By Ray Carbone
SUNAPEE – All charges against a local man charged with illegally altering an email message written by a political foe of his wife’s in a local school board race have been dismissed.
In a ruling in Newport District Court last week, Judge Gregory E. Michael ruled that state prosecutors made a mistake when they charged Joseph Furlong, 40, of Sunapee with 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) related to being an accomplice to the incident.
The incident goes back to March 2016 when, several days before the annual municipal elections, several residents attending a local basketball game were surprised to receive an email message from a woman running for a school board seat.
The message appeared to portray another school board candidate negatively, and alleged sender later told police that she saw an immediate negative backlash from the message.
She later lost the election and Heather Furlong, Joseph’s wife, who was one of three candidates running to fill two vacant seats on the Sunapee school board against the woman, was elected.
‘Although the actual activity complained of by the state (attorney general) may be the same, the conduct of (Furlong) in the three new charges is different, as is the proof necessary for a guilty finding.’ – Judge Gregory E. Michael
Within days, Police Chief David Cahill began looking into the situation. Several citizens told him about unusual encounters with Joseph Furlong and the chief questioned the man, who was a producer of the American Builder reality TV series.
Furlong denied sending the altered email but indicated that he was close to finding out who had.
Later that day, Cahill received an email from Adam Gaw of Londonderry claiming responsibility for the doctored message. Cahill suspected that Furlong had “invented” Gaw to take responsibility for the misdeed.
Because the case appeared to involve election fraud, the state attorney general’s office was soon involved.
It took almost one year before the original six charges were filed against Furlong this past March. (Heather Furlong immediately resigned from the school board.)
Days later, Gaw confessed and took full responsibility for altering the controversial email message.
In July, Brian W. Buonamano of the attorney general’s office withdrew the original six charges against Furlong and filed the three newer ones, claiming that had acted “in concert with and/or aided” Gaw to alter the message, and to commit forgery.
But James D. Rosenberg, Furlong’s attorney, asked the court to dismiss the charges. The lawyer said that Gaw’s confession meant that Furlong was now being charged with actions that were significantly different than what was in the original charges. The new actions would require a different kind of defense and, in any case, the legal time limit for charging Furlong for new actions ran out in early March.
Last Tuesday, August 22, Judge Michael agreed with Rosenberg. “Although the actual activity complained of by the state (attorney general) may be the same, the conduct of (Furlong) in the three new charges is different, as is the proof necessary for a guilty finding,” he wrote in his ruling.
In addition, the judge said that the legal statute of limitations “should be liberally interpreted in favor of the defendant (Furlong).”
At press time, there was no information available regarding Gaw’s legal status regarding the charges.