Haverhill deputy named Lawrence fire chief

The next fire chief for the city of Lawrence is coming from Haverhill.

Mayor Dan Rivera Monday announced he has appointed Haverhill Deputy Chief Brian Moriarty to the job.

Moriarty, 53, will take over from interim Chief John Marsh.

Moriarty has been offered a three-year contract. The Lawrence City Council will take up the appointment at a special meeting Thursday.

Moriarty is a Haverhill resident and has been a member of the Haverhill department since 1980.

His father, the late Fred Moriarty, was a longtime Haverhill firefighter and also a city councilor

–Keith Eddings

Griffin sent to prison in restaurant equipment scheme

William “Billy’’ Griffin has pleaded guilty to a regional scheme in which he took money from people for restaurant equipment that he never delivered.

Griffin was sentenced to two to six years in state prison last week in Salem Superior Court. That sentence will be followed by five years of probation ordered by Judge David Lowy.

The charges Griffin pleaded guilty to include include 25 counts of larceny over $250; perjury; misleading the grand jury, prosecutor and judge; money laundering; and conspiracy.

Assistant District Attorney Philip Mallard asked for four to six years in state prison, followed by 10 years of probation.

In his sentencing argument, Mallard said Griffin cheated people out of their money and then joked about it with his friends.

“His victims ranged from immigrants hopeful to start small businesses with their-hard earned savings, to successful restaurateurs, to a church in Maine that was robbed of over $10,000 that was supposed to fund a kitchen for their parish activities,’’ Mallard said.

“All the while, and despite not paying taxes for over a decade on any income and being subject to hundreds of thousands of dollars in civil judgments, this defendant reveled in his ill-gotten gains, posing for ‘selfies’ with bundles of stolen cash that he shared with his friends.’’

Griffin was represented at the hearing by Attorney Kirk Bransfield.

Griffin, 47, of 69 Columbia Park, Haverhill, is a restaurant supply business owner arrested Sept. 17 and charged with defrauding customers across New England out of tens of thousands of dollars. Since his arrest, he was held on $500,000 bail.

Police said Griffin was doing business as Rockingham Restaurant Equipment & Supplies, as well as Tristate Restaurant Equipment or Tristate Equipment Sales.

He was indicted by a grand jury late last year, which shifted his case from Haverhill District Court to Salem Superior Court.

Griffin was indicted Oct. 2 by an Essex County grand jury on charges he ran schemes across the northeast to take people’s money for restaurant equipment and then not deliver it or deliver inferior or broken equipment. He also took equipment on consignment, for which he never paid back the owners, police said.

According to documents pertaining to Griffin’s indictment, he was also accused of willfully misleading Bankruptcy Judge Henry Boroff and creditors about his gross income, assets, accounts receivable, inventory, business operations and employment, among other information he filed in his bankruptcy case, and also made false statements while under oath at a creditor’s meeting.

Police said Griffin defrauded dozens of people across New England — from as far north as Maine and Vermont to as far south as Rhode Island and New York. He was also indicted on a charge of perjury before the bankruptcy court and larceny of $11,000 from the United Baptist Church in Old Town, Maine.

Police said that in addition to stealing money from the church by accepting payment for restaurant equipment he never delivered, Griffin victimized immigrants in the Boston area who were trying to start a new life in America. Because of language barriers and a lack of familiarity with the legal system, his victims were susceptible to his schemes, police said.

A lengthy investigation revealed Griffin defrauded nine victims out of $140,000, including immigrants new to the country who hoped to launch food truck businesses as well as a pizza shop owner and other small business owners, police said.

In one case, an immigrant couple from Quincy told police they found an advertisement on Craigslist indicating Griffin renovated trucks to serve as food trucks. The couple told police that in the summer of 2013, they gave Griffin three separate checks totaling $7,675 to install kitchen equipment in a truck they had purchased and hoped to sell food out of.

The couple delivered the empty truck to Griffin’s business, Rockingham Restaurant Equipment & Supplies at 104 Hale St., then waited and waited for the work to be done, all the while facing a deadline for licenses and permits they needed to operate a food truck in Boston, police said. Those deadlines came and went and still Griffin failed to deliver on his promises, police said.

According to the Essex District Attorney’s Office, Griffin filed for bankruptcy in an attempt to discharge the money he stole as debts. He misrepresented his earnings to a bankruptcy court to minimize the amount of money he would be required to pay on those debts, police said.

Police said Griffin made promise after promise to customers he took money from for equipment such as kitchen stoves, range hoods and walk-in freezers.

Police said many of Griffin’s victims found him through an advertisement he posted on Craigslist. Police said his victims would typically make down payments on equipment by giving Griffin personal checks that he immediately cashed, while later failing to make good on his promises.

--Bill Cantwell

Satanic markings removed from church

The mark of the devil has been removed from the outside of a church on Portland Street, and its pastor is calling for his parishioners to pray for the woman accused of the crime.

“We’re so sorry for this person,’’ said Ferix Rodriguez, pastor of Inglesia Biblica Bautista, 26 Portland St. “We should pray for her.

“We feel good. It makes us feel better,’’ he said of the cleaning, which removed 15 “666’’ markings from the outside of the white building.

The local Servpro company planned last week to clean the markings off the church for free as a community service, but company officials discovered the markings were already gone, so they canceled the job.

“We offered to clean it for free,’’ said Servpro spokeswoman Mary Ellen Lawlor. “It’s the community thing to do.

“We do a lot of things in the community,’’ she said, pointing out that company owner David Hart of Haverhill believes in helping wherever he can. He recently received the Book of Golden Deeds award from the Exchange Club for such efforts.

Lawlor said Servpro representatives arranged with the pastor earlier to remove the markings.

“We had met with him and spoken with him,’’ she said. “But (last Thursday) morning, he told us, ‘We’ve already cleaned the church.’’’

Lawlor said the pastor was emotional when he first discussed the markings with Servepro.

“He had tears in his eyes,’’ she said.

Rodriguez said the cleaning was organized by other church leaders while he was away on a religious studies trip.

The markings appeared on the church the afternoon of Dec. 30. Amarellis Cermeno, 54, whom police said is homeless, was charged with defacing the church by using a permanent marker to write “666’’ multiple times on the exterior of the building. She was arrested after a neighbor of the church called police to say he saw her commit the crime.

Cermeno was also charged on Jan. 15 with defacing a Nativity scene outside Sacred Hearts Church on Christmas Day by removing a statue of the Baby Jesus and replacing it with the head of a dead pig.

She has been arraigned at Haverhill District Court on charges involving both church incidents and was found not to be mentally capable of assisting in her defense. She is being held for further psychological evaluation.

Sacred Hearts Pastor the Rev. John Delaney previously echoed the sentiments of Rodriguez, pastor of Inglesia Biblica Bautista.

“Now we pray for this woman,’’ Delaney said, “and support her in her healing.’’

----Bill Cantwell

Goats to eat poison ivy at neighborhood playground

Neighbors are complaining that the fence surrounding the Wood School playground park on Germain Avenue has become overrun with invasive plants, including poison ivy.

They want to city to get rid of the overgrowth, which will also open up a better view of the park.

City officials said they can’t use pesticides to kill the poison ivy, so they came up with another solution: Goats.

In the spring, the city plans to bring in goats provided by a local business. Officials said the animals will eat their way along the park’s perimeter, clearing it of invasive plants that reach a height of 8 feet or more.

“It’s a great park that you could go to and enjoy, but in recent years it’s become run down and overgrown,” said Bert LaCerte Jr., who lives across from the park. “There’s a utility pole that’s so overgrown that the street light never turns off, not even during the day.”

The Wood School playground, located behind the Wood School day care center run by the city, is used by children in the program as well as by neighbors and local youth baseball leagues. 

But neighbors said the park has been neglected while other parks in Haverhill get improvements, including Swasey Field, which continues to undergo a big makeover, and GAR Park, which was recently renovated.

“We have a park here in Bradford surrounded by young families with children and nobody wants to use it,’’ LaCerte said. “Parents are afraid of the poison ivy that is growing everywhere. The whole neighborhood is wondering why the park has been allowed to become run down.”

City Recreation Director Vincent Ouellette said that since October, the city has responded to several concerns from neighbors. He said workers removed some of the overgrowth and also took down dead tree limbs that posed a safety hazard.

“The Highway Department cleared out a lot of brush along the fence line, but it’s still not the best,” Ouellette said. “We met with a man to bring goats up there, which is a new way of controlling weeds and poison ivy. You can’t go in with pesticides as it’s public property and a school zone, so you’re limited as to what you can do. Goats seem to be the way to go. They love to eat poison ivy.”

Ouellette said the plan is to bring goats to the Wood School playground and have them live there for a weekend.

“They should eat it clean in two days. Then it’s a maintenance issue of keeping the growth in check,” Ouellette said. “And it’s pretty reasonable at $150 a day.

“We’ve never done it before, but we’ve looked at results from other communities and it seems like a viable alternative for the Wood School park and even a few other spots like Merrimack River Park on Route 110,’’ he said. “They’ll eat everything, but they love poison ivy.”

LaCerte wonders if the goats will have to be brought back repeatedly. He also wants the city to do much more and hopes that funding can be found to make improvements to the park.

“Other than a swing set, there’s absolutely nothing here,” said LaCerte, 65, who grew up in the Germain Avenue home he lives in.

He said children, including those who attend the Wood School program, have so little to do in the playground that they gathered sticks and built what looks like a tipi to entertain themselves.

“We used to have so much here when I was a kid, including a swimming pool and a mammoth swing set with eight seats as well as a see-saw,” LaCerte said. “The park used to be a hub of excitement and now it’s just broken down basketball courts, the remains of an old tennis court and seats behind the backstop that are turning sideways.”

Ouellette said the city installed a new clay infield last fall and that it will be treated with a safe material that inhibits the growth of grass.

“The diamond gets use by Riverside Bradford Baseball, but it doesn’t get the use it did in the past,” Ouellette said. “There used to be 2,500 kids playing organized baseball in the city, but now it’s down to about 1,000 kids.”

Ouellette said the park’s broken gate will be removed because it’s not needed and that the basketball court will get some attention.

Wayne Perry, 53, grew up in the neighborhood and now lives on South New Street, close to the park.

“When I was growing up here, we had swing sets, monkey bars, a merry-go-round and a tennis court that’s now gone,” Perry said. “When I want to shoot hoops with my two young sons, we have to drive to another park. I’m afraid we’ll get hurt as the court here is in such bad shape.”

Perry said that during the last city election, candidates for City Council came knocking on his door and promised to find money to renovate the park.

“Now that they’re in office, it’s fallen on deaf ears,” Perry said. “We pay our taxes, too. Why can’t we get some of the love over here in Bradford?”

Ouellette said the Wood School park’s backboards and hoops are fine, but that repairs needed to other parts of the basketball court will happen this year.

“We want to fill in the cracks of the playing surface,” Ouellette said. 

LaCerte and Perry both wonder why the city can’t obtain a state grant like it did for GAR Park, which recently underwent an overhaul that included the installation of a set of playground equipment for children. LaCert said he can’t understand why the city would improve a park in an area where few children live, while the Wood School park is surrounded by young families with children.

Ouellette said the type of grant that paid for improvements to GAR Park targets neighborhoods that are lacking in recreational opportunities.

“For the Wood School park, it’s a matter of continuing the things we started and not do a complete overhaul,” Ouellette said.

----Mike LaBella

Schools hire counselor to fight drugs

She’s the new face of the School Department’s fight against drug abuse and addiction.

Laura Mayer, a licensed independent clinical social worker, has been hired as Haverhill’s first-ever school drug counselor, Superintendent James Scully said.

The School Committee approved the position last month and directed the superintendent to fill it as soon as possible, in response to the city’s worsening heroin crisis.

Local police have reported more than 200 people overdosed on heroin in Haverhill in 2014, including 25 deaths. Another three people have died from suspected heroin overdoses in the first three weeks of 2015, they report.

Mayer will work out of the high school and begin immediately on a part-time basis, Scully said. She will work 19 hours a week and be paid $30 per hour, the superintendent said.

School officials hope to retain Mayer on a full-time basis next school year, Scully said.

“We know there’s more than enough volume in terms of kids to help,” the superintendent said. “The trick is having kids who need help come forward. But we think she (Mayer) is going to excel in that area. She’s very personable and approachable.”

The district will also rely on Mayer to train teachers and other staff in drug abuse awareness and intervention, Scully said.

Mayer has a wide variety of experience gained from more than a decade in the fields of social work, mental health and addiction.

Mayer’s career began in the Essex District Attorney’s Office working first in the sex crimes unit and then in a program designed to support nonviolent youthful offenders, according to her resume.

She also has clinical experience in child, adolescent and adult psychiatry, as well as dual diagnosis treatment, child protection, and detox and addiction, her resume said.

“Throughout her practice in the Haverhill area, Laura has seen both the level of need and true resiliency of this community,” Scully said.

Mayer, who grew up in Peabody, has worked with many local agencies that support youth, including Lahey Health Behavioral Services in Haverhill; Amesbury Psychological Center; and the Department of Children and Families in Salem. She did her clinical internship in inpatient child psychiatry at Children’s Hospital in Boston, according to her resume.

“She will draw on those connections to help our community heal from substance abuse,” Scully said. “She is a team player who will utilize the support both in and outside of the school community to stabilize those in need. Laura will advocate for the students and their families and assist them as they navigate through levels of care, to identify and begin treatment. And she will be there to support them throughout the process of recovery.”

Scully said Mayer appears to be a perfect fit for what the School Committee was looking for in the district’s first drug counselor.

“She’s extremely impressive,” said School Committee member Scott Wood, who led the push for the drug counselor position. “We’re incredibly lucky to get someone with this much talent and experience to come on part-time in the middle of the school year.”

Wood, who met Mayer for the first time at Thursday’s School Committee meeting, said he was impressed by her personality and resume.

“Parents and students are going to find her likeable, trustworthy and approachable,” Wood said. “She’s going to be a big asset at the high school and also for our middle school kids.”

Last month, school officials including members of the School Committee announced their intention to start devoting more attention and resources to substance abuse issues. Other initiatives include expanding the health curriculum, hiring health education teachers and organizing drug education forums for students at Haverhill’s four middle schools.

Scully said plans are in the works to hold an in-school forum at each middle school in the next month or so. He said Athletic Director Tom O’Brien, who’s in charge of health education services, and Katharine Vozeolas, supervisor of nurses and school health services, are finalizing plans for the forums, which are to include at least one guest speaker.

Wood said he has found a highly qualified speaker who has worked for various state agencies who is willing to speak to students at each middle school at a significant discount to what he normally charges. Wood said he is looking to raise the $2,000 fee from private donors. Any resident or business owner interested in helping should to contact the School Department, Wood said.

Some of them bring a little open space to downtown areas, while others, like the kind being proposed for Haverhill’s downtown, can serve as outdoor dining spots.

----Shawn Regan 

City looks to develop more outside dining

As Haverhill continues to develop its downtown “restaurant row,’’ Mayor James Fiorentini is looking at outdoor dining parklets used in other communities as a way to give restaurant owners more visibility and additional seating options.

“Parklets are mobile outdoor dining structures that can be installed and (then) removed during the off season,” Fiorentini said.

David Van Dam, the mayor’s chief of staff, said representatives of several downtown restaurants attended a meeting on the issue earlier this month. Attendees included representatives from The Tap, Wang’s Table and the Barking Dog Ale House restaurants.

Van Dam said these types of modular and movable “bump outs” can be set up during good weather and then stored during the winter.

A few years ago, as part of a street-scaping project in the downtown, the state installed permanent bumpouts in front of several restaurants, including Keon’s 105 Bistro and the former George’s Restaurant, which is now the Barking Dog Ale House.

Alan Boisvert, owner of Keon’s, said the bumpout in front of his restaurant has been getting use by customers during good weather. 

“We saw an uptick in business last summer with the outside dining,” Boisvert said.

Van Dam said restaurants would pay between $12,000 and $15,000 for a parklet, and that the city would install them each spring, remove them each fall and store them for the winter. Each would take up between two and three on-street parking spaces.

To make up for the loss of parking spaces, the city is proposing valet parking that would be handled by participating restaurants. Vehicles would be parked in municipal lots in the downtown.

Sharon Cohen, manager of The Tap restaurant, said The Tap already has a bumpout for outdoor dining, although the four tables and chairs that are set up from the spring through fall are mostly used by people who enjoy sitting on the sidewalk socializing and having drinks rather than a meal.

“I don’t think we’d want to give up parking spaces for these parklets,” said Cohen, who is more interested in the possibility of valet parking. 

But she said it could be complicated because parking in municipal lots, such as behind The Tap, doesn’t require a driver to display a receipt on their dashboards, while drivers who park on the street do. She also wonders how valet parking would be coordinated between downtown restaurants and how far customers would have to walk.

“The mayor is trying to help boost revenue, so I give him credit for that,” Cohen said.

----Mike LaBella

Local performer sings against drugs

Logan Godfrey is not your typical hip-hop artist.

The 2005 Haverhill High School graduate is against to the more common hip-hop values of illicit drugs, money and degrading woman.

Godfrey, 28, who goes by the stage-name Lucky, said he’s been rapping against substance abuse, suicidal tendencies and other self-injurious behaviors since he uploaded his first song onto the Internet a little more than three years ago.

“I’ve seen how young, easily influenced, and impressionable my fans can be,” said Godfrey, who has 30,000 subscribers to his YouTube channel and whose five rap videos and 76 songs have received around 2 million views.

“I want to inspire my fans to improve their lives and stay away from drugs and violence and improve their lives,” he said.

Godfrey’s latest music video “Rap Titan” — about the heroin epidemic that has exploded in the country and region and hit Haverhill especially hard -— is his most popular yet.

“Given the current opiate epidemic, the stars aligned for me,” Godfrey said. “I felt like this was a great time to positively influence my fan base since I now have everyone’s attention. My movement is something way bigger than just me. I’m not in this for the money, I’m in it to make a difference.”

Godfrey and his friend Jonathan Harvey of Methuen, also 28, are the main actors in the “Rap Titan” video. Godfrey said they spent eight days filming the video, using 21 locations, four actors, eight wardrobes and numerous props to drive home their anti-drug message.

“In the video, I was able to display the dangers of the epidemic — withdrawal, violence, crime, and ultimately hitting rock bottom and reaching out to God,” said Godfrey, who calls himself an “evangelist rapper.”

In the video, the main character goes to purchase drugs, but a man in dark clothes stops him. The main character then goes to rob a store, but the man in dark clothes stops him again. He then runs away from the mysterious man and arrives at a church where he undergoes an emotional breakdown. He sees the man in dark clothes leaving one of the church pews and is fearful of what he may do. The man in black flips the troubled addict a penny to wish him luck, accompanied by his newly found faith to overcome his addiction.

The video is interspersed with religious scenes and includes graffiti depictions of pop culture iconic pacifists such as John Lennon, Bob Marley and Jimi Hendrix.

“Rap Titan” has reached roughly 280,000 YouTube audio and video views and received 6,000 “likes” and 3,000 comments since it was posted on YouTube almost two weeks ago, Godfrey said. The accompanying description of the video includes a hotline phone number for anyone with a drug problem or who wants to get help for someone they know with a problem.

“I am a strong advocate of Jesus Christ,” Godfrey said. “Music has allowed me to preach his good word, but also strengthen my relationship with him. I intend to help educate and keep people aware of the dangers of the drugs. Someone needs to take a stand on this horrible epidemic now. My cause is necessary and I’m passionate about what I do.”

Godfrey credits his fans for any success he has had.

“I’m not important,” he said. “What’s important is my message and my fans. I love my fans. They changed my life and I want to change theirs for the better. I’ve succeeded and I want them to succeed.”

Godfrey said he got in to music to make traditional CD’s, but eventually realized he could make a difference in people’s lives.

“Instead go going to see a counselor, kids were coming to see me,” he said. “Obviously I’m not a professional counselor. What I am is someone who can make a difference through my music by spreading a positive message that kids can relate to. The opportunity to do what I do best really presented itself with this heroin epidemic.”

Godfrey and Harvey said they have seen kids they went to school with die from heroin overdoses.

According to Haverhill police, 200 people overdosed on heroin in 2014, including 25 deaths. Three more people have died in the city from suspected heroin overdoses in the first three weeks this year, police said.

----Shawn Regan

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