By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Four indicted on federal harassment charges targeting NHPR journalists

A federal grand jury has indicted four men from New Hampshire in connection with what authorities allege was “a conspiracy to harass and intimidate two journalists employed by New Hampshire Public Radio (NHPR).” The case involves vandalism against the homes of NHPR reporter Lauren Chooljian, her parents, and her editor, Dan Barrick. The story has attracted national attention, including a rather harrowing account last June in The New York Times (free link).

There’s an interesting angle to the latest news. In June, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Boston announced that three men had been charged: Tucker Cockerline, 32, of Salem, Eric Labarge, 46, of Nashua; and Michael Waselchuck, 35, of Seabrook. Now a fourth suspect has been added to the list: Keenan Saniatan, 36, of Nashua. Each could face up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

All of this is related to reporting by NHPR that Eric Spofford, the politically connected founder New Hampshire’s largest network of addiction treatment centers, had engaged in sexual harassment. The suspects are allegedly associates of Spofford, who has not been charged. In fact, Spofford is claiming libel in a lawsuit against Chooljian and NHPR. The state judge in the case, Daniel St. Hilaire, raised First Amendment concerns by ordering NHPR to turn over documents so that he could determine whether they supported Spofford’s libel claim. The libel suit, however, is now on hold, according to Nancy West of the investigative website InDepthNH, because St. Hilaire has gone on leave for an unspecified reason.

The vandalism that was allegedly committed by the four suspects was frightening and vile; if you want to read the gory details, it’s all in the press release.

Update: West of InDepthNH tells me that Judge St. Hilaire has been back from leave for a while and that she’ll soon be writing about the latest developments in Spofford’s libel case.

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1 Comment

  1. Lex Alexander

    I’m not a lawyer, but if I were the Justice Department, I might well have charged at least some of the defendants with 18 USC 241, conspiracy to deny civil rights, as well. They clearly were trying to deny these journalists their civil rights, based on the source material presented here.

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