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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. 


No NHPR Malice Found in Spofford Case

There is no evidence that NHPR reporters acted with malice when reporting on sexual misconduct allegations against former Granite Recovery Centers CEO Eric Spofford.

Rockingham Superior Court Judge Daniel St. Hilaire ruled Spofford’s latest bid to find evidence to support his defamation lawsuit against the public broadcaster failed. 

St. Hilaire came to his Dec. 13 decision after reviewing thousands of documents provided by NHPR detailing the station’s reporting on the stories. 

“Having now completed this review, the court concludes that the documents produced contain no evidence that any of the NHPR defendants acted with actual malice,” St. Hilaire wrote.

Spofford’s attorney, Michael Strauss, did not respond to a request for comment.

St. Hilaire dismissed Spofford’s lawsuit this year, finding he had not provided any evidence in his 300-plus page complaint to back his defamation claims. However, Spofford was allowed to refile the complaint, presuming he could produce evidence of malice. 

That opened the door for Spofford to seek reporting notes and interview transcripts in a search for evidence against NHPR. Spofford’s search came up empty, according to St. Hilaire. The judge looked at all the documents “in camera,” outside the public court procedures.

Spofford claimed NHPR’s Lauren Chooljian targeted him with false stories that he sexually harassed a former client and sexually assaulted at least two former employees because he was a prominent Republican. According to documents Spofford’s legal team filed in court, Chooljian knowingly relied on sketchy and biased sources to put together the damning reports, demonstrating reckless disregard for the truth, one of the necessary elements for Spofford’s case.

But. St. Hilaire wrote there was no evidence to support Spofford’s claims that Chooljian turned a blind eye to biased sources feeding her lies.

“The court has found no indication that Chooljian or other NHPR Defendants possessed knowledge that their reporting was false, acted with reckless disregard of its falsity, or entertained doubts as to the truth of their publication,” St. Hilaire wrote. 

In fact, according to St. Hilaire, the documents he reviewed showed Chooljian and other NHPR reporters focused on getting the facts.

“In short, the in-camera review documents reflect professional and diligent reporting and are totally devoid of any evidence that the NHPR defendants had reason to doubt the truth of their publication. While Spofford maintains that the accusations against him are baseless and entirely fabricated, the in-camera review documents contain absolutely no evidence of falsity. On this record, Spofford has no viable basis to sue the NHPR defendants or their sources,” St. Hilaire wrote.

St. Hilaire is again giving Spofford 30 days to bring an amended complaint that contains evidence to back his defamation case but wrote that based on the documents he reviewed, “any amendment will likely be futile.” 

Outside the lawsuit, Spofford has been linked to one of the suspects in the vandalism targeting Chooljian and other NHPR reporters. Spofford is not accused of taking part in the vandalism conspiracy.

Eric Labarge, 46, was charged in September for allegedly conspiring to vandalize the homes of Chooljian, NHPR journalist Dan Barrick, and their families. Larbarge allegedly coordinated the vandalism with codefendants Tucker Cockerline, 32, of Salem, Michael Waselchuck, 35, of Seabrook, and Keenan Saniatan, 36, of Nashua.

Labarge, himself the owner of several recovery centers, is described by federal prosecutors as Spofford’s “close personal associate.”

NHPR: Spofford Defamation Lawsuit About Retaliation

Now that federal prosecutors say former Granite Recovery CEO Eric Spofford is connected to the men who vandalized the homes of New Hampshire Public Radio journalists, the broadcaster wants to shut down his access to reporting notes and recordings.

“NHPR believes that this lawsuit was filed, not because Spofford’s claims have any conceivable merit, but instead to harass and retaliate against a news organization for its journalism,” wrote Sigmund Schutz, attorney for NHPR.

Spofford is trying to revive his lawsuit against NHPR for its reporting on allegations that he sexually harassed and assaulted women he encountered at the drug recovery centers. One of his arguments in the original 300-plus page lawsuit is that NHPR unfairly linked him to the vandalism at the journalists’ homes connected to the story.

However, federal prosecutors said last month Spofford has a connection to the three men charged for allegedly throwing bricks at and vandalizing the New Hampshire and Massachusetts homes of NHPR journalists Lauren Chooljian and Dan Barrick.

Tucker Cockerline, 32, of Salem, N.H., Michael Waselchuck, 35, of Seabrook, N.H., Hampshire, and Keenan Saniatan, 36, of Nashua, N.H., are each charged with conspiring to commit stalking through interstate travel. According to prosecutors, the three suspects coordinated with an unnamed fourth man described as a “close personal associate” of Spofford.

“Given that Spofford has been linked to criminal activity designed to punish NHPR personnel for exercising their First Amendment rights, NHPR Defendants submit that the time for giving him the benefit of the doubt has passed,” Schutz wrote.

Spofford’s lawsuit was dismissed this year by Rockingham Superior Court Judge Daniel St. Hilaire, who ruled Spofford failed to show any evidence the broadcaster acted with malice in its reporting. St. Hilaire gave Spofford time to refile his lawsuit if he could come up with such evidence and further ordered that he can have access to NHPR’s reporting notes and recordings. 

Schutz wants St. Hilaire to vacate the order for the discovery, cutting off Spofford’s access to the material. Short of that, Schutz wants Spofford to pay all the costs associated with compiling the information. That is at least $50,000, including attorney fees.

Spofford’s attorney, Michael Strauss, argues his client is not charged with any wrongdoing in the vandalism, and the federal case does not state he coordinated the crimes. His only demerit is having a relationship with the unnamed and uncharged subject who allegedly coordinated the vandalism.

“The government, however, has neither charged Eric nor even alleged that he knew about or participated in the conspiracy,” Strauss wrote. “The allegations about Eric instead are limited to his relationship with an uncharged subject who, separately, the government alleges has suspiciously timed phone calls with two of the (criminal) defendants,” Strauss wrote. 

Taking away Spofford’s access to the NHPR reporting materials would set a bad legal precedent in civil lawsuits, Strauss wrote. Civil litigants would be emboldened to pursue sanctions against opposing parties based on third-party allegations, Strauss wrote.

The identity of the unnamed subject and Spofford associate who allegedly coordinated the attacks remains protected from the public. However, NHJournal first reported in March that Spofford associate Eric Labarge, 44, was investigated as a suspect in at least one of the New Hampshire incidents. 

Labarge is himself a recovering addict and the owner of the Starting Point Recovery centers.

Labarge has not been charged by any law enforcement agency in the vandalism cases. He has a criminal history that includes violence against women and attempted murder. He is also currently awaiting trial on charges of assaulting a man in Manchester. That assault took place days after the last vandalism attack in May, and the alleged victim was a man who had been a resident at a Starting Point center, according to court records. 

Previously, Spofford has acknowledged his relationship with Labarge.

Labarge is now scheduled for trial in September in the Hillsborough Superior Court — North in Manchester on the assault charge.

NHPR Notches Win in Spofford Defamation Case

Rockingham Superior Court Judge Daniel St. Hilaire is siding with New Hampshire Public Radio, dismissing the defamation lawsuit brought by Eric Spofford over stories alleging he engaged in sexual misconduct while he was Granite Recovery Centers’ CEO.

Spofford filed the suit against NHPR in October, claiming the public radio station ruined his life and career when it reported a story in which women accused him of sexual harassment and assault. Spoffird claimed the reporters and editors involved in the story relied on biased sources and scant evidence.

St. Hilaire’s ruling, released this week, said Spofford failed to establish proof of actual malice by anyone at NHPR reporting on the sexual assault allegations, despite whatever bias and shoddy reporting Spofford claimed.

“Absent clearer indicia that the NHPR defendants acted in bad faith in relying on these sources, or were subjectively aware that the information provided by these sources was probably false, (the lawsuit) failed to allege actual malice,” St. Hilaire wrote.

In the landmark 1964 New York Times v. Sullivan lawsuit, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled public figures can only claim defamation when they can prove reporters acted with malice, “that is, with knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard for the truth.” That would include reporting facts the reporters knew were untrue or acted with reckless disregard for truth.

St. Hilaire also ruled Spofford could be considered a limited-purpose public figure and therefore held to the Sullivan standard.

“By outwardly presenting himself as a national figure in the fight against opioid addiction and emphasizing the inspirational nature of his own story of recovery, Spofford voluntarily stepped into the midst of an ongoing controversy and assumed the risk of public discourse surrounding his conduct and his fitness as a leader in the field,” St. Hilaire wrote.

According to St. Hilaire’s ruling, Spofford has 30 days to file a new, amended complaint to allege actions that would qualify as actual malice. Absent that, the case will be dismissed.

Spofford claimed in his original complaint that NHPR reporter Lauren Chooljian targeted him because of his Republican politics and that the station used the story to raise money from its left-leaning audience.

“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,” the lawsuit states.

Spofford went on to allege in subsequent filings that Chooljian relied on biased sources, like his ex with whom he was engaged in a bitter custody dispute, and reported on nonexistent facts, like a Snapchat photo of his penis sent to one of the victims. Spofford claimed the photo does not exist and that Chooljian never saw the photo before reporting on it.

Chooljian and the station further ignored witnesses who contradicted the story and refused to run statements that Spofford believed cleared him, according to the filings. 

Spofford maintains he never engaged in the sexual misconduct alleged in NHPR’s coverage. Spofford sold Granite Recovery Centers to BayMark Health Services, a Texas-based treatment company, last year. The sale price was not disclosed.

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. 

Rising Dem Star Was Kicked Out of Dartmouth Dems Over Sexual Abuse Allegations

Jack Cocchiarella is a rising star in Democratic politics, earning thousands as a “Gen Z”  digital strategist for the likes of Florida gubernatorial candidate Rep. Charlie Crist and Marcus Flowers, running against Rep. Majorie Taylor Greene in Georgia.

Cocchiarella also has a secret. He was kicked out of the Dartmouth College Democrats last year after serious accusations of abusive behavior toward women began circulating. 


Jack Cocchiarella (far right) meets President Joe Biden.

Cocchiarella has built a mini-media empire with podcasts and high-traffic social media accounts. He is a Twitter Super Follow with more than 250,000 followers, another 15,000 on Instagram, and almost 20,000 on TikTok.  Cocchiarella uses his platform to push Democratic talking points and praise politicians like President Joe Biden and Texas’s Beto O’Roarke.

Cocchiarella went viral last year when he filmed himself confronting Congressman Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.), during the congressman’s appearance at Dartmouth College.

He has since gone viral in a less-flattering way. The Washington Free Beacon reports on a string of December 2021 Reddit posts that accused Cocchiarella of using “his Twitter notoriety and left-wing credentials to position himself as an ally. Then, once people let their guards down, he rapes them.”

NHJournal verified the college disciplined him for at least one instance of allegedly abusive behavior. NHJournal spoke to an alleged victim who provided documents about the incident, including a letter warning Cocchiarella that he could be suspended for violating the school’s Sexual and Gender-based Misconduct Policy.

NH Journal is not reporting the name of the alleged victim to protect her identity. She told the Journal that Cocchiarella groped her on one occasion and attempted to touch her on several other occasions before she reported him to the school’s Title IX office.

She said Cocchiarella was friendly at first, but his behavior turned into stalking over a few weeks. His actions became progressively more inappropriate.  She started to feel unsafe around Cocchiarella and decided to go to the Title IX office. 

“What was scary is he said a lot of really misogynistic things,” she said.

The woman is still shocked by Cocchiarella’s online persona as a feminist ally and progressive fighter when in reality she was scared of him.

“How does he have this platform as a feminist,” she said.

College officials declined to comment for this story. Cocchiarella did not respond to several requests for comment.

Cocchiarella is no longer a student at Dartmouth. He recently confirmed in an Aug. 1 podcast that he had switched Ivy League schools and is now a student at Columbia University.

Late last month, Twitter users started tweeting at Cocchiarella about the allegations of sexual misconduct. Many accusers have been telling their stories online for months in forums for Dartmouth students as Cocchiarella started to gain fame for his liberal activism.

The Dartmouth College Democrats Twitter account published a tweet claiming Cocchiarella was kicked out of the club last year when several allegations became known on campus. The club later deleted that tweet, but a source familiar with the matter confirmed to NH Journal that Cocchiarella had been kicked out of the club because of the allegations. 

The Free Bacon also notes Cocchiarella appeared on a YouTube television show for the Lincoln Project, the anti-Trump political action committee founded by alleged sexual predator John Weaver. Cocchiarella was on the show to plug his own political podcast, Zoomed In.

Dartmouth College has a dark history of sexual misconduct on campus. Three years ago, the school paid a $14 million settlement to women who claimed they were sexually assaulted and harassed by three professors. 

The school’s fraternity culture has also gained notoriety. One fraternity served as a model for the one depicted in the 1978 movie “Animal House.” The fraternities were also the center of recent hazing scandals.

In Light of St. Paul’s Sexual Misconduct Report, Advocacy Groups Turn to Lawmakers for Solutions

After the bombshell report came out last week that found a disturbing number of faculty and staff members at St. Paul’s School committing sexual misconduct with students, advocacy groups are looking for political solutions to ensure that those incidents don’t happen again and justice is given to the victims.

St. Paul’s announced the findings Monday and admitted there were times when administrators at the elite prep school in Concord failed to adequately protect students on campus over a 40-year period from 1948 to 1988. The independent investigation by the Casner & Edwards law firm began after allegations surfaced against a former faculty member in 2000.

The investigation looked into allegations involving 34 faculty members and staff at St. Paul’s School, referred to as SPS in the report. The investigation determined that 13 school employees, 12 of whom were male, committed sexual misconduct and there were unsubstantiated claims of sexual misconduct by an additional 11 current and former faculty and staff.

“Put simply but starkly, several former faculty and staff sexually abused children in their care in a variety of ways, from clear boundary violations to repeated sexual relationships to rape,” the report found.

Substantiated cases included two chaplains, three teachers who ended up marrying students soon after they graduated St. Paul’s, and a top female administrator whose relationship with a male student in 1980 was well-known on campus.

The investigation found that the school has been willing to overlook alleged sexual misconduct in exchange for a teacher leaving, even giving one accused teacher letters of recommendation for a new job.

In a letter to the St. Paul’s community about the investigation, school officials said they wanted to make it public to be fully transparent and to learn from the school’s past mistakes so they can do better in the future.

“It is especially difficult when trust, the foundation of community, has been compromised. Our history with regard to sexual abuse and sexual misconduct is a painful one,” wrote Rector Michael Hirschfeld and Board of Trustees President Archibald Cox, Jr. “From the Board of Trustees to those charged with executing the mission on the grounds, the School is committed to confronting this history squarely so that it will remain a source of our continual improvement into the future.”

To make change, the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence (NHCADSV) believes lawmakers should reform the statute of limitations in sexual assault cases. Under current state law, child victims of sexual abuse only have until their 30th birthday to file a lawsuit and until their 40th birthday to press criminal charges.

“It is a huge injustice to victims and it doesn’t acknowledge the true trauma of sexual assault,” said Jessica Eskeland, public policy specialist at the NHCADSV. “Sexual assault is not like any other crime. It can cause trauma and there is so much shame since the abuse usually happens at the hands of someone who they trust and respect. For many, they don’t feel ready to come forward until their 40s, 50s, or even 60s.”

There are two bills currently in the Legislature that would eliminate the statute of limitations on sexual assaults for children under 18 years old. Senate Bill 98 and Senate Bill 164 are both tabled in the Senate Judiciary Committee until the next legislative session in 2018.

“We’ll be working with lawmakers next year to tighten this up and have victims access justice whenever they’re ready,” Eskeland told NH Journal. “We want to make sure everyone is on a level playing field regardless of where they experienced violence.”

The NHCADSV would also like to fix what they see as a glaring loophole in the New Hampshire’s Safe Schools Act. Under the act, schools are not legally required to report misdemeanor sexual assault to police, leaving the decision to report up to the discretion of school officials. Misdemeanor sexual assault would are cases involving sexual contact between minors and other minors or young adults. The N.H. Safe Schools Act only refers to felony-level sex crimes and exempts simple assaults if the school has a policy for notifying parents.

Yet, the act directly conflicts with the state’s Child Protection Act, mandating schools report suspected instances of child abuse and neglect. Schools often have agreements, known as memorandums of understanding, with police agencies. St. Paul’s and the Concord Police Department signed an agreement in September 2012 and it remains in currently remains in effect. The current agreement is written in compliance with the N.H. Safe Schools Act and states that misdemeanor assaults should be handled on a case-by-case basis. There is nothing in the agreement, though, mentioning misdemeanor sexual assault.


Eskeland said one of the most important ways a school can help is to educate its staff, faulty, and students on sexual assault prevention. David Finkelhor, director of the Crimes against Children Research Center and a professor of sociology at the University of New Hampshire, agreed in a Sunday op-ed in the Concord Monitor outlining steps schools should take to reduce their vulnerability.

He said schools need to send a clear message “that the era of ‘managing’ these offenses is over.” Schools need rules, training, and reminders about the high-risk situations in schools, they need to talk openly to students and faculty about the problem and about the responsibility of bystanders, and teachers need self-management tools.

Yet, he cautioned about trying to solve all the sexual misconduct issues in schools through legislation. He said research has found that the most effective solutions are through education and not through increasing sentences or penalties, which lawmakers might try to do.

“The schools are being asked to do so much and have various mandates that it is hard without additional resources and additional incentives to step up to the plate,” he told NH Journal. “I’m not sure…[it’s] best handled by legislation. They [lawmakers] might well end up creating more problems than solutions.”

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