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Manchester Woman Linked to German Raid of Suspected Nerve Agent Facility

German authorities raided a chemical company this week connected to a Manchester woman who pleaded guilty to lying about her ties to the firm. 

The company, Riol-Chemie, is suspected by German authorities of sending chemicals used to make the deadly nerve agent Novichok to Russia, according to multiple German media reports.

Former Manchester resident Stela Sacara, 36, also known as Stela Secara and Stela Thomas, pleaded guilty last year to lying to FBI agents about her role in several exporting firms that allegedly sent goods to Riol-Chemie.

According to German news program Tagesschau, executives at Riol-Chemie are suspected of “exporting toxic substances and special laboratory material to Russia in more than 30 instances over the past three and a half years without obtaining the necessary permits.”

Among the chemicals Riol-Chemie is alleged to have sent to Russia are materials to make mustard gas as well as Novichok.

“(T)he northern German company is suspected of having delivered protective equipment to Russia on several occasions – equipment that can also be used in the production of biological and chemical weapons and therefore falls under export restrictions. Investigators also apparently suspect that Riol-Chemie GmbH exported a chemical that can be used in the production of the nerve agent Novichok. This suspicion is evidently based on invoices found during a past inspection,” Tagesschau reports.

Russia’s chemical weapons production is highly secret, but Western intelligence agencies started investigating Riol-Chemie in 2018 after Novichok was used in an assassination attempt in Great Britain.

“Novichok became internationally known in March 2018, when former Russian agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter were poisoned by the substance in the British town of Salisbury, very likely by two agents with the Russian military intelligence agency GRU. Novichok is also thought to have been used in the August 2020 poisoning of Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny,” Tagesschau reports.

Sacara got one year of probation after she pleaded guilty in June of last year to one count of making a false statement to a federal agent. Records filed in the United States District Court in Concord indicate that Sacara may have been sending chemicals and lab equipment to military clients in countries that were under some form of embargo.

Sacara, a Moldavian national, was operating several companies out of her Chestnut Street apartment in Manchester, according to court records. At least one of the businesses was suspected of sending equipment to Riol-Chemie.

Special Agent Kyle Zavorotny, a specialist in espionage investigations, states that Sacara created emails for a fictitious company employee and sent messages to the agents to throw them off the investigation and keep what was being shipped overseas and to whom hidden from the investigators.

“Stela’s false statements regarding the identity of the company management and distancing herself from her role furthers this goal by minimizing her own knowledge of the end users and causing investigators to waste efforts attempting to locate individuals who do not exist,” Zavorotny wrote in the complaint filed against Sacara.

Zavorotny and Special Agent Courtney Rauch first interviewed Sacara in September of 2018 as the FBI and the United States Commerce Department’s Office of Export Enforcement were trying to learn what she was doing with her businesses.

“Based on my training and experience, I know that entities in foreign countries will sometimes disguise the true end users of products acquired from the United States to prevent or impede the ability of the United States Government to determine the activities of these end users,” Zavorotny wrote. “In many instances, the end users being disguised are or are affiliated with the military or other agencies of the governments of the countries in which these end users are located.”

Sacara told the agents that she did not manage the business, but that she reported to another woman, Amy Johnson, who was based in Delaware. Sacara told the agents she did not have contact information for Johnson, according to the complaint.

Sacara claimed that Rochester Chemical acquired consumable laboratory equipment such as bottles, vials, glassware, etc. for use in laboratories from various manufacturers, repackaged them, and then shipped them to purchasers, Zavorotny wrote. Sacara told the investigators that the only company to which Rochester Chemical exports goods was Riol-Chemie.

The agents obtained a warrant for her bank records and other business information and determined that Sacara was in fact the managing member for Rochester Chemical and listed as the sole member of the corporation.

Knowing this, the investigators went back to Sacara in January of 2019 and confronted her:

“I asked Stela whether Johnson truly exists and showed her a copy of the Bank of America document in which she stated that she (Stela) was the sole member of the limited liability company,” Zavorotny wrote. “Stela stated she wished to speak with an attorney and declined to speak with us further. Stela was provided with my business card.”

Soon, the agents began getting emails from a company official named “Radu Bolocan” who claimed to be the current owner of Rochester Chemical. Bolocan claimed to live in Romania and did not speak English.

“(H)owever, the English in the email was nearly perfect,” Zavorotny wrote.

The agents tracked the digital information for Bolocan, as well as other emails from Sacara, and determined that the Bolocan email accounts were created by a user in Manchester right after the January interview with the agents. A review of several years’ worth of emails found that Sacara and her sister, Natalia Sacara, also known as Natalia Bolocan, were the owners and operators of the company, Zavorotny wrote.

Natalia Sacara was never charged for her alleged role in the companies.

The German investigation into Riol-Chemie is ongoing, according to the media reports.

After Years of Bucking National Trends, NH Murder Rate Rising — Fast

Early Sunday morning, Hooksett Police found the body of Jason Wirtz, stabbed in the neck and bleeding, on Main Street. Later that day, they arrested Dillon Sleeper, age 26, formerly of Franklin, and charged him with second-degree murder.

It was the 17th homicide in New Hampshire, a state that’s averaged 18 murders a year since 2017. And it’s still July.

New Hampshire is generally one of the safest states in the country when it comes to violent crime in general and homicide in particular, according to FBI records. It’s certain to blow past its average murder rate this year.

“We’ve responded to 14 separate callouts for investigations that have involved 16 different deceased individuals,” said Michael Garrity, director of communications for Attorney General John Formella said Friday. “These include matters where investigations involved allegations of self-defense/defense of another.”

Among the dead this year is a Hudson infant who died last month in what is now considered suspicious circumstances. The 15-day-old infant was taken from the parents’ home, at an apartment on Burns Hill Road in Hudson, to a local hospital in medical distress. While the case is deemed suspicious, the official cause and manner of death are still pending an autopsy.

Most suspicious deaths are resolved quickly by law enforcement. For example, earlier this month Timothy Hill, 72, of Winchester, was found shot in his home. Police soon arrested Keegan Duhaime, 26, of Winchester, and charged him with two counts of second-degree murder.

In some cases, the alleged killer is already dead by the time police arrive, as in the recent Alstead incident where authorities were called to a reported murder-suicide involving a man killing his domestic partner, then himself.

However, there are still unsolved cases in New Hampshire this year. The April murders of Concord couple Stephen and Djeswende Reid remain a mystery. Police recently announced a reward of $50,000 for information that leads to an arrest and indictment of whoever is responsible for their deaths.

According to law enforcement, the Reids left their home in the Alton Woods apartment complex on the afternoon of Monday, April 18, and went for a walk to the area of the Broken Ground Trails which are off Portsmouth Street in Concord. Family and friends did not see or hear from them. The Reids’ bodies were found in the early evening of April 21 in a wooded area near the Marsh Loop Trail.

Now, with a little more than five months left in the year, New Hampshire is on pace to beat the current five-year average of 18 homicides by the end of 2022.

The most recent FBI data runs through 2020, and it shows New Hampshire had one of the lowest homicide rates in the country that year with 12 total. In 2019, New Hampshire had a spike in homicide with 30. In 2018 there were 19 homicides, in 2017 there were 12, and in 2017 12 homicides were recorded.

While this year could reveal an uptick in murder, New Hampshire has historically seen a low ratio of violent crimes, as New Hampshire’s violent crime rate has dropped every year since 2017.

The state recorded the second-lowest violent crime rate in the country in 2020. According to the FBI data compiled from New Hampshire law enforcement agencies, the violent crime rate in New Hampshire was 195.7 incidents per 100,000 people in 2017. It fell to 146.4 per 100,000 in 2020.

Even as New Hampshire’s crime rate fell, it skyrocketed nationally. The FBI found a 30 percent spike in murders in 2020, and the violent crime rate went up to 398.5 incidents per 100,000 people.

President Joe Biden and his allies in Congress have proposed gun control laws to address the nation’s spike in violence. Last week the House Judiciary Committee passed a ban on rifles labeled “assault weapons” by politicians. The ban is backed by all four members of the New Hampshire congressional delegation.

However, Second Amendment advocates note the Granite State’s low crime rate is accompanied by one of the highest rates of gun ownership in the country–the second-highest number of guns per capita according to one survey. New Hampshire also makes it easy to buy guns. It’s also a relatively easy place to buy and own guns.

New Hampshire is the only New England state in the top 25 rankings for gun rights. Guns and Ammo rank the Granite State number 17 on its Best States for Gun Owners list, ahead of Alabama, South Carolina, and Florida. There are no bans on so-called “assault weapons” in New Hampshire.

Vandals Hit Littleton Pregnancy Center, Part of National Trend

Since the U.S. Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade was leaked in early May, there have been dozens of attacks against pregnancy clinics offering counseling and care to women considering alternatives to abortion. On Tuesday, that trend came to New Hampshire when the Pathways Pregnancy Care Center was vandalized.

According to Littleton Police Chief Paul Smith, volunteers at the center found graffiti on the side of the building reading “Fund Abortion, Abort God.” Pathways is a faith-based ministry devoted to helping pregnant women renting space from the Elevate Church.

Police in Littleton say it is too early to tell if the vandalism counts as a hate crime.  “It could be determined as the facts develop that this is a hate crime,” Smith said.

Shannon McGinley of Cornerstone Action, however, says there is no doubt. “This is a hate crime.”

The FBI is investigating more than 40 violent attacks on pregnancy centers and churches in the wake of the Supreme Court leak. Some centers have been firebombed, and others have had significant damage from vandalism. The Dobbs decision overturned Roe v. Wade and sent the authority to regulate abortion back to the states.

Smith said his investigators are working on the case, and they have already contacted the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office about the possibility this could end up charged as a hate crime.

Michael Garrity, director of communications at the New Hampshire Department of Justice, said the state Attorney General’s Office is watching for Littleton’s results.

“At this point, our office is aware of an incident at the center. The Littleton Police Department alerted our Civil Rights Unit, flagging the incident as one of concern,” Garrity said. “We are now closely monitoring an active, ongoing investigation being carried out by Littleton Police investigators. Our Civil Rights Unit will ultimately look at how the facts and circumstances of the case develop.”

Under New Hampshire law, a person who commits a crime “motivated … because of hostility towards the victim’s religion, race, creed, sexual orientation, national origin or sex,” could face enhanced penalties. Smith said the alleged crime might be charged as misdemeanor criminal mischief if there is no hate crime component found during the investigation. Misdemeanors rarely result in jail time.

Pathways offers free ultrasounds, pregnancy tests, parenting classes, baby supplies, as well as help with getting social assistance, among other services.

“There are three times as many Pregnancy Care Centers (PCC) in New Hampshire as there are abortion facilities. We are even blessed with two maternity homes,” McGinley said. “Every client is treated with compassion and respect – regardless of the decision they choose for their pregnancy. Empowering women to make informed decisions is a top priority,” McGinley said.

Pro-abortion activists, however, have attacked these facilities for years, raising their profile as a possible target. An abortion extremist group, Jane’s Revenge, has taken credit for some of the recent attacks, including smashing the doors and windows of a Michigan clinic.

Their message: “If abortion isn’t safe, neither are you.”

Last week, Kayla Montgomery, vice president of Public Affairs for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, took to the airwaves to attack the facilities in New Hampshire.

“I want to be clear; crisis pregnancy centers are not based in science or in medicine,” Montgomery told WMUR. “If people need care, they should call their local Planned Parenthood of New Hampshire abortion provider who will provide honest, compassionate, non-judgmental care and explain the full range of options.”

Montgomery did not respond to a request for comment about the vandalism in Littleton.

And Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) has also been critical of these facilities in the past, accusing them of offering “fake health” in order to trick women into keeping their babies.

“In New Hampshire – and at more than 2,700 locations across our nation – women are walking into fake women’s health centers, misleadingly called ‘crisis pregnancy centers,’ believing that they are receiving medically sound, neutral advice about pregnancy. But these centers really exist to serve one purpose: preventing women from accessing abortion,” Hassan wrote in 2018.

Hassan, who has kept a steady stream of public comments about abortion rights over the past two months, has been silent on both the spike in attacks on pregnancy centers and the threats targeting Supreme Court justices — including a failed assassination — since the Alito opinion leaked.

McGinley says there is a clear double standard.

“These kinds of attacks underscore the cynical nature of arguments that pro-life people do not offer enough material assistance to women in need. When abortion advocates—from arsonist groups to Elizabeth Warren—threaten pregnancy care centers, they are saying that assistance to women is immoral unless it specifically promotes abortion,” McGinley said. “Their goal is not helping the vulnerable. Their goal is to spread abortion like a religion—and they don’t care if that means taking services away from women in need.”

Executive Director of Pathways Pregnancy Care Center Angel Marshall said their mission will continue.

Pathways will not allow a hate crime to hinder the much-needed support we provide.  This has not and will not deter us from serving our community,” Marshall said. “Empowering men, women, and teens to make informed decisions is a top priority. I am working closely with the Littleton Police Department in this investigation. We are taking all necessary steps to ensure the safety of the center’s staff, volunteers, and clients.”

Smith said the volunteers at Pathways are responding to the vandalism by organizing more help to provide security at the center. He’s asking anyone with information to contact Littleton Police at 603 444 7711.

Free Keene Activist Wants FBI to Return Seized Computers

Libertarian activist and leader of the Free Keene movement, Ian Freeman, wants the FBI to return computers and hard drives taken when agents raided his Keene home as part of a child sex abuse images investigation.

Freeman was never charged in the 2016 investigation. Freeman insists he has been targeted by federal agents for years because of his political beliefs and now wants his stuff back.

“It’s just the Shire Free Church attempting to get back what is ours from the 2016 raid, as it has been six years and no charges have been filed,” Freeman said Saturday.

Freeman and the Shire Free Church which he runs out of his Keene home are part of an ongoing criminal money laundering case brought against Freeman and five other associates. Any connection between the 2016 raid and last year’s arrests has not been made public.

“Whether that raid was simply an excuse to take our computers and go through them on the pretext of searching for illegal pornography or not is up to the observer to decide.  The facts are clear – obviously, they haven’t found any evidence of any criminal activity or someone would have been charged by now,” Freeman said.

Freeman is suing the agent who obtained the 2016 warrant, Scott Bailey, in order to get his electronics returned. The lawsuit filed last week in the United States District Court in Concord, claims the government obtained the search warrant improperly and that there was no evidence of any crime.

The lawsuit seeks the return of all his devices taken in the 2016 raid, as well as payment to cover the cost of the legal action.

In 2015, agents took his computers, hard drive, and other devices as part of the child sex abuse image investigation that has, so far, not produced an indictment or criminal charge, or apparently turned up any evidence. Soon after that raid, law enforcement agents began asking Freeman’s friends about his crypto businesses, he said.

Agents raided his home again in March of last year as part of the money-laundering investigation. This time Freeman, along with five other people connected to him, were charged with federal felonies.

Freeman (formerly Ian Bernard), 41, of Keene, Colleen Fordham, 61, of Alstead, Renee Spinella, 24, of Derry, Andrew Spinella, 36, of Derry, Nobody (formerly Richard Paul), 53, of Keene, and Aria DiMezzo, 35, of Keene were all taken into custody and charged.

Nobody, AKA Rich Paul, is another example of federal harassment, according to Freeman. During the 2020 interview, he said Nobody has been arrested in 2014 on drug charges but offered a deal if he would talk. Nobody, a pro-marijuana activist who ran for governor, declined the deal and served about a year in jail.

According to court records, since 2016, the defendants have operated a multi-million business that enabled criminal customers to exchange over 10 million dollars in fiat currency for virtual currency, charging a fee for their service. They operated their virtual currency exchange business using websites, as well as operating virtual currency ATM machines in New Hampshire.

Prosecutors have said Freeman knew he was laundering ill-gotten money from criminals. The indictment alleges the defendants knowingly operated the virtual currency exchange business in violation of federal anti-money laundering laws and regulations. Additionally, the indictment alleges some defendants opened bank accounts in the names of purported religious entities, like DiMezzo’s Satanic Temple.

Agents took dozens of guns and close to $200,000 in cash out of Freeman’s Keene homes during the March 2021 raid. He is estimated to have more than one million dollars in cryptocurrency at his disposal, according to court records.

The money laundering case has yet to go to trial, though Freeman insists he is not guilty of any crimes.

Cryptocurrencies have been part of criminal cases in New Hampshire, and regulatory concerns as well. Last year, for example, Shawn Helstein pleaded guilty to money laundering after he was caught trying to convert thousands of dollars in proceeds from the sale of methamphetamine into Bitcoin, according to court records.

United States Attorney John Farley recently told NHJournal drug dealers in New Hampshire have been using crypto to buy and sell drugs on the dark web.

“Almost anyone who wants to find a connection can find a connection,” Farley said. “It’s everywhere.”

If crypto has a legitimate future in the New Hampshire economy, it will need to submit to some form of regulation, critics say. BlockFi Trust withdrew its application to open a branch in New Hampshire after deciding the Granite State’s banking regulations were too unclear for the crypto banking firm.

BlockFi is already in trouble with New Jersey regulators over its interest-bearing accounts. New Jersey’s Bureau of Securities issued a cease and desist order against the company, stating BlockFi’s accounts were not registered with that office or exempt from registration. BlockFi offers accounts with yields from 0.25 percent to 7.5 percent, and New Jersey claims the accounts violate its state regulations.

Freeman was an early Free State activist, moving to New Hampshire as part of the Libertarian movement to take over state politics. He had a falling out with the Free State Project in 2014 after he made statements on his radio program in favor of lowering the age of consent laws. The Free State Project officially distanced itself from Freeman at that time.