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Case dropped after judge tosses evidence found in unwarranted search

LACONIA — Prosecutors have dropped a drug case after a Superior Court judge disallowed the search of a former Autumn Road man's residence which police entered after they said had smelled unburnt marijuana.

Unable to introduce any evidence gathered in the course of the unwarranted search, the Belknap County Attorney dropped the case against Benjamin Ricks.

Ricks had been held in the Belknap County House of Corrections for an alleged bail violation and he was released Friday after the state dropped the charges.

In a five-page ruling issued Friday, Judge James O'Neill III ruled in Belknap County Superior Court, that the three things that led a circuit court judge to issue a search warrant of Rick's Tilton home were insufficient to sustain the warrant.

Specifically, O'Neill said neither officer had been trained to detect the difference between fresh and dried marijuana, that three-year-old uncorroborated information from a unnamed confidential informant, and the presence of heavy shades or a ventilation system "does not reasonable lead to the conclusion that a marijuana manufacturing operation was being maintained at the residence."

The search warrant and subsequent arrest of Ricks began on Aug. 21, 2013, with an armed robbery of a convenience store on the corner of Route 3 and Lancaster Road which is about one-half mile as the crow flies southeast from the apartment Ricks was renting on 80 Autumn Drive in Tilton.

Police from Tilton, Sanbornton and a K-9 from Gilford converged at the store and began searching for the male armed robber.

As part of the search, Sanbornton Police took the area along Autumn Drive and noticed Ricks who had been riding his ATV along trails in the wooded area of his rented property. Ricks was not wearing clothing similar to that describe to police by the victim of the armed robbery.

The two officers noticed Ricks and began to follow him down the same trail which lead to a small pond and the back of the house where the apartment Ricks was renting was located. Police found an ATV there but said the engine was cold, indicating it had not be ridden recently.

At a suppression hearing held about three weeks ago, the court learned there was signs indicating the property was somewhat posted for privacy. However, the signs were not signed by the owner. In his ruling, O'Neill didn't address whether or not the police had the right to be on the land.

One of the officers said they began knocking on the doors of a few apartments, but testified that he could smell unburned marijuana when he got to within about 15 feet of the house. The second officer said he didn't smell anything until he knocked on the door. No one answered when they knocked, but they said that from their vantage point outside the home they noticed heavy drapes and what appeared to be a ventilation system.

O'Neill determined that neither officer was trained in the difference between smelling fresh and dried marijuana and the presence of the ventilation system wasn't enough to think there was any illegal activities in the house.

The Sanbornton officers relayed their information back to the Tilton Police, and it was incorporated into a search warrant drafted by Tilton detectives.

One of the detectives testified at the suppression hearing that he had information from a source, that was about three years old, that Ricks had been "growing a lot of weed" at his house. O'Neill determined the the uncorroborated information from the source was irrelevant accord to previous case law.

Ricks declined to be interviewed for the story. His attorney, Catherine Costanzo, said he is back a work.

She said the case is concluded, with the exception of getting back her client's two ATVs and $1,400 that was seized by police during the arrest. Ricks has said the money was from his job as an electrician.

 

Last Updated on Tuesday, 24 June 2014 12:16

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Judge agrees couple accused of growing pot on Governors Island has right to depose their landlord

LACONIA — A Belknap County Superior Court judge reversed his own ruling yesterday and determined that the landlord of the man whose Governors Island home was targeted by state police in a marijuana raid must make herself available to him for a deposition and could possibly testify at his trial.

Judge James O'Neill ruled that after hearing more evidence from Corey LaPlante and his lawyer Mark Sisti, that landlord Jennifer Truman's testimony is necessary to his defense.

LaPlante and Sisti say Truman went to LaPlante's rented home at 47 Blueberry Hill Road in October of 2013, twice in two days, but that the first time she went alone and unannounced.

LaPlante argues that she was acting as an agent of the police because after her first visit, she allegedly contacted them and they told her to return to the home with a witness, which he said is a warrant-less search.

Sisti's argument is partially that she claims she saw a water filtration system on her first visit that he said couldn't have been seen without her allegedly trespassing on the property.

Truman said she was there to look at the landscaping and some exterior items because she was planning to sell the property. According to Gilford sssessing documents, the home is still in a trust held by or for the benefit of Truman.

For the second visit, Truman contacted LaPlante and his roommate Janelle Noftle and got permission to visit and enter the home. Sisti said the statements given to police by Truman and her friend were inconsistent and he needs to depose her.

LaPlante and Noftle are each charged with two counts of manufacturing marijuana, two counts of possession of marijuana with intent to distribute it, and out count of possession of marijuana. Although indicted separately, Judge O'Neill has ruled that both will stand trail at the same time.

A few days after the second visit police raided the home and found large amounts of marijuana, hashish, six guns, and $33,000 in cash. Police said there was evidence of a marijuana growing and drug packaging operation.

N.H. Asst. Attorney General James Vara argued that Truman made a statement to the police and that he submitted all of her statements to LaPlante and Sisti so she has nothing more to add.

Truman balked at being deposed or even having her address given to Sisti because she said her home was allegedly the site of a major drug operation and she feared for her life. She lives in Wyoming and also said it would be an huge inconvenience for her to come to New Hampshire, although Sisti has said he would go to her for the deposition if necessary.

Without her address, he said he can't even issue her a subpoena.

In the time since Sisti made his first request to depose Truman but after Judge O'Neill's first ruling, Truman obtained a local attorney.

When Sisti re-argued his request to depose her, he said because she is represented by an attorney, he can't legally contact her.

Last Updated on Saturday, 21 June 2014 12:49

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Tired at watching the bikes ride by, Laconia business moves to the Weirs for the week

LACONIA — "I got tired of waiting for the party to come to me," said Dave Byer, who owns and operates Capital City Pawn and Good Vibrations Smoke Shop on Union Avenue, "so I decided to come to the party."

In his first foray to The Weirs during Motorcycle Week, Byer is selling a variety of smoking products beneath a pair of signs advising customers that they are to be used only with tobacco. "It's a 21st century style of smoke shop," he explained with a smile, glancing at packages of rolling papers and an array of brightly colored glass bongs.

Alluding to the widening national debate about the decriminalization or even legalization of marijuana, Byer remarked that "when there are more us liberal people with political leverage, we'll get there."

Byer said that in past years the rally came and went without significantly benefiting his business in town. "I'd see the bikes go by on their way to The Weirs and that was about it," he said. "This year I brought my business to where the crowds are." crowds are." He said that trade was brisk during the first weekend of the rally then slowed at the start week before picking up by Wednesday. "It's been good. We've met a lot of very interesting, very friendly people and had a good time," Byer said. "i'll be back next year."

CAPTION: Dave Byer of Capital City Pawn and Good Vibrations Smoke Shop on Union Avenue and his friend Liz Edmondson set up shop at The Weirs for the first time, but said it will not be the last. (Laconia Daily Sun photo/Michael Kitch).

Last Updated on Saturday, 21 June 2014 12:44

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City asking state to approve $1.7 million clean-up plan along Frank Bean Rd.

LACONIA — Acting on behalf of the city, Sovereign Consulting, Inc. of Concord has submitted a plan to the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services (DES) to address lingering contamination from a burn dump that operated on Frank Bean Road and Morin Road, near the Laconia Ice Arena. The estimated cost of executing the plan is $1.7 million.

The burn dump, which operated in the 1940s and 1950s, is part of a site that sprawls over some 75 acres on either side of Frank Bean Road, most in the city and some in Gilford, which also includes an abandoned landfill owned by the city. The burn dump itself extends over four current lots — two residential and two commercial — totaling about 3.5 acres. Three of the lots abut one another on the west side of Frank Bean Road and the fourth is bordered by Frank Bean Road to the west and Morin Road to the east.
Altogether the dump stretches along Frank Bean Road for about 1,000 feet and is 250 feet wide at its widest point. Likewise, the dump is between 15 feet and 20 deep, though some refuse was found at a depth of 32 feet. Assuming dimensions of 1,000 feet by 200 feet by 15 feet, Sovereign estimates the area contains approximately 110,000 cubic yards of "burn dump material."
Investigation of the site confirmed the presence of eleven metals as well as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and polycyclic aromatics hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are byproducts of burnt fuels, in samples collected across the 75 acres. However, samples of private wells serving the four lots indicate no adverse impacts to the quality of drinking water.

The "remedial action plan," or RAP, Sovereign proposes consists of several steps common to the entire site together with specific measures tailored to each of the four lots.

The swales along the west side of Frank Bean Road and Morin Road would be excavated to a depth of two feet, backfilled to a depth of one foot and covered with a foot of rip rap stone. Groundwater quality would be monitored by collecting samples from 10 wells sunk on the site for 20 years and from five drinking water wells annually for an anticipated period of five years. Since materials from the burn dump will remain on the site, activity on the site would be restricted.
On the two commercial lots on the west side of Frank Bean Road, one owned by Doplhin Point, LLC and the other by CBH Landscapers, the affected areas would be excavated to a depth of one foot, the soil removed and replaced with nine inches of fill and three inches of asphalt pavement. The same approach would be taken on the residential lot owned by James Joyal, which is bordered by Frank Bean Road to the west and Morin Road to the east. On the second residential lot on the west side of Frank Bean Road north of the two commercial properties, which is owned by Alexander and Beverly Paquin, the impacted area would be backfilled and capped with two feet of soil.
Sovereign estimates the cost of the project at $1,674,631, which includes $1,381,200 for the immediate remedial measures and $293,431 in ongoing monitoring and maintenance expenses at the site.
Noting that the city owns the former landfill on Morin Road ,adjacent to the site, the consultants suggest that the excavated soil could be disposed of there then covered with a two-foot soil cap and seeded. If DES accepted this alternative, two feet of soil would be removed from each of the four lots, which would then be capped with soil rather than be paved. This alternative would spare the cost of disposing of excavated soil off-site, reducing the cost of the project by approximately $677,000, or 40-percent.
DES has yet to respond to the proposal.
City Manager Scott Myers recommended borrowing $1.2 million to address the site in his proposed 2014-2015 municipal budget, which the City Council will take up on Monday night.

Last Updated on Saturday, 21 June 2014 12:34

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