ALTON — A one-time local handyman charged with secretly recording the private activities of clients was sentenced Thursday to one year in the House of Correction.
Peter Mugford, 59, formerly of Route 11D in Alton, pleaded guilty in Belknap Superior Court to charges of interception of an oral electronic communication, and burglary.
Judge James D. O’Neill III sentenced Mugford to one year in the Belknap County Corrections facility on the eavesdropping charge, and imposed a suspended two- to four-year sentence on the burglary charge.
The judge also ordered Mugford to serve two years on probation after his release from his sentence, barred him from having any contact with his three victims, and that he undergo a psycho-sexual evaluation within 60 days after his release from confinement.
Mugford will receive credit for the 70 days he has already spent in the County Jail prior to Thursday’s plea-and-sentencing hearing. Mugford has been in custody since a sentencing hearing on March 28 was abruptly postponed after the Belknap County Attorney’s Office received new information that it said at the time might be relevant to the case.
At Thursday’s hearing, Belknap County Attorney Andrew Livernois told the court that Mugford’s activities came to light last July when the owners of an Alton home discovered a camera camouflaged behind bedroom drapery. The day after the homeowners discovered the camera and had returned to their principal residence in Massachusetts, Mugford went to the house intending to retrieve the camera, but found it was gone.
When the homeowners realized what the camera had recorded, they called Alton police, When police showed up at Mugford’s house to question him, he admitted putting the camera in the house, Livernois said.
Police subsequently obtained a warrant to search Mugford’s home. During the search they discovered a hand-held video camera with which Mugford, while hiding inside the house of another client, recorded the homeowner bathing nude in her outdoor hot tub in 2015. Because the audio-video recording captured one end of the conversation the woman was having on her cellphone, he was charged with unlawfully intercepting a private communication, Livernois explained.
The prosecutor said Mugford’s actions were “a clear invasion of privacy.” But he pointed out that last year’s recording from the hidden camera showed nothing salacious, only ordinary conversations between the wife and her daughter.
“He’s admitted he was a voyeur,” Livernois said. But considering Mugford had no prior criminal record, and that had fully cooperated with police during the investigation, Livernois said the sentence he was recommending was fair. He told the judge that Mugford’s victims and the Alton police agreed with his sentencing recommendation.
Mugford’s attorney, Jennifer Chenu, told the court, her client was “deeply, deeply sorry, and has taken full responsibility for what he has done. He understands he has to make his payment back to society.”
Since his arrest last July, Mugford has lost his livelihood, most of his assets, and most of his friends, the attorney said.
Prior to formally entering his guilty pleas, Mugford told the judge, “I am very sorry for what I have done. I want to pay for what I have done and get on with my life.”
Prior to the beginning of the hearing Chenu asked the judge to prohibit reporters from taking photographs during the hearing.
“This is a highly sensitive case and the allegations are inflammatory,” she told the judge. She said her client “doesn’t need his face plastered in the papers,” which she said are distributed at the County Jail and House of Correction. “These photos would put him in danger while in custody,” Chenu said
A New Hampshire Union Leader reporter subsequently withdrew the paper's request to take photographs.
The Daily Sun had a filed a photo request with the court at the time of Mugford’s initial sentencing hearing on March 28, but the judge did not consider that request on Thursday.
As part of the plea deal, Livernois dropped a second count of intercepting an oral communication, and a misdemeanor charge of invasion of privacy.