Charges dropped in alleged Sunapee election fraud incident

By Ray Carbone

SUNAPEE – The state’s efforts to prosecute two men who were allegedly involved in an election fraud scheme in 2016 has fallen short.

Last month, the NH attorney general’s office decided not to move forward with two charges of illegally altering an email in order to influence the outcome of an election, and one charge of forgery against Adam Gaw of Manchester.

The decision followed an October ruling handed down by Newport district judge Gregory E. Michael that dismissed the same charges against a Sunapee resident, Joseph Furlong.

The woman told police that she’d written an email that referenced some people associated with the Sunapee school board… Later, she discovered that someone had altered her message…

The two men were charged with the misdemeanor crimes after Sunapee police investigated a report from a resident that was made in March 2016. The woman told David Cahill, Sunapee’s police chief, that she’d written an email that referenced some people associated with the town’s school board, and sent it to several town acquaintances. Later, she discovered that someone had altered her message with the apparent aim of tilting the election in favor of Heather Furlong, Joseph’s wife, and sent it out to a larger group of citizens just days before a school board election. (Heather Furlong won a seat on the school board but resigned one year later after her husband was arrested.)

Cahill said he immediately notified the attorney general of a possible election fraud crime. With the AG’s support, he then began an investigation that led him to Joseph Furlong.

Furlong denied playing a role in the doctored message. Instead, he pointed to Gaw, an independent building contractor who may have been working on the Furlong house the night of the alleged crime.

Cahill initially doubted Gaw’s existence, saying he thought Furlong had invented a “straw man” to escape responsibility for his actions. Gaw sent an email to the Sunapee police claiming full responsibility for the altered email.

It was not until the early 2017 that the attorney general’s office filed formal charges against Furlong and Gaw. Shortly thereafter, it withdrew the original charges and filed new ones that it believed were more likely to lead to convictions.

But when Furlong’s case came to trial earlier this fall, his lawyer asked Judge Michael to dismiss the charges because the newer ones were filed too late – just days after the legal statute of limitations had run out.

The judge agreed and, when the AG’s office appealed his decision, he affirmed it, saying that authorities had “failed to properly investigate the facts.”

When Gaw’s case came to court on November 14, James Vera of the attorney general’s office decided not to move forward with the Manchester man’s prosecution.

Last week, Vera said that Gaw’s lawyer “would have made the same argument” that caused Judge Michael to drop the charges against Furlong.

Vera refused to blame anyone on the prosecution’s team for the outcome.

“I’m not going to say that anyone dropped the ball,” he said. “There was a decision that was made and it was incorrect.”

Vera said the state is not planning any further action related to the incident.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper of Sutton, New Hampshire, on November 28, 2017.

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