the lawsuit.

“NHPR instead has decided for its readers and listeners that Kaniuka’s statement is irrelevant to Chooljian’s reporting about Eric. Yet NHPR knows the opposite is true,” the lawsuit states.

The motivation behind the story is money and ambition, according to the lawsuit. NHPR has used its Spofford coverage to seek donations and corporate sponsorships while Chooljian used it to get a job with a national media outlet.

“On information and belief, taking down Eric became a means to Chooljian’s end goal: to join a national news organization,” the lawsuit states. “On information and belief, NHPR was depending on Chooljian’s piece to aid its fundraising efforts this year. If Chooljian could deliver reporting that took down someone NHPR viewed as a prominent figure in the state, that would garner national attention and greater visibility to donors nationwide.”

Spofford’s lawsuit even accuses Chooljian and NHPR of trying to link him to a case of vandalism at her home.

“A reporter’s current and former homes in Melrose, Mass., and Hampstead, N.H., were vandalized early in the morning of Saturday, May 21, police said. In Melrose, a person spray-painted the words “Just the beginning!” in red on the home, threw a brick through a window and was seen running away,” the NHPR report states.

The report quotes Melrose Police Chief Michael Lyle who connected the vandalism to Spofford.

“I would certainly think [Spofford] may be interviewed by the authorities. He may have some information that might support a case. It would be too early to say he would be a person of interest,” Lyle said. “After the article came out, all this trouble started for the reporter or the news organization. At some point [investigators] may have a conversation with him.”

Spofford’s lawsuit takes issue with his even being mentioned in the story about the vandalism, saying it was part of an effort to divert the public’s attention away from the Kaniuka retraction.

“The NHPR defendants knowingly weaponized a conspiratorial connection between Eric and the alleged vandalism as a means for the NHPR defendants to deflect from their suppression of the Kaniuka retraction. There was not a scintilla of evidence connecting Eric to the alleged vandalism—the alleged vandal was caught on camera and was very obviously not Eric,” the lawsuit states.