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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. 

 

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.”

Spofford Associate Charged in NHPR Vandalism Case

Federal charges filed against Eric Labarge in the New Hampshire Public Radio vandalism investigation draw the case closer to Granite Recovery Centers founder Eric Spofford, Labarge’s close associate and NHPR antagonist.

NHJournal was the first outlet in the state to connect Labarge to the vandalism investigation. 

Spofford is suing the station, NHPR reporter Lauren Chooljian, NHPR News Director Dan Barrick, and others for defamation after the broadcaster aired stories last year in which women accused him of sexual misconduct, including assault. 

Eric Spofford speaks to his attorney Michael Strauss last year during a break in a hearing on Spofford’s ongoing defamation lawsuit against NHPR.

A month after the report first aired, Chooljian, Barrick, and their families had their houses vandalized. On Friday, Federal prosecutors with the Massachusetts Attorney’s Office in Boston announced Labarge, 46, and three other New Hampshire men had been indicted for their roles in the vandalism.

According to a statement issued by prosecutors, Labarge agreed to coordinate the frightening vandalism campaign against the journalists with Tucker Cockerline, 32, of Salem, Michael Waselchuck, 35, of Seabrook, and Keenan Saniatan, 36, of Nashua after the story was released.

Spofford has not been charged in the vandalism investigation, and has denied any role in the crimes.

Prosecutors describe Labarge as Spofford’s “close personal associate.” Spofford’s attorney, Michael Strauss, did not respond to NHJournal’s request for comment on the charges against Labarge. Previously, Spofford gave a supportive statement about Labarge.

“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 ten years. He’s done great things for the recovery community, and I believe he will continue to for years to come.”

Like Spofford, Labarge owns several recovery centers in New Hampshire. Labarge also has a criminal history that includes violence against women attempted murder. He’s currently facing trial in an assault case in Manchester.

According to court records, On or about April 22, 2022, Labarge solicited Cockerline to vandalize Chooljian’s former home in Hanover, using a brick and red spray paint. On the evening of April 24, 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.

On or about April 22, 2022, Saniatan allegedly agreed to vandalize Barrick’s home in Concord, and Chooljian’s parents’ home in Hampstead, using large rocks and red spray paint. After that, on the evening of April 24, 2022, Saniatan allegedly spray painted the word “C*NT” in large red letters on the front door and threw a large rock at the exterior of Barrick’s home; and he allegedly threw a softball-sized rock through a front exterior window and spray painted the word “C*NT” in large red letters on one of the garage doors of Chooljian’s parents’ home.

On or about May 18, 2022, Labarge allegedly solicited Cockerline to vandalize Chooljian’s parents’ home in Hampstead, and Chooljian’s home in Melrose, Massachusetts, using bricks and red spray paint. Cockerline, in turn, allegedly recruited Waselchuck to vandalize Chooljian’s residence.

On the evening of May 20, 2022, Cockerline allegedly spraypainted the word “C*NT” in large red letters on one of the garage doors of Chooljian’s parents’ 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 Chooljian’s home and painted the phrase “JUST THE BEGINNING” in large red letters on the front of the house.

The men are all charged with conspiracy to commit stalking through interstate travel and/or the use of a facility of interstate commerce. Each charge in the indictment carries a maximum sentence of up to five years in prison, three years of supervised release, a $250,000 fine and restitution.