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FBI investigates reports of ‘vicious shakedown’ at Rickety Ranch

File photo Aftermath of a January fire that heavily damaged a barn and vehicles at Rickety Ranch in Hollis shows a pickup truck that was destroyed in the blaze. The FBI is offering a reward for information that leads to the arrest of the person or people responsible

HOLLIS – A Hollis family that owns Rickety Ranch farm on Nartoff Road has been the target of extortion letters, harassment and incidents of animal cruelty going back more than a year, so the FBI is offering a reward of up to $10,000 that results in the arrest of those responsible.

Kristen Setera, spokeswoman for the FBI’s Boston field office, said in a Tuesday statement that the family has received “multiple extortion letters” in which the sender “attempted to collect $250,000” from them.

In return, according to the FBI, the sender “offered to spare the family from harm.” The sender also claimed he or she has the capability to “settle the family’s ongoing disputes with the Town of Hollis.”

The FBI states the alleged victims own Rickety Ranch farm, a “working farm” at 103 Nartoff Road known as a rescue for farm animals that also hosted educational programs for children.

Gary and Diana Bergeron have operated the farm for a number of years. Diana Bergeron is currently listed as the owner of the property, described as 103A and 103B Nartoff Road.

Courtesy photo An entrance to Rickety Ranch, the Hollis farm whose owners have been the target of extortion attempts, harassment and other issues for nearly two years. The FBI is offering a reward for information leading to the person or people responsible.

The FBI didn’t elaborate on the nature of the animal cruelty allegations or give details about the harassment reportedly inflicted upon the family. Officials said the family sustained “thousands of dollars in damage” to their property, “including their vehicles and barn.”

The FBI stopped short of directly linking the farm’s Jan. 21 fire to the same perpetrators suspected of sending the extortion letters and of performing the other forms of harassment. That January blaze heavily damaged a barn measuring 20 feet by 40 feet. At the time, Hollis fire officials said the fire also damaged equipment inside the barn, along with a nearby pickup truck.

It is not known if investigators determined the cause of the fire, which drew firefighters from Brookline to assist Hollis crews at the scene.

As for the FBI’s allegation that the person or people who sent the extortion letters claimed they had the capability to “settle the family’s ongoing disputes with the Town of Hollis,” they may have been referring to last year’s disagreement between Gary Bergeron and the town regarding land use, and Bergeron’s objection to being cited for violating town ordinances, according to the minutes of the November 2017 selectmen’s meeting.

Two years earlier, Bergeron and his property were the topic of discussion during a selectmen’s meeting, this time regarding water runoff issues and allegations of an illegal driveway at 103 Nartoff Road.

A handful of Bergeron’s neighbors questioned the town about problems they’ve had with runoff and the condition of the water, some of which they said stemmed from the Rickety Ranch property, according to the June 22, 2015 meeting minutes.

In October 2014, Bergeron encountered trouble of a different sort when a “bounce house” he had set up to dry ahead of an upcoming fall-themed event was caught by a gust of wind and lifted into the air.

Two boys inside sustained injuries, with one’s being more serious than the other’s. This prompted an investigation by police and state officials, as well as those who oversee safety of carnival and amusement equipment.

While Bergeron wasn’t charged criminally for that incident, investigators several months later filed misdemeanor charges accusing him of failing to register with the state, failing to obtain an amusement ride decal and failing to have his equipment inspected.

Setera said the FBI will reward up to $10,000 “for information leading to the identification and arrest of the individual or individuals” behind the extortion attempts and harassment of the family.

“The vicious shakedown of this family, and the use of violence to intimidate them, will not be tolerated,” Harold H. Shaw, special agent in charge for the FBI Boston office, said Tuesday.

“We’re asking anyone with information about who is terrorizing (the family) to come forward and share that information with us, so we can put a stop to it and bring whomever is responsible to justice,” Shaw added.

Those with information should contact the FBI Boston office at 857-386-2000. Tips can also be submitted at tips.fbi.gov.

Dean Shalhoup can be reached at 594-1256, dshalhoup@nashuatelegraph.com, or @Telegraph_DeanS.