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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Sunapee man cleared of all charges in election fraud case

By Ray Carbone

NEWPORT – A Newport district court judge has issued a sharp legal rebuke to law enforcement agencies that were involved in a criminal case against a Sunapee man charged with election fraud.

In a decision handed down on Oct. 27, Judge Gregory E. Michael dismissed all charges against Joseph Furlong, 41, of Sunapee, stating that the state “failed to properly investigate the facts” related to the alleged crime.

“(The state) wishes the court to endorse its failure,” Michael wrote. “This court will not do so.”

Michael issued his ruling after speaking with Furlong’s attorney, James Rosenberg, and James Vera of the attorney general’s office at a public hearing earlier in October. The hearing was held following the attorney general’s official request to have Michael reconsider his original decision to dismiss all charges against Furlong.

In his Oct. 26 decision, Michael said that the state had made a crucial error when it filed its original charges in March 2016, then took too long to fix it.

The original investigation, conducted by Sunapee Police Chief David Cahill, concluded that there was “probable cause” to believe that Furlong altered the email of another Sunapee resident, and then sent it out to others in the community in an attempt to tilt a 2016 school board election in favor of his wife. As part of the case, authorities also charged that Furlong had invented a “straw man” named Adam Gaw to blame for his illegal activities.

(Adam) Gaw is still scheduled to go on trial Nov. 14 in Newport… He’s filed a plea of not guilty, but has also confessed several times…

 

By the time Furlong’s trial came around in July, however, Adam Gaw had come forward and confessed to doctoring the email, apparently clearing the local man. The state withdrew its original charges against Furlong and filed new ones, charging that the local man had worked in concert with Gaw to plan and distribute the altered email.

Just days before the trail was to begin, Judge Michael dismissed all charges, saying that the new charges were filed too late to give Furlong’s attorney sufficient time to prepare a proper defense.

At the October hearing, Vera argued that the state’s new charges dealt with Furlong’s alleged criminal behavior and that it was no different if he’d acted alone or with Gaw.

But the judge disagreed. He said the new charges shifted the primary blame from Furlong to Gaw and the Sunapee man wasn’t properly prepared for the trail – and the new charges were filed too late, after the statute of limitations had run out.

“This court believes the charges should inform (Furlong) of his alleged misconduct prior to trial, not AT the trail,” Michael’s ruling read. “When preparing the initial (criminal) complaints, the State did not believe Adam Gaw existed and based its allegation using that ‘fact’ as a predicate for the original complaint.

“The original complaint also contained an allegation that (Furlong) ‘knowing gave false information’ to a law enforcement office,” the judge added, when the local man named Gaw as the person who may have doctored the email.

Gaw is an independent construction contractor of modest means who lives in Manchester. Furlong has said that Gaw may have been among of group of contractors who were working in the Sunapee man’s home when the email message was sent out but he’s unsure.

Both Furlong and Gaw were originally arrested and charged in March 2017 but, in July the attorney general’s office set the original charges set aside and instituted the new ones, including two counts of illegally altering an email with the aim of influencing the results of an election (Class A misdemeanor) and one count of forgery (a Class B misdemeanor).

Gaw is still scheduled to go on trial on Nov. 14 in Newport District Court. He’s filed an official plea of not guilty with the court, but has also confessed several times that he’s doctored the email.

At an earlier hearing on his case, Lauren Breda, a public defender representing Gaw, indicated that if the charges against Furlong are dismissed, her client could ask the court to dismiss his charges based on the same legal issues.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper of Sutton, New Hampshire on November 7, 2017.

 

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