Center Harbor man charged with stealing $750,000 from terminally ill father

CENTER HARBOR — A local man is charged with theft by unauthorized taking for allegedly taking control of nearly $750,000 belonging to his terminally ill father, Clifford Fitzferald Jr..
The New Hampshire Attorney General's has charged Keith C. Fitzgerald, 50, of 166 Follett Road, Center Harbor, with a felony theft charge and alleges that he misused his power of attorney status to transfer the funds to multiple investment accounts.
Fitzgerald entered no plea to the charges in 4th Circuit District Laconia Division District Court on September 18 and waived a probable cause hearing on the charges. He was released on $10,000 personal recognizance bail and signed a waiver of extradition which allows a defendant to be brought back to the state without further court hearings should they leave the state.
An affidavit filed by Peter Favreau, a N.H. Department of Justice investigator, says that the criminal charges were brought after the N.H. Attorney General's Office received information that Fitzgerald had stolen some of his father's assets.
In January of 2010 the elder Fitzgerald, then living in Florida, was brought to Memorial Sloan Kettenring Hospital in New York, where he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. His wife, Ingrid, who was responsible for the management of his financial affairs died in April of 2010.
That same month the elder Fitzgerald executed a statutory power of attorney document naming Keith as his primary agent and the following month executed a Florida durable power of attorney document naming Keith and Clifford Fitzgerald III, Keith's brother, as co-attorneys.
The New York document prohibited Keith Fitzgerald from making major gifts or transfers of property to himself or anyone else and named Clifford Fitzgerald III as monitor who was to provide a record of all transactions made or done on behalf of his father by his brother.
The Florida document, which was issued the same day that the elder Fitzgerald filed a will that equally divided his estate among his children, also barred both brothers from distributing his assets to discharge their own personal obligations. The elder Fitzgerald died on September 15, 2010.
The affidavit says that Keith Fitzgerald was already accessing his father's $1.4 million in assets of May of 2010 and transferred $1 million to a Wells Fargo account and then established multiple accounts, unknown to his father, and had the reports sent to his own address in Center Harbor, and 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 Fitzgerald Investments, which had filed for a Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2009 and had listed $570,000 in debts owed to its major creditors.
The largest creditor is listed as Richard Adams of Center Harbor, whom the affidavit says is a longtime friend of Keith Fitzgerald and was owed $175,000.
Investigators say that Adams and Fitzgerald had an arrangement in which money was borrowed from a $175,000 line of credit Adams had with Citizens Bank and that Adams loaned virtually all of the money to Fitzgerald, who signed a $200,000 promissory note which was registered with the Belknap County Registry of Deeds on March of 2010.
The investigators say that every month Fitzgerald made payments to Adams, who used the funds to reduce the money borrowed, and Fitzgerald issued a check for $125,000 on July 28, 2010 to pay off the balance of the debt.
Fitzgerald is represented by attorney Allison Ambrose of Laconia, while Assistant Attorney General Jesse O'Neill, who is assigned to the Consumer Protection and Antitrust Bureau. is prosecuting the case for the state.

Imagine a new art gallery in downtown Laconia

LACONIA — After passing like ships in the night for some years, two local artists —  Maureen Bieniarz-Pond and Dennis Morton — who first met in 2007 only to part ways once again, have reunited as partners in the Imagine Gallery, which opened last month on Vintage Row downtown.

Bieniarz-Pond said that while their children went to the Laconia schools together the two first met in 2007 when she opened her gallery on Canal Street and invited Morton to be a featured artists. "He brought a van full of paintings," she recalled. By the time the gallery closed a few years a few years later, Morton, who has shuttled back and forth between the mainland and Hawaii for some time, had returned to the islands, where he enjoyed a career as a painter of portraits and landscapes.

As Bieniarz-Pond pondered reopening the gallery, Morton returned, along with the proceeds from the sale of one of his major works. "It helped get this gallery started," he remarked. The two rented a high-ceiling space in the McIntyre Block, consisting of a gallery flanked by a smaller workroom, a small shed Morton intends for a portrait studio and a basement, where they will hold classes and parties. Morton has configured the outdoor space between the gallery and shed as a patio, where he likes to hang his work in natural light, weather permitting.

Already the works of a baker's dozen artists, including the oils and photographs of Bieniarz-Pond and bold landscapes and sensitive portraits of Morton, are on display. Jasmyn Gray, familiar to those who walk the WOW Trail and ,Larry Frates, whose "Festival of Pumpkins" will grace the upcoming festival, are represented along with painters in different mediums Penny Burke, Gerri Harvey, Cam Sinclair, Michael Cowart and Mary Villaume. There is also photography by Joni Shea, pottery by Mandy Bassett and raku, hand shaped Japanese pottery used in the tea ceremony, by Steve Hayden, one of the sculptors featured on the Sculpture Walk in Meredith.

Bieniarz-Pond said that she aimed to keep it simple by showing the work of a handful of artists, but as word spread she and Morton found themselves moving their own work to make room for that of other artists. Each month the gallery will feature an "artist of the month" selected by the Lakes Region Arts Association.

Bieniarz-Pond is eager to offer Sip 'n Dip parties, open to all who are provided with the supplies they require but must bring the drink they prefer, where everyone leaves with a finished painting.

Morton anticipates teaching landscape and portrait painting. His grandmother assured him he began drawing as a four year old but he said he only made his career in art after realizing he was "a mule in a horse race" as a psychology major at Keene State College. He studied and worked with Richard Whitney of Stoddard, New Hampshire, counted among the finest portrait painters in the country, whose images of governors John Sununu Judd Gregg hang in the New Hampshire Statehouse.

Bieniarz-Pond and Morton agreed the gallery has gotten off to a good start and said they were looking forward to the turning of the leaves, which they expected would bring lots of visitors with an eye for fine art to the the Lakes Region. The Imagine Gallery is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., but closed on Mondays

Storm damaged Union Cemetery, north & south

LACONIA — Wednesday's storm wreaked havoc at Union Cemetery, where the raging waters of Durkee Brook eroded a stretch of its bank within feet of a mausoleum and monument on the north side of the graveyard while a culvert carrying Meadow Brook failed, opening a large sinkhole on its south side.

Durkee Brook rises east of Rte. 106 below Briarcrest Estates and flows northwest, passing under Garfield Street and running along the north side of Union Cemetery, parallel to Grant and Lincoln Streets, to Academy Street. At Meadow Street, just beyond Academy Street it is joined by what some call "Little Durkee Brook," then skirts Memorial Field and passes under Court Street, between Premum Mart and Lakes Region Party and Paper, and the railway line before emptying into Lake Winnisquam at the western end of Bartlett Beach.

High water has undercut the banks of the brook running alongside the north edge of the cemetery, loosening the roots of trees close to the stream. A large tree on a lot on Grant Street fell into the brook just below a sharp bend near the maintenance building. As the brook rose during the storm, water backed up behind the obstruction causing a section of the opposite bank, where a tree stump remained, to collapse into the stream bed, leaving the mausoleum and monument perilously close to the edge of the brook.

Cemetery official Suzanne Perley said that spot where the bank collapsed has been a source of concern for some time. "We seem to have been losing a foot a year to erosion," she said.

Meanwhile, on the south side of the cemetery Meadow Brook flows underground through a culvert, five-feet in diameter, beneath an unpaved roadway for approximately 150 yards, before flowing to and under Academy Street. Jon Neal, general foreman at the Department of Public Works (DPW), said that the water from the swollen stream reached the corroded section of the culvert it undermined the roadway, which collapsed to leave a oval sinkhole about 10 yards across, nearly 15 yards long and eight feet deep.

On Friday, a crew from DPW removed the obstructions from Durkee Brook and John Lyman of John Lyman & Sons of Gilford evaluated the sinkhole in anticipation of preparing an estimate to address the damage. John Perley, the president of the Union Cemetery Association, said that Lyman suggested lining the existing culvert with a smaller one, perhaps made of something other than steel, which would ensure against it failing elsewhere along its length. culvert

Suzanne Perley said that the association which is a charitable trust, has limited financial resources, most which can only be used for designated purposes, leaving only the income from invested funds for maintenance. She said that the income amounts to between $50,000 and $60,000 a year, which is less than the cost of maintaining the cemetery.

Following severe storms in 2007 the condition of Durkee Brook became a source of concern to the Planning Department, Conservation Commission and Belknap County Conservation District. At the time, Greg Jones, who is no longer with the Planning Department, said that the erosion has been caused by cutting and clearing vegetation from the banks of the brook and compounded by homeowners lining the banks with granite slabs and aluminum siding, which hastens and diverts the flow of water.

No effort will be made to remove the material lining the banks, but property owners were told not to put any more. Residents on Lincoln and Grant streets whose property backs on to the brook were reminded that a municipal ordinance requires that a 30-foot buffer either side of the brook must be maintained in its natural condition and, where it has been disturbed, must be replanted to the greatest extent possible. In particular,residents were urged not to dump grass cuttings, yard waste and other trash along the bank or into the brook. At the same time, abutters were discouraged from grooming their lawns to edge of the brook and encouraged to replant the denuded and eroded banks.


CAPTION: Squeezed between a mausoleum and the stream bank, a backhoe operator from the Department of Public Works removes a tree stump swept  into Durkee Brook alongside Union Cemetery when high water from Wednesday's storm undercut the bank of the brook. (Laconia Daily Sun photo/Michael Kitch).


CAPTION: A culvert carrying Meadow Brook along the south edge of Union Cemetery in Laconia failed during Wednesday's storm, undermining the roadway and opening this sinkhole. (Laconia Daily Sun photo/Michael Kitch).