Review goes ahead - County Sherriff’s Dept. to be questioned in wake of alleged sex crimes by former deputy


LACONIA — Belknap County Commissioners have agreed to move forward with a request from Belknap County Sheriff Craig Wiggin for an organizational review of the sheriff's department by an independent organization in the wake of the indictment of a former deputy with the department for multiple sex offenses.
The deputy, Ernest Justin Blanchette, 36, is being held on $100,000 cash-only bail or $400,000 corporate-surety bail for sex offenses allegedly committed against inmates who were in his custody when they were being transported by him from various jails and courtrooms in Belknap and Merrimack County.
Commissioner Hunter Taylor (R-ALton) said it was important that the department have policies and procedures in place "to prevent this from ever happening again, it is serious enough to have it looked at by an outside agency."
Commissioners agreed Wednesday morning to have County Administrator Debra Shackett talk with two consulting firms specializing in municipal affairs, Municipal Resources Inc. of Meredith and Matrix Consulting Group, a national consulting group with an office in Waltham, Massachusetts, about the process for conducting a review. They said the firm which is hired will report directly to them.
But Wiggin, who was not at the Wednesday morning meeting at which his request was discussed, said he has not discussed details with commissioners regarding his request and thinks it is premature at this point to undertake any review as there are ongoing court proceedings at which many of the people who would be interviewed as part of the review will be testifying.
He said that the review should be conducted "as soon as is practical."
Blanchette was indicted in October of 2015 by a Hillsborough County North grand jury for allegedly raping a woman in an abandoned house in Bedford while he was transporting her between the Belknap County House of Corrections and the New Hampshire Correctional Facility for Women in Goffstown in early July.
He now faces eight additional aggravated felonious sexual assault charges and one felonious sexual assault charge in five separate indictments, including three involving the alleged female victim in the Bedford case. He faces one charge of coercing a second woman into having intercourse in an unnamed cemetery in Laconia.
The three other indictments include five separate charges of allegedly coercing other inmates into having sexual contact with each other while he watched. In two instances, the state alleges he gave the handcuff keys to one inmate so he or she could perform sexual acts on the other.
The most recent charges were brought by Belknap County Attorney Melissa Guldbrandsen in Belknap County Superior Court.
Blanchette resigned from his position with the Sheriff's Department in August after having been placed on paid administrative leave on July 20. He joined the Sheriff's Department in October of 2011 and was a police officer in Laconia prior to joining the county force. Blanchette had received a meritorious service award in 2008 while an officer in Laconia and had served as treasurer of the Belknap County Sheriff's Relief Association until his resignation.
A Raymond High School graduate Blanchette served in the U.S. Marine Corps before joining the Laconia police force.
Blanchette is being held in a state correctional unit in the southern part of New Hampshire. His trial for the single Hillsborough count is scheduled for late April.

Timber Hill neighbor shares view


GILFORD — The first time Gunstock Hill Road resident Monique Twomey was aware that her neighbors were opening a commercial wedding venue about 250 feet from her home was when she looked out her window and saw them putting up a "large white sail tent."

It was June 30, 2015, and she said yesterday that she initially didn't think much of it because she thought Andrew and Martina Howe were having a family event.

"It stayed," she said, referring to the tent.

Twomey said the tent stayed until July 11 and the event she thought was a family gathering of some kind ended up being an open house for a new business venture that caters events like weddings at Timber Hill Farm, which she said she learned from a friend of hers.

Twomey is one of a few people who are at ground zero in a agritourism debate that has triggered significant local and statewide news coverage. The situation has created a bond between Twomey and her other neighbors as they fight against the project at both the town and Superior Court level.

"I'm not alone in this," she said, referring to her many neighbors and supporters who have visited her home and support her position.

Twomey said she had a tough summer last year. She said the first wedding was so loud that it seemed like it was in her living room. The announcer who introduced the couple and the amplified music that shook the walls in her 150-year-old farmhouse kept her two young daughters up well past 1 a.m.

She said the noise usually begins at 5 p.m. and the events last until around 11 p.m., although the noise doesn't stop there. Because there is no parking allowed by the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests on the conservation easement, all of the guests have to park on the portion of the Howes' property down the road and near their home and be taken to the events by a hay wagon pulled by a farm tractor. She said with 200 people in attendance, the tractor can only haul a limited number of them to their cars at one time. Many of the remaining guests who wait for the hay wagon are intoxicated and loud. She and her children have seen them urinating outdoors while facing her home.

And there were six more events over the course of the summer of 2015, including the last one on Old Home Day, where she spent the day with her children. She said the children came home exhausted but unable to sleep because of the noise.

Gone were the sleepovers and visits her daughters enjoyed on the weekends with their friends because of the noise. She said the dust from the road leading to the site blew all around her house unless it rained. She said ash and grit from the bonfires along with the dust settled at the bottom of her pool.

She also noted the there are four large pieces of property totaling about 1,100 acres in the conservation easement that controls the Howes' property but that they chose a temporary site about 250 feet from her home and a permanent site about 500 feet from that.

She said she is against the barn proposed for 2017. Fire regulations require that it have four sides that slide open because there is no sprinkler system and that the Howes have removed much of the tree buffer in the area so they have space to build the barn. She said the barn will not be insulated, so there is no noise protection for her and her neighbors.

But, believe it or not, Twomey still supports agriculture and agritourism in its proper context and in its proper place. She said that wedding venues in residential zones like hers should not be considered agritourism.

"It's the wrong use under that definition and in the wrong zone," she said.

"My home was advertised (eight years ago) as being surrounded by conservation land in a residential zone," she said. "When I saw the ad and then the view, I loved it."

She said for seven years she was able to drive down Gunstock Hill Road and appreciate the serenity of her neighborhood. She called it "serene and tranquil."
Twomey said she is very close with her neighbors and most of them are also against the wedding venture. She said she knew there was a vacant building lot across the street but figured the most development she would see was the couple who owns it building a house and joining their convivial neighborhood.

When asked if she knew the Howes, she said she and her family were big supporters of Beans and Greens, the other farm stand operated by them on Intervale Road.

"When my daughters were younger, most of my pictures of them are sitting on some kind of pumpkin at Beans and Greens," she said.

Twomey said she is also upset because, in her opinion, the Howes didn't follow the rules that were laid out during the trial period that was included in the November 2014 letter sent to them by the Gilford Town Planner John Ayer.

At the site plan review hearing, Ayer said that his letter said the "use" needed to follow the traditional route for approvals to include a site plan review while the Howes have said that isn't the case. Twomey said that is likely why none of the abutters were told about the wedding venues and is also why the town code enforcement officer issued a cease-and-desist order when she complained.

Although the Howes and Timber Hill Road got a site plan review that allows them to hold these events, Twomey and her attorney have sued the town of Gilford over the previous Zoning Board of Adjustments rulings that agritourism in Gilford is agriculture. Twomey had also requested a restraining order that would have prohibited the Planning Board to delay site plan review until her case was settled.

She has filed amended pleading relative to the restraining orders and the case is scheduled to be heard on March 7 in the Belknap County Superior Court.

Videos Twomey has taken of weddings held at the site can be viewed at and

One solution to the drug crisis - Medically assisted treatment for opioid addiction is getting results (984)


FRANKLIN — "I am seeing results I didn't expect when we started in October," said Dr. Paul Racicot.
 With his colleague Dr. Paul Friend of Horizons Counseling Center, Racicot provides medically assisted treatment for opioid addiction at the Lakes Region General Hospital Recovery Center, which operates in a suite of offices and exam rooms in the basement of Franklin Regional Hospital. "I'm very excited to see people becoming productive again."

The program, undertaken in collaboration with Horizons Counseling Center of Gilford, combines prescribing suboxone, a formulation of buprenorphine, which eases then stifles the craving without causing either withdrawal symptoms or euphoric highs, with counseling and therapy. Prescription of suboxone is contingent on participation in a counseling program.

"It is not the whole solution," Racicot said, "but it is a piece of the solution. You can't do one without the other."

Likewise, Jacqui Abikoff, executive director of Horizons Counseling Center, stressed "assisted," explaining that medication is "not a substitute for counseling." She said that patients taking suboxone, who are not obsessed by cravings, are more open to counseling as well as making the changes in their lifestyle required to sustain their recovery from addiction.

The president of the medical staff at LRGHealthcare,who has treated alcohol and drug abuse for 25 years, Racicot said that five years ago he was skeptical of medically assisted treatment, which was dominated by methadone clinics. He said it was difficult to set the dosage at the appropriate level not to cause either euphoria or withdrawal. But, above all, he was troubled that addicts taking methadone could continue to use illicit opioids drugs by "piggybacking" and too often used methadone as a maintenance drug for prolonged periods — even lifetimes.

Racicot said that after reviewing the medical literature and attending a number of conferences, he was persuaded that coupled with counseling, suboxone offers a an effective mode of treatment. He noted that physicians at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center are strong advocates of medically assisted treatment. He anticipates that in five years medically assisted treatment will become the preferred regimen for opioid addiction as new medical products, including an implantable, longer-acting form suboxone, became available.

However, Abikoff acknowledged that medically assisted treatment remains "controversial" as many who treat addiction with various forms of counseling and therapy question the quality of recovery that falls short of total abstinence by incorporating a medication in the the treatment regimen.

Racicot said that he and Friend opened the recovery center on discovering that "a lot of the patients are kids we know. We've treated their parents and know their families." Any qualified physician can prescribe suboxone, but initially they are limited to treating 30 patients, which provides Racicot and Friend capacity for 30 patients apiece until May when they each will be able to care for 100 patients. Friend said that some 30 patients are currently being treated at the center.

Patients begin with weekly prescriptions for a daily dose of suboxone, taken as strip under the tongue, for a month and then begin to be weaned off the medication according to their progress. Friend said that "there is no define length of treatment." At the same time, Racicot added that studies indicated that unlike methadone, 95 percent of those treated with suboxone stop taking it within a year. Likewise, he noted that children born to mothers taking methadone spend twice as long in hospital as those born to patients taking suboxone.

All the while patients are closely monitored to ensure their participation in counseling by case manager Corey Gately, a master's level licensed alcohol and drug counselor with 15 years of experience, including a spell at Horizons Counseling Center. "When we say coordinated care, we mean coordinated care," she said, stressing that she ensures patients fulfill the counseling component of the program. When patients leave here, I call Horizons and tell them when to expect them for their counseling session," she said. "We are in tight with Horizons and speak with them every day." She said that more than 90 percent of the patients who have enrolled in the program have done "very well."

Racicot emphasized that medically assisted treatment is cost effective. Suboxone, he said, costs $30 or $40 per week while studies suggest a heroin addict, who "steals and deals" $1,000 a week to support his habit, can cost the community $65,000 a year in property crime, police, legal, medical and other costs. Moreover, he pointed out that while addicts are "the most unhealthy young people you will ever see, "the general health of those in recovery markedly improves. It thrills me to see them get better."

The New Hampshire Health Protection Program, known as expanded Medicaid, Racicot said was essential to expanding the capacity to treat substance abuse. "Without this program, which treats both the medication and the treatment, most of our patients would not be covered," he said.

Nearly two years ago, when the New Hampshire Center for Excellence took stock of the resources in the state to treat substance abuse disorders no provider of medication assisted treatment was reported in the Winnipesaukee region, one of 13 regional public health networks which includes the city of Laconia and 10 towns of Belknap County and the city of Franklin and three towns in Merrimack County.

Apart from the LRGH Recovery Center, HealthFirst in Laconia also provides medically assisted treatment to its primary care patients. Executive director Rick Silverberg said patients undergo a "substance abuse brief referral intervention and treatment " (ESBRIT) screening and full physical exam before being prescribed suboxone by a qualified physician and treated by two in-house counselors.

 The team of the LRGH Recovery Center, a medically assistance substance program at Franklin Regional Hospital, which is undertaken in collaboration with Horizons Counseling Center of Gilford, from left, consists of Dr. Paul Racicot, president of the medical staff at LRGH; Deb Fish, RN; Corey Gately, a master's level licensed alcohol and drug counselor; and Dr. Paul Friend. (Laconia Daily Sun photograph/Michael Kitch)

The team of the LRGH Recovery Center, a medically assistance substance program at Franklin Regional Hospital, which is undertaken in collaboration with Horizons Counseling Center of Gilford, from left, consists of Dr. Paul Racicot, president of the medical staff at LRGH; Deb Fish, RN; Corey Gately, a master's level licensed alcohol and drug counselor; and Dr. Paul Friend. (Laconia Daily Sun photograph/Michael Kitch)