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Federal grand jury in Boston indicts 4 men suspected of vandalizing homes of NHPR journalists

A screenshot from security camera footage shared by the Middlesex County District Attorney in May 2022.
Middlesex County District Attorney
A screenshot from security camera footage shared by the Middlesex County District Attorney in May 2022.

Editor’s Note: This story was reported by WBUR’s Anthony Brooks and edited by WBUR’s Beth Healy. No NHPR staff or leadership had oversight or reviewed the story before publication.

A federal grand jury in Boston has indicted four New Hampshire men for their alleged role in an intimidation campaign aimed at two New Hampshire Public Radio (NHPR) journalists.

"The alleged harassment and intimidation of the victims included vandalism — on five separate occasions — of the victims’ homes," according to a statement from the office of the U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts. The vandalism attacks, which included bricks, large rocks and spray paint, also targeted the home of one journalist’s immediate family.

According to prosecutors, Eric Labarge, 46, and Keenan Saniatan, 36, both of Nashua; Tucker Cockerline, 32, of Salem, N.H.; and Michael Waselchuck, 35, of Seabrook, N.H., conspired to commit stalking through interstate travel.

Labarge was arrested Friday morning and appeared in federal court in Boston. Cockerline, Saniatan and Waselchuck were previously arrested and charged in June and remain in custody.

Attorneys for the men could not immediately be reached.

Each charge in the indictment carries a maximum sentence of up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

The case dates back to late April 2022, when a series of vandalism attacks began on the homes of journalist Lauren Chooljian of NHPR, her parents and her editor, Dan Barrick. In one of the attacks, Chooljian arrived at her home in Melrose, a suburb north of Boston, and discovered a brick had been thrown through a front window. An apparent warning was spray painted in big red letters on her house: “JUST THE BEGINNING!”

Similar attacks were made on Barrick's home and on Chooljian's parents' home, both in New Hampshire; vandals also threw bricks through their windows and spray-painted profanities on the buildings.

The vandalism occurred not long after Chooljian reported on allegations of sexual misconduct against Eric Spofford, a recovering drug addict who built New Hampshire’s largest network of addiction treatment centers. According to Chooljian's reporting, since 2019, the state of New Hampshire has awarded Granite Recovery Centers, which Spofford founded and later sold, more than $3 million in no-bid contracts.

The indictment alleges that Labarge, who was arrested Friday morning, was a close personal associate of Spofford.

Spofford, who has denied any connection to the vandalism, tried to convince NHPR to retract Chooljian's damning story about him.

Last year, Spofford sued NHPR for defamation after Chooljian's investigation of his alleged misconduct was published. A Superior Court judge dismissed the case. But Spofford continued the fight, seeking to have Chooljian's notes released. In June, a Superior Court judge ordered Chooljian to turn over her notes as part of a discovery request; NHPR is fighting that on First Amendment grounds.

In an earlier statement from his attorneys, Spofford said: “Not only was I completely uninvolved with these incidents of vandalism, I also do not support or condone them. I also don’t need to vandalize someone’s property. I have truth on my side, and I will vindicate myself through lawful means."

While the federal complaint does not mention Spofford by name, it refers to him as "Subject 1," and alleges that an associate of his recruited at least two of the suspects to initiate the vandalism. According to the complaint, federal investigators concluded, "There is probable cause to believe that the vandalisms were retaliatory acts intended to harass and intimidate NHPR and its employees." The complaint does not say if Spofford is or has been a target of the investigation.

NHPR has released a podcast, "The 13th Step," about the entire Spofford saga. The threats against the journalists have drawn national attention.

Anthony Brooks has more than twenty five years of experience in public radio, working as a producer, editor, reporter, and most recently, as a fill-in host for NPR. For years, Brooks has worked as a Boston-based reporter for NPR, covering regional issues across New England, including politics, criminal justice, and urban affairs. He has also covered higher education for NPR, and during the 2000 presidential election he was one of NPR's lead political reporters, covering the campaign from the early primaries through the Supreme Court's Bush V. Gore ruling. His reports have been heard for many years on NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition.
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