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Sunday, July 11, 2010

Ayotte’s released e-mails reveal nothing about FRM

CONCORD – Anyone digging into the 6,000 newly released e-mails of former state Attorney General Kelly Ayotte looking for that smoking gun linking her to the Financial Resources Mortgage scandal would come away with nothing but a case of computer screen blindness.

But this latest document dump does reveal a flood of offers to help and a few brickbats that greeted this Nashua prosecutor in the hours and days right after as she shook the political establishment on July 7, 2009, with her decision to explore the Senate seat to replace senior Sen. Judd Gregg.

Only four months earlier than that, these same electronic messages show Ayotte pulling at the political heartstrings of law enforcement in her successful campaign to get Gov. John Lynch to nominate her for another four years as the state’s top law enforcement officer.

Ayotte authored a July 7 e-mail at 1:41 p.m. that she was leaving to ultimately take this first-time flier on elective politics.

Unofficially, it has been said that Lynch had a few days’ heads-up. Ayotte didn’t send her resignation letter to Lynch’s office until 10:40 p.m. the day before.

There are signs Ayotte may have made up her mind some days earlier than this and confided to her own inner circle, however.

This group could’ve included Manchester Police Lt. Nick Willard, a frequent e-mail writer to Ayotte who offered this on June 29, eight days before the announcement:

“I am proud of you, Kelly, for many reasons. Know that I am a true friend and will support you with absolute loyalty in whatever you endeavor.”

Ayotte’s campaign recently began a response ad with law enforcement leaders striking back at Senate Democratic candidate Paul Hodes, who starkly challenged Ayotte’s ethics. The ad closes with Willard and other officers walking down the street with Ayotte.

At any rate, within minutes of Ayotte’s departure becoming official, a steady support stream began to flow.

Dover Police Chief Anthony Colarusso told Ayotte he was at a meeting of Seacoast area law enforcement when the news broke.

“The silence was deafening at the meeting today,’’ Colarusso reported. “I think it was a great tribute to you. I do not get involved in politics, but I will absolutely make an exception for you.’’

Associate Health and Human Services Commissioner Nancy Rollins chimed in with, “You have my vote.’’

Fish and Game Commission Executive Director Glenn Normandeau added, “Best of luck in your new adventure; you have my vote.’’

State Treasurer Catherine Provencher, of Merrimack, was also full of praise.

“I was so surprised when I heard of your decision this afternoon,’’ Provencher wrote. “You are an outstanding AG, and you will be a loss to state government. Having said that, I very much admire your courage in embarking on the journey of serving our state as U.S. senator.’’

Peter Grube, a production manager at PC Connection who lives in Dover, was one of several Democrats to chime in.

“You’ll be the first Republican I ever voted for,’’ Grube said.

Ayotte quickly wrote back, “Thanks Pete!! For you to vote for a Republican that says something, plus, you have all the real dirt on me.’’

Scott Slattery thanked Ayotte for offering counsel about an unidentified family concern.

“Also this screaming liberal Democrat will be voting for you should you choose to run. I am serious,’’ Slattery urged. “You probably wouldn’t meet a more liberal Democrat than I but I believe in you.’’

A family friend, Kristen Dion-Baker, of McNulty & Foley Caterers in Nashua, thanked Ayotte for letting a son do a school essay on her.

“Austin got a 99 percent on his report on you,” Dion-Baker wrote. “I am glad I am an independent so I will be voting for you.”

At times, the AG’s office had rocky negotiations during Ayotte’s days with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Manchester over auditing its compliance monitoring over priests charged or suspected of sexual abuse.

Back then, the Rev. Edward Arsenault was New Hampshire Diocesan chancellor, but on this July 2009 day, he was head of St. Luke’s Institute in Washington, D.C., and offered encouraging words to Ayotte and her husband, Joe Daley.

“You’ll be great in D.C.,” Arsenault wrote. “I’ll be there waiting for you and Joe.”

None were probably more personal than the e-mail from her father, Marc Frederick Ayotte.

“Well, Kelly, at least no one can say you lead a dull life,’’ he wrote. “Congrats. We’re all rooting for you. You are good enough to do this. Just believe yourself and keep your cool. Love, Dad.’’

The well-wishing volume was large enough for Ayotte to put together a form e-mail response she sent back that she personalized for closer friends.

It read: “Thank you for your e-mail; it was a privilege to work with you. It was a difficult decision to leave the AG’s office but I am looking forward to a new, important challenge. I appreciate your offer of support. All the best, Kelly.’’

Ayotte had her detractors that day, the most venomous from Ralph Holder, a Newton man who for more than 20 years has filed complaints and counter-suits against judges and law enforcement over his divorce and child custody cases.

“If you are honestly thinking about a political career, I suggest you pass on it,’’ Holder wrote. “I will use every bit of information I have on you to let the citizens of this state know how badly you failed them and me on your legal and constitutional responsibility as AG.

“You are a disgrace to the state of New Hampshire. Put your hat in the ring for anything but dog catcher and I will actively campaign for your opponent and expose the truth of your incompetence.’’

Mimi Kasper, a self-identified conservative Republican, said she was infuriated that only a few months earlier she and Lynch encouraged communities to apply for federal stimulus money and that Ayotte agreed to have her deputy, Bud Fitch, serve as the first state director of the stimulus office.

“You really are a typical Democrat. You need to declare yourself as such,’’ Kasper chastised Ayotte. “There is nothing that you offer the Republican Party in New Hampshire.’’

The e-mails also show the intensity with which only 120 days prior, the Republican Ayotte wanted that full four-year term she got from Democrat Lynch.

On Feb. 13, 2009, she asked retired Hudson Police Chief Richard Gendron to help lobby at a chiefs meeting she knew Lynch would attend.

“If you feel comfortable with it, my appointment is up in March and if you see the governor, if you could put in a word of support for me, I appreciate it,” Ayotte wrote.

After Lynch nominated her, Ayotte reached out to Steve Griffin, Issacson Steel executive in Berlin, for help in getting the backing of Bath Republican Councilor Raymond Burton.

“Would you be willing to call Councilor Burton to express your support for my confirmation? If not, I completely understand,’’ she wrote.

Within an hour, Griffin e-mailed back, “I will absolutely give him a call and tell him there is no one better to be the top law enforcement officer in the state.’’

Ayotte thought the toughest vote would come from Nashua Democratic Councilor Debora Pignatelli, as she confided to retired Hollis Police Chief Dick Darling on March 19, 2009.

Whether ironic twist or not, Pignatelli’s husband, Mike, worked side by side with Hodes as state prosecutors in the AG’s office during the 1970s.

Ayotte admitted, “I am actually most worried about Deb’s vote.’’

Darling assured Ayotte he could help.

“Deb and I go back a long ways to when she was in the Senate and I worked for her in Hollis (surreptitiously, of course),’’ Darling wrote. “I would never tell her this but she owes me. Actually, I don’t have to tell her because she knows she owes me.’’

A week later, Pignatelli would sharply question Ayotte at the public hearing about Ayotte’s legal brief supporting the Boy Scout ban on homosexuals and her defense of the state’s parental notification law before a minor girl could get an abortion.

The media and Ayotte’s political adversaries have lodged many Right to Know requests with the AG’s office to get documents about her five-year tenure. The latest releases include backup tapes of e-mails in the final three months of being on the job whose originals had been deleted, but some turned over Friday went as far back as 2007.

None of them contain a single reference to either FRM founder Scott Farah or FRM, the Meredith-based firm that federal officials charge could have defrauded investors out of as much as $80 million during a nine-year period.

There were five consumers and one FRM employee who brought complaints to Ayotte’s office, but all of them were immediately referred to Banking Commissioner Peter Hildreth.

Ayotte said she never saw or heard about the matter, and Richard Head, who led the consumer affairs division during the entire time of the controversy, corroborated that to a legislative investigative committee last month.

In her own testimony, Ayotte urged lawmakers to restore powers to the AG to investigate banking and security matters the Legislature took away in 2002.

The Hodes campaign has accused Ayotte of orchestrating the deletion of her e-mails with a generic legal opinion rendering old e-mails as not public under the Right to Know Law.

Current AG Michael Delaney released those backup tapes Friday, but the Hodes team speculates aloud what will never be disclosed.

“With today’s announcement, we now know that the vast majority of e-mails from Kelly Ayotte’s time as attorney general have been permanently deleted, and that lingering questions about her tenure remain unanswered,’’ Hodes communications director Mark Bergman said. “How many of the backup tapes containing Ayotte’s deleted e-mails were erased because of the policy she put in place?”

Kevin Landrigan can be reached at 321-7040 or klandrigan@nashuatelegraph.com.