Center Harbor man rejects plea deal in case of defrauding his own father of $1M


LACONIA — A Center Harbor man charged with looting the investment accounts of his terminally ill father rejected a plea deal on Wednesday, and is now scheduled to stand trial in March.

Keith Fitzgerald, 51, of 166 Follett Road, was indicted in December 2015 on five counts of theft by unauthorized taking and one count of receiving stolen property in connection with his alleged abuse of a power of attorney granted by his father Clifford Fitzgerald Jr., who died of liver cancer at age 79 on Sept. 15, 2010.

Last fall, the New Hampshire Attorney General's Office charged that Fitzgerald had shuffled money from accounts jointly titled to himself and his father, into accounts he exclusively controlled.

Fitzgerald; his attorney, Robert Hunt; and the prosecutor, Assistant Attorney General Jesse O'Neill, appeared in Belknap County Superior Court Wednesday morning for what was scheduled as a plea and sentencing hearing. But after the trio met in chambers with Judge Peter H. Fauver, Hunt confirmed that his client had declined the prosecutor's
offer, and is prepared to take the case to a jury.

Each of the felony charges are potentially punishable by a maximum sentence of 7 1/2 to 15 years in prison and up to a $4,000 fine upon conviction.

O'Neill, who is assigned to the Consumer Protection and Anti-Trust Bureau declined to disclose the terms of the rejected settlement, but confirmed the defendant is readying for trial.

During a July hearing, O'Neill estimated the trial would last 10 to 12 days as the case involves a series of financial transactions that took place over a three to four-month period, requiring testimony from multiple witnesses.

Fitzgerald has remained free on $10,000 personal recognizance bail on the condition he not have any contact with siblings Clifford Fitzgerald III, Hope Fitzgerald, Heather Fitzgerald or Alexandra Dodwell.

According to an affidavit filed last fall, an investigator with the New Hampshire Department of Justice alleged Fitzgerald was allegedly already accessing his father's $1.4 million in assets in May 2010, transferred $1 million to a Wells Fargo account, and then set up multiple accounts and had the portfolio summaries sent to his Center
Harbor address.

The state charges that Fitzgerald listed his father's address as 89 Tuttle Road, a vacant lot owned by Fitzgerald Investments LLC. Keith Fitzgerald is listed as a managing member of that limited liability company which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2009, listing $570,000 in creditor debt.

The elder Fitzgerald, who had a distinguished career in investment banking, had most recently resided in Sanibel, FL., before his death in New York, where he was undergoing treatment at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

The curator of the estate previously won a $767,000 civil judgment against Keith Fitzgerald, after 4th Circuit Probate Court Judge Christina O'Neill ruled that the defendant breached his fiduciary duties to his father and had acted in bad faith. He was also ordered to pay $51,583.33 in attorney fees and costs.

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International leaf peepers

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Phyllis, Jerusha and Jonah Kramer, residents of Costa Rica, are enjoying their second vacation in New Hampshire during the fall foliage season and are staying at Cottage Place on Squam Lake in Holderness. (Roger Amsden/for The Laconia Daily Sun)

Overseas tourists find NH foliage a must-see attraction


HOLDERNESS — Tourists from overseas are showing up during New Hampshire's fall foliage season in ever-increasing numbers, much to the delight of businesses like Cottage Place on Squam Lake, where owner Susan Smith says she has hosted visitors from the United Kingdom, Ireland, Sweden and Russia in recent months.
Currently she's hosting a family from Costa Rica, which is making a return visit to the area. She said the foliage season is a big draw for tourists from afar, drawing as many or more than the summer does.
She's seen an upward trend in overseas tourism ever since she and her mother, Beverly Smith, purchased the 1950s era cottage colony in 2002 and refurbished the heritage property while maintaining its rustic interiors.
Phyllis Kramer of Nosara, Costa Rica, is staying at the Cottage Place with her daughter, Jerusha, and grandson, Jonah, who is 7.
Kramer, who grew up in Brooklyn, moved to Costa Rica in 2000 and said her husband, Howard, operates a coffee growing and adventure tourism business there and stayed behind in Costa Rica because he's not a fan of cold weather. "But I like the seasons I grew up with and like to come here for the fall season. This is the best place in the world for great foliage," says Kramer.
She said Jerusha, 28, and Jonah, both hold dual Costa Rican and American citizenships. While staying in Holderness, they have enjoyed visits to the Squam Lakes Science Center, hiking trails around Squam Lake, as well as dining out at the Corner House Inn in Center Sandwich and Walter's Basin Restaurant. They're also looking forward to visits to Funspot, the world's largest arcade, and attending this Saturday's New Hampshire Pumpkin Festival in downtown Laconia.
Smith's experience with increased foreign tourism isn't unique.
Joe Ouellette, director of sales and marketing at Mill Falls in Meredith said, "We've had a great 2016 thus far. We've met or surpassed most of our benchmarks for the summer season. Mother Nature was very good to us here in the Lakes Region and that beautiful weather brought a steady stream of guests, both from our transient as well as our group markets. That trend is continuing into the fall. We've had tour groups from Italy, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and Mexico, to name a few."
Amy Landers of the Lakes Region Tourism Association said that many member businesses are also reporting increases in foreign visitors which are booked through late October, including many people from Asia and South America,
Lorrie Harnois of Discover New England, which is based in Portsmouth, said New England had 1.25 million overseas visitors in 2005, which grew to 2.18 million by 2015. The total economic impact of those visits was estimated at $2.1 billion in 2015. She points out that those numbers do not include visitors from Canada and Mexico.
Harnois said that visitors cite shopping, sightseeing, art galleries and museums, small towns and countryside, national parks and monuments, history and culture, camping and hiking, as well as snow sports, as reasons why they visit New England.
She says that Discover New England will host a major event with international tourism groups at the Mount Washington Resort next April. She expects that 75 international tour operators and approximately 300 New England tourism industry members will attend the annual Tourism Summit and International Marketplace in April.
"We are planning to have people from the USA, United Kingdom, Ireland, Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Japan, China, Australia, New Zealand and the Scandinavian countries." said Harnois. She said Discover New England will have representatives at similar events in Europe, Asia and South America next year.

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Susan Smith of Cottage Place on Squam Lake says that she is seeing more overseas visitors in recent years and in recent months has hosted tourists from the United Kingdom, Ireland and Russia. (Roger Amsden/for The Laconia Daily Sun)

Gilmanton selectman admits email mistake


GILMANTON — Selectman Marshall Bishop said Wednesday that he made a mistake when he sent an email from his town account to Zoning Board of Adjustments Chairman Elizabeth Hackett complaining about a different member of that board and asking for his resignation.

In the letter, Bishop complained about ZBA member Mike Teunessen, who before he voted against Bishop's request for a special exception for his restaurant at Gilmanton Winery, said he felt that Bishop, like others, hadn't made any effort to conform to town regulations but expected the board would give an "after the fact" approval.

"I should have used my personal email account," Bishop said. "It was personal to me as a taxpayer."

The email exchange between Bishop and Hackett is the latest in a series of events that have plagued Bishop both in his role as a selectman and in his private role as the owner of a local winery and eatery. Since assuming office, the Planning Board has questioned whether he has the proper approvals he needs to operate his business. Earlier this week, its members voted that he should present an updated and current site plan review before its Nov. 10 meeting or face a cease-and-desist order.

Bishop has said that, in his opinion, he has complied with all of the requests of the previous Planning Board that gave him his approvals and that it is only since he became a selectman that his 4-½-year-old business has come under scrutiny.

He also went to the ZBA, at the request of the Planning Board, to get a back-dated special exception to operate a restaurant in an agricultural zone by converting his four-bedroom home partially into a restaurant. Teunessen was the lone dissenting vote against, saying he is tired of Gilmanton residents going forward with projects that are contrary to the town's zoning ordinances and then coming to the ZBA for after-the-fact approvals.

"I was just turned off by the fact that he put me in the same category as the other people," said Bishop, who again reiterated that he feels he has done everything the former Planning Board and town planning employees told him to do.
Once Bishop learned that Teunessen never spoke to The Laconia Daily Sun and what was reported did not come from any interviews but was a reflection of what happened at the meeting, he said he has gotten over his opposition to Teunessen's vote against him.

Bishop said in Hackett's reply to him, she expressed faith in Teunessen's ability to be fair with all ZBA applicants and he accepts her assessment.

But Bishop's frustration with his personal situation has spilled into his role as selectman. He said he made a request of the other two members of the board to go into a nonpublic session, as a private citizen and taxpayer, to discuss his situation but the other board members refused. He said he understands why the others made the decision they did.

Bishop said he is in the process of hiring his own attorney to represent his interests before the Planning Board, and possibly again before the ZBA, because he has to protect his business interests but definitely wants to be in full compliance with the town.

"I want to do what I need to do, but I don't want to get screwed in the process," he said.