Storm causes power failures, brings tornado warning

A severe thunderstorm sweeping across the Merrimack Valley and Southern New Hampshire last week caused power failures for thousands of Haverhill homes and brought a tornado warning for the area.

During the storm on Wednesday afternoon of last week, the National Weather Service issued the tornado warning.

Just after the tornado warning ended at 3:15 p.m., National Grid reported widespread power failures in Haverhill and Methuen, leaving thousands of customers without power.

They included more than 4,000 customers in Haverhill's Groveland Street and East Broadway area, Salem Street and Old Groveland Road area, and Northern Essex Community College area. Power was restored to those areas by late afternoon.

In Methuen's Timony Grammar School area, 1,237 customers lost power for part of the afternoon. In the the Ward Hill section of Haverhill, 3,521 customers were without power.

Across the area, heavy winds knocking trees onto roads, causing traffic delays.

In Methuen, a tree fell at East and Lawrence streets, causing a traffic snarl. A crew was sent to the area to remove the tree, police said. Methuen police urged drivers across the city to use caution as the storm continued.

In Pelham, trees fell on Bush Hill Road, causing traffic into a single lane. The Concert on the Green scheduled for Wednesday night was also canceled in Plaistow.

The traffic lights at Prospect Street and Swan Street in Methuen were not functioning during part of he afternoon, according to police. Crews eventually rectified the problem, police said.

— Madeline Hughes

 

Nonprofit founder with Haverhill ties receives $25K from Patriots

On the afternoon of Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018, Jillian Tsiplakis was on a plane to California.

The founder and director of the Lawrence-based Stepping Stones Family Services nonprofit, which provides support to lower-income mothers in need, Tsiplakis thought she was going to spend the next few days going through entrepreneurial training to learn skills she could pass on to her clients in the Merrimack Valley.

Instead, she landed on the West Coast and immediately jumped into action helping the victims of the Merrimack Valley gas explosions back home.

"When I got off the plane I had 30 missed calls from moms in need who had been displaced," said Tsiplakis of Salisbury. "I didn't even know the gas crisis had happened yet."

Trying to maintain support for the nonprofit financially amid the rapid growth prompted by the gas disaster has been a constant challenge for Tsiplakis, but for at least the next year money won't be an issue. Last week, Tsiplakis was honored by the New England Patriots Foundation as the 2019 Myra Kraft Community MVP grand prize winner and awarded a $25,000 grant for her nonprofit.

"That's almost our entire operating budget for the year," said Tsiplakis, an Army veteran who graduated from Newburyport High School in 2006. "To not have to write any (applications for) grants for the rest of the year is going to allow me to focus on so much more with programming, so I'm so excited."

At the time of the gas disaster, Stepping Stones had only recently moved into its office space full-time and was assisting approximately two dozen families. Within months, Tsiplakis and her team of volunteers were helping more than 300 families displaced by the gas disaster.

Tsiplakis was one of 26 people from across New England honored at the Myra Kraft Community MVP Awards at Gillette Stadium on Tuesday of last week.

Each of the award winners was recognized for volunteer efforts at a New England nonprofit and each organization received a donation of at least $10,000 courtesy of their honoree.

In addition to Tsiplakis, Georgetown's Scott Paganelli (Family Services of the Merrimack Valley, Lawrence), Haverhill's Noelle Gregoire (Laps 4 Backs, Haverhill) and Cambridge's James Flatley (One Summit, North Andover) were also honored as Myra Kraft Community MVPs.

Tsiplakis founded Stepping Stones back in 2016 after spending time teaching at the Haverhill Alternative School. The nonprofit was inspired by the experience of a former student, a 17-year-old mother who found herself homeless while trying to support her 1-year-old daughter.

"She was a great mom but she didn't know how to get services that she was entitled to," Tsiplakis said. "When you're 17 you don't know how to get your Social Security number and birth certificate, and these were things that she needed not just for herself to get services, but for her daughter. And she didn't know how to navigate any of that."

In addition to helping connect lower-income mothers with the programs and services they're entitled to, Stepping Stones also provides free diapers, wipes and childcare items while offering groups and classes. The nonprofit is in the process of relocating to a new, bigger office in Lawrence, and with the new funding in hand, Tsiplakis is eager to expand the organization's programming.

— Mac Cerullo

 

Ex-state police union president, lobbyist face charges

The former president of the State Police Association of Massachusetts and the union’s former Massachusetts lobbyist face criminal charges after they defrauded union members and the state, according to federal authorities.

Dana Pullman, 57, of Worcester and Anne Lynch, 68, of Hull have been charged with wire fraud, honest services wire fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and obstruction of justice.

Both Pullman and Lynch appeared in federal court in Boston on the charges on Wednesday of last week. They were both released on $25,000 unsecured bonds and issued travel restrictions while the criminal case is pending.

The State Police Association of Massachusetts is an association consisting of more than 1,500 troopers and sergeants from the Massachusetts State Police. The association acted as the exclusive bargaining agent between its members and the state regarding the terms and conditions of union members’ employment, according to a statement released by the federal Department of Justice.

Pullman, who was a state trooper from 1987 to at least 2018, was union president from 2012 until his resignation on Sept. 28, 2018. Lynch’s lobbying firm represented the state police union during the same period, in exchange for monthly retainer payments.

From at least 2012 until Pullman resigned, Pullman, Lynch and others were involved in a conspiracy to defraud union members and "the Commonwealth of Massachusetts of their right to honest services from Pullman through fraud and deceit," according to a statement released last week by the Department of Justice.

"This included illegal bribes and kickbacks that Pullman received from Lynch and her firm. Pullman, Lynch and others were also allegedly involved in a scheme to defraud two different companies that sought to do business with the Commonwealth," the statement reads.

The state police union paid a $7,000-per-month lobbying fee from 2008 to 2018 and another $2,500 per month to the firm starting in 2016 for public relations work, according to the criminal complaint.

Pullman is also charged with wire fraud in connection with his alleged embezzlement and misuse of union funds for personal use by submitting expense reimbursement checks to the union without receipts, circumventing and bypassing the union's executive board, and using a debit card tied to a union bank account, according to the statement.

He encouraged members of the union's executive board to falsify and submit expense reports "in order to cover other uncompensated expenses including political contributions they were expected to make," according to the criminal complaint.

Pullman used the union debit card "to pay for thousands of dollars of meals, flowers, travel, and gifts for an individual with whom Pullman was having a romantic relationship," according to the statement.

The criminal complaint indicates Pullman used the union debit card to buy $9,300 in flowers and gifts baskets for family and friends, and $4,400 in flowers and gifts for a person he was having a romantic relationship with.

He also used the union debit card to pay for a $468 lunch in New York, which included $150 in caviar, other meals, airline flights and $2,113 to the Palms Hotel in Miami, for a personal gateway with his romantic partner "that Pullman falsely claimed" was related to a national trooper's meeting, according to the criminal complaint.

Pullman is also accused of leasing a 2017 Chevrolet Suburban valued at $75,760 and using two checks from the union's account totaling $21,371 as a down payment, according to federal records.

Pullman denies the charges, his lawyer said.

The arrests aren't related to the overtime abuse scheme that has shaken the State Police. Pullman has been a vocal defender of the dozens of current and former troopers charged in that case.

He resigned from his union post and the state police last September, citing personal reasons.

The charges of fraud and conspiracy each call for a sentence of up to 20 years in prison, three years of supervised release and a fine of $250,000 or twice the gross gain or loss, whichever is greater. The charge of obstruction of justice calls for a sentence of up to 10 years in prison, three years of supervised release and a $250,000 fine.

The current leader of the state police, Col. Kerry Gilpin, issued a statement last week saying she "and her command staff demand and expect that department members follow the law and department policy in all aspects of their professional and personal lives, including union activities."

"The conduct as alleged in the criminal complaint represents serious offenses and violates the ideals and values of the Massachusetts State Police,'' Gilpin said. "The department has cooperated and will continue to cooperate with the United States Attorney’s Office and continues to fulfill its mission through the countless troopers who protect our state with dedication, courage, and integrity every day.''

— Jill Harmacinski

 

Moulton ends run for president

Congressman Seth Moulton has abandoned his long-shot presidential campaign.

The Salem, Massachusetts, Democrat will made the announcement on Friday afternoon of last week in a speech before the Democratic National Committee in San Francisco.

The 40-year-old former Marine announced his centrist campaign in the spring but never gained traction. He failed to crack the 1% level in any polls of the crowded Democratic field and did not qualify for either of the first two Democratic debates.

Moulton has said he will run for reelection in the 6th Congressional District. Unlike past years, however, he faces a primary challenge. Lisa Peterson, a Salem city councilor, and Jamie Zahlaway Belsito of Topsfield have both announced they are seeking the Democratic nomination.

In his speech last week, Moulton said, "Though this campaign is not ending the way we hoped, I am leaving this race knowing that we raised issues that are vitally important to the American people and our future."

Moulton focused on mental health treatment after revealing his own struggles on that front as a combat veteran. He joined Washington Gov. Jay Inslee in exiting the presidential race last week.

— Staff and wire reports

 

Ex-TSA screener accused of using pot, alcohol to lure girls

A now-former security screener for the Transportation Security Administration at Logan Airport was ordered held without bail last week on charges that he provided alcohol, marijuana and Juul vaping pods to two teenage girls in exchange for sexual acts.

Corey Chambers, 25, of 34 Hideaway Lane, Methuen, has pleaded not guilty to the charges, which stem from incidents last spring involving two girls, ages 14 and 15, in Peabody and Haverhill.

Chambers was arrested recently at Logan Airport, where court records show he had worked as a TSA screener for a little more than a year — despite having been charged with sending a bomb threat to a local high school when he was a teenager. His attorney said he was fired as a result of his arrest last weekend.

“TSA holds its employees to the highest professional and ethical standards and has zero tolerance for illegal and immoral conduct,” TSA spokeswoman Lauren Sundquist said. “The individual no longer works for TSA.”

Prosecutors sought to keep Chambers in custody at a court hearing on Friday of last week.

“No conditions of release will adequately assure the safety of these girls, or, frankly, any girl,” prosecutor Heidi Sylvanowicz said during the hearing in Peabody District Court. “The only way to keep every girl in this commonwealth safe is to keep him in custody.”

Judge Carol-Ann Fraser granted the request for pretrial detention without bail, finding that Chambers poses “a serious danger” if released. Chambers will remain held without bail at Middleton Jail pending trial. Police in Haverhill and Peabody began investigating the allegations at the end of June, after the mother of one of the girls found alcohol in her bedroom.

The girls, in separate interviews with police detectives in Haverhill and Peabody, described how they contacted Chambers via Snapchat when they wanted alcohol, marijuana, or for one of the girls, Juul pods for her vaping device. Starting around the time of the April school vacation, the girls would slip out of their homes late at night to meet Chambers, including behind a school in Peabody and at a field in Haverhill.

Chambers would ask the girls for an escalating series of sexual acts, starting with letting him touch their breasts and buttocks over clothing to touching inside their clothing, and asking them to show him parts of their bodies and send him photos.

Sylvanowicz told the judge that when one girl failed to follow through with a photo he’d asked her to send, he called the other girl and instructed her to remind her friend of their agreement. Sylvanowicz also said that when police went to the Methuen home where Chambers lives with his parents and four of his siblings, his father and brother “chuckled” when the detectives asked them if Chambers has any girlfriend. “He has lots of girls, like friends with benefits,” police quoted the men as saying.

Sara Attarchi, Chambers’ attorney, urged the judge to release him, saying Chambers suffered from a mild form of cerebral palsy and cognitive issues, including learning and language perception disabilities.

Despite his limitations, “he’s built a professional career for himself in the security field, Attarchi told the judge.

Alluding to his history, including the bomb hoax case, Attarchi said “that’s conduct he hasn’t exhibited in years. He’s become a completely different person,” as Chambers nodded vigorously. “He’s been able to control himself.”

She offered to have him wear a GPS bracelet and be supervised by his parents under house arrest if the judge released him.

“We intend to fight these charges in court,” Attarchi said after the hearing. “The allegations are completely out of character for him.”

Chambers’ older brother, Army Staff Sgt. Christopher Chambers, submitted a letter of support for his brother, on official Army letterhead, also calling the allegations “very inconsistent of his moral character.”

“Corey has an unrivaled passion to serve and protect the United States of America,” his brother wrote. Chambers was first arraigned on the charges, which include one count of child rape, and multiple counts of indecent assault and battery, child enticement, trafficking of persons for sexual servitude, and contributing to the delinquency of a minor, on Monday.

In what she acknowledged last Friday as “an error,” Fraser had ordered both of the case files and a recording of the proceeding impounded in their entirety, after a prosecutor had initially requested that police reports containing the names of the two girls be sealed.

The district attorney’s office withdrew their request for impoundment on Friday after providing redacted copies of the police reports to the court.

Fraser, over the objections of Attarchi, also unsealed a series of reports related to Chambers’ prior offenses, including matters that occurred when he was a juvenile.

Among those was the bomb hoax case in January 2009, when Chambers, then 15, used a computer at Tufts University to send a bomb threat to the headmaster of Medford High School, where he was a student at the time. The case was later continued without a finding for nine months and then dismissed after he performed community service.

Chambers also had a history of exposing himself, once to a passing MBTA commuter rail train and the other time, in a Tufts library. More recently, in 2011, he was arrested on a domestic abuse charge after police say he elbowed a girlfriend in the face in front of witnesses; that case was later dismissed. A probable cause hearing was scheduled for Sept. 10, but because child rape is outside the jurisdiction of the district court, the case is likely to be presented to a grand jury for indictment.

— Julie Manganis

 

 

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