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Second Man Pleads to NHPR Vandalism

It’s just the beginning for the prosecution as a Seabrook man pleaded guilty to his role in the conspiracy to harass New Hampshire Public Radio, becoming the second suspect to change pleas, according to court records.

The case is seemingly connected to reporting NHPR did on sexual assault allegations involving former Granite Recovery Center CEO Eric Spofford. Lead NHPR reporter Lauren Chooljian and NHPR News Director Dan Barrick were among the victims of the vandalism.

Michael Waselchuck, 36, of Seabrook, agreed to plead to federal charges last week for conspiracy to commit stalking through interstate travel and the use of a facility of interstate commerce. His co-conspirator, Tucker Cockerline, 32, of Salem, pleaded guilty to identical charges in December.

That leaves pending cases against two suspects in the conspiracy: Keenan Saniatan, 36, of Nashua, and the alleged organizer, Eric Labarge, 46, of Nashua.

Labarge is the long-time associate of Spofford’s who allegedly initiated the vandalism and harassment plans after NHPR’s stories about Spofford were first published. Spofford has denied any connection to the vandalism, just as he’s denied the sexual assault allegations. 

All four men are being prosecuted by the United States Attorney’s Office in Massachusetts. According to prosecutors, Labarge solicited Cockerline to vandalize one of the victim’s former homes in Hanover in April 2022. Cockerline allegedly spray-painted the word “C*NT” in large red letters on the front door and allegedly threw a brick through an exterior window of the home.

Later in that same month, Saniatan allegedly agreed to vandalize another victim’s home in Concord and the home of the first victim’s parents in Hampstead. Saniatan allegedly spray-painted the same offensive word in large red letters on the front door and threw a large rock at the exterior of the Concord home. Saniatan allegedly threw a softball-sized rock through a front exterior window of the first victim’s parents’ home and once again spray-painted the profanity in large red letters, this time on a garage door.

In May 2022, Labarge allegedly solicited Cockerline to vandalize the parent’s home in Hampstead again, as well as the first victim’s home in Melrose, Mass. Cockerline, in turn, allegedly recruited Waselchuck. Cockerline allegedly spraypainted the word “C*NT” in large red letters on one of the garage doors of the Hampstead home and left a brick on the ground near the front door. Several hours later, Waselchuck allegedly threw a brick through an exterior window of the Melrose home and painted the phrase “JUST THE BEGINNING” in large red letters on the front of the house.

Spofford is not charged with any alleged role in the vandalism. His adamant denial of Chooljian’s reporting on the sexual assault allegations resulted in a doomed defamation lawsuit. Last month, Rockingham Superior Court Judge Daniel St. Hilaire finally dismissed the lawsuit with prejudice, meaning Spofford cannot file a new complaint in the matter. 

One of Four NHPR Suspects Pleads Guilty

The Salem man who allegedly took part in the scheme to harass and intimidate New Hampshire Public Radio journalists pleaded guilty in the United States District Court in Boston last week.

Tucker Cockerline, 32, entered guilty pleas to charges of conspiracy to commit stalking through interstate travel and the use of a facility of interstate commerce. He is now scheduled for sentencing in March.

Cockerline is one of four men who allegedly targeted NHPR reporters, including Lauren Chooljian, by vandalizing their homes and the homes of their families in New Hampshire and Massachusetts. The cases against his co-defendants, Michael Waselchuck, Keenan Saniatan, and Eric Labarge, are still pending. 

According to the charging documents, the vandals struck after after NHPR published Chooljian’s year-long investigation into allegations that former Granite Recovery Centers CEO Eric Spofford engaged in sexual misconduct including sexual assault. Spofford has denied any part in the vandalism. However, Labarge is a close associate of Spofford’s.

Spofford tried to sue NHPR for defamation over the sexual misconduct reporting, but has continually failed to keep the lawsuit alive. This month, Rockingham Superior Court Judge Daniel St. Hilaire ruled there is no evidence anyone at NHPR acted with malice in reporting the story, and that Spofford’s lawsuit is simply not viable. 


Somersworth Mayor Truant from School Job

Fall is here, and students are back in their classrooms, but Somersworth’s Assistant School Superintendent Dana Hilliard is still not in the building.

Hilliard, who is also the city’s long-time Democratic mayor,  was scheduled to return to his school job Monday after months of leave over alleged unethical conduct. That was until last week, when 94 percent of the local teachers union, the Somersworth Association of Educators, voted against him coming back.

There are currently no calls for Hilliard to leave his elected position as mayor despite allegations of conflicts of interest. In Somersworth, the mayor and city council have the final vote on approving the school budget, meaning Hilliard essentially votes to pay tax dollars to himself.

“If he were a Republican, people would be after his hide,” said Ken Hilton, a Republican who made an unsuccessful bid to unseat Hilliard.

The union’s no-confidence vote does not have any force of law on Hilliard’s job. But the resolution makes clear the tension in the community over Hilliard.

“I do not have confidence in Dana Hilliard’s ability to be an effective leader in the Somersworth School District,” the union’s resolution reads. “I do not want Dana Hilliard to return to work in the Somersworth School District because his history of behavior shows that he makes it more difficult for educators to achieve the District’s mission, which is ‘to inspire all students to excel, to develop a thirst for knowledge, and to teach the essential skills necessary to be caring, contributing, and responsible individuals in an ever-changing world.’”

Hilliard went on paid leave this spring after district employees filed a complaint over his treatment of staff. Superintendent Lori Lane, also named in the staff complaints, also went on leave. Lane resigned this summer. 

Interim Superintendent Lou Goscinski declined to discuss details of Hilliard’s job status when contacted by NHJournal on Tuesday.

“He remains out on leave, but I cannot discuss the type of leave,” Goscinski said.

Goscinski confirmed Hilliard is on paid leave, meaning he is still collecting his taxpayer-funded school salary, which clocks in at more than $100,000 a year.

Hilliard declined to respond to requests for comment.

Hilton said Hilliard and his family are well-known and liked in the community, and the situation surrounding the mayor is sad. Hilton claimed that Partisan politics of power override what’s best for the city residents.

“Democrats never resign in disgrace; they just keep going,” Hilton said. “If you’ve no standards, who’s to say that’s wrong?”

An independent report found Hilliard and Lane yelled at and belittled staff members in private meetings after those staffers voiced opposition to proposed budget cuts at public school board meetings. One teacher told the investigator she was afraid of Hilliard. Other staff members said Hilliard was known to yell and throw things at people when he was angry.

Teachers also told the investigator Hilliard was mired in an obvious conflict of interest in his job and his position as the mayor. According to the report, Hilliard kept his elected city position in mind when he made budget decisions for the school. Hilliard would cut staff and programs at the school rather than make those cuts in the city or raise taxes, the report states.

Hilliard, director of operations for the district, reports to the school superintendent, not the school board. That means the board is unable to fire him. Lane could have fired Hilliard, and now Goscinski can fire him.

Hilton said there is still time for Hilliard to do the right for the people of Somersworth. It might be time for someone else to step into the city leadership role.

“I have been praying Dana would repent and choose to do what is right and good,” Hilton said. “You want to see good leaders in there.”