The Ten Commandments had a few things to say about interaction with one’s neighbors. It might have been helpful, however, had they mentioned what would later be named “the internet” and how it would play into things. At least, it might have helped a particular Andover couple.
Friday morning, Bill and Gail J., both 51 (hereinafter, the “Defendants”), were arrested and charged with criminally harassing their neighbors (hereinafter, the “Neighbors”) over the Internet because of a property dispute.
The harassment allegedly started with a fake advertisement on Craig’s List for used golf carts and other items such as unwanted memberships to a national nudist association. You guessed it…the Neighbors were listed as the people to contact. It then escalated to fake reports of child abuse to state social workers, mysteriously opened bank accounts, and threatening emails and letters, prosecutors said.
The harassment took place over several weeks in March, authorities said. According to court records, the Neighbors began receiving dozens of harassing and threatening e-mails and phone calls. At one point, DSS social workers came to their home to investigate false claims that their 14-year-old son had abused a female at school.
The Defendants pleaded not guilty to counts of criminal harassment, identity fraud and conspiracy at their arraignment in Essex District Court, as they each stood by their individual attorney. Both lawyers said the Defendants are Tewksbury High School graduates who own a realty company and have lived in Andover for nine years. They are also parents of three teenage daughters.
The defense seems to be that the Defendants did not perform these crimes, but that a third man, Gerald C. (hereinafter, “Defendant 0”), was responsible for them. “All the forensic [computer] evidence in this case points directly at [Defendant 0],” the attorneys said. “He has a very strong motivation for fabrication.”
The strong motivation?
Well, the offending e-mail address had been traced to Defendant 0 earlier this month. Said motivation would be to ease the burden of the Commonwealth’s prosecutorial spotlight on himself. However, prosecutors say that information from Defendant 0’s computer showed that he was threatening the Neighbors on behalf of his high school friends, the Defendants.
The Defendants were released on bails of $2,000 and $1,000 Friday afternoon. The Neighbors declined to comment.
The tale of The Defendants is loaded with lessons for the unwary…or uninformed.
First of all, we once again see demonstrated how easy it is to get accused. The Defendants are alleged to be the type of people I have been warning about in this daily blog. In other words, someone who will bring allegations against someone that are unfounded and made solely for purposes of animosity. In this case, the allegations were made to the department of Social Services. The Neighbors were lucky in that the allegations were found relatively quickly to be unfounded. This is not always the case. Further, had the allegations been made to the police, they would have likely led to criminal prosecution. True, they still would have probably been found to be untrue, but, that finding would come after many months in a criminal justice nightmare that would be costly in money, time, stress and, now, a soiled criminal record. After all, when one is charged with a crime, it goes on one’s record. In Massachusetts, even a case that ends in dismissal, acquittal or wrongful conviction these cannot generally be expunged, or removed.
The next lesson is another example of how one might find themselves in the sights of law enforcement. What if the Defendants’ claims of innocence are true (as presumed, remember?). Defendant 0 absolutely has a motive to “cooperate” with law enforcement. So, if their defense is true, then we have another example of the prosecutorial finger of blame being pointed at an undeserving party as a result of the truth-bending skills of a defendant in trouble.
“Aw, come one, Sam”, you say. “They could not prosecute on just Defendant 0’s say-so, could they?”
The fourth lesson is upon us; the answer is, “You betcha!”. In order to make a “prima facie case”, in other words, a case that go to the jury, they sure could. Of course, one would hope that they would have investigated and come up with corroborating evidence, but that could be as simple as showing the fact that they are old high school chums. True, it might not be enough to get a conviction, but then, that would come after the many months of criminal justice hell as indicated above.
The fifth, and final lesson of the day, is in the unpresumed possibility of guilt. Some people might think that, if they are not the actual perpetrators of a crime, having engaged someone else to do the dirty work, they cannot be held responsible for the crime. As the old “Starkist Tuna” commercials used to say, “Sorry, Charlie”. Wrong. Engaging someone else to do the dirty work only means that you have engaged in a conspiracy, or joint venture, to commit the crime. Through that theory, you are guilty of all that nasty dirty work of which you believe your hands to be clean.
In a daily blog such as this, one can only scratch the surface of these issues. That is what I have done here. After all, I owe most of my daily time and attention to my actual clients. However, if you even suspect that you are at risk of suspicion, you should contact me, or someone like me, immediately. You need an experienced criminal defense attorney to advise and guide you through the risky waters of allegations. Should the allegations result in criminal charges, you need someone who is aware of these rough waters to best protect and defend you.
And remember…it is just as easy to be accused of a felony as it is a misdemeanor
Do not try to “play lawyer” yourself; I am engaged by too many people who have done so; I often meet with them behind bars after they have retired their practice and are now trying to undo damage already done.
Samuel Goldberg is the senior criminal defense attorney at the firm of Altman & Altman, P.C. A former prosecutor in New York, he has worked as a defense attorney in Boston over 18 years. He frequently provides legal analysis on radio and television, appearing on outlets such as the Fox News Channel, Court TV, MSNBC and The BBC Network
The full article of this story can be found at http://www.boston.com/news/local/breaking_news/2008/10/couple_accused_1.html