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Corinth woman sentenced for crash that killed daughter

BALLSTON SPA — The Corinth woman who killed her 18-month-old daughter and seriously injured a woman in a drug-related car crash last winter was chastised Thursday for an apparent lack of remorse as a judge sentenced her to up to 12 years in state prison.

Alison J. Pecor, 21, wept on and off through the proceeding, but had nothing to say after Saratoga County Judge James Murphy and a prosecutor called her out for minimizing her actions in connection with the crash last February in Hadley.

Pecor crossed into the oncoming lane on Route 9N, causing a head-on crash that killed her daughter, Gracelynn Madison, and seriously injured 55-year-old Hadley resident Denise Scofield. Pecor was driving under the influence of prescription drugs Valium and Xanax and had not put her daughter in a properly installed child safety seat.

Pecor pleaded guilty in July to felony counts of vehicular manslaughter and vehicular assault, agreeing to serve a 4- to 12-year prison term.

Saratoga County Assistant District Attorney Kathleen DeMartino questioned comments Pecor made to a probation officer who was compiling a pre-sentence report, in which she questioned whether she fell asleep at the wheel, and gave a differing account of her actions than earlier.

“Most remarkably, the defendant said that it could have happened to anyone,” she said.

Murphy also heard from a fellow judge, Supreme Court Justice Robert Muller, who gave a victim’s impact statement as a private citizen on behalf of Scofield, his sister-in-law.

Muller said Scofield has endured months of surgeries, hospitalization and rehabilitation, and now lives in an apartment that offers assisted living because of her injuries.

“What happened on that Super Bowl Sunday for Denise will never end,” Muller said. “This is just an enormous tragedy.”

He called the sentence “fair” in light of the fact that it will not “undo the harm” that has occurred.

Murphy pointed out that Pecor had a history of drug abuse, including a heroin overdose and two attempts at rehabilitation, and should have known the possible implications of drug use.

“There are two families here that are forever changed by your conduct,” he said.

Neither Pecor nor her lawyer, Saratoga County Assistant Public Defender Matthew Maiello, had any comment during the proceeding.

Pecor will have to serve at least 4 years in prison before becoming eligible for parole.

Norton pleads guilty to murder for wife's death

BALLSTON SPA — The Hadley man who police said killed his wife with a hatchet in the couple’s home last spring pleaded guilty Thursday to a murder charge.

Michael C. Norton admitted killing Sherry Norton last May 3 in the Third Avenue home they shared, pleading guilty to second-degree murder and agreeing to serve a 20-years-to-life state prison term.

He did not make specific admissions in court Thursday as to how he killed Norton, according to Post-Star newspartner NewsChannel 13, but police said he hit her with a hatchet during an alcohol-fueled fight in their home.

Norton, 58, had rejected the plea deal offer earlier this week, when pre-trial hearings began to determine whether confessions he gave to Saratoga County sheriff’s officers could be used during trial to start Oct. 30. But after consultation with his lawyers and family on Thursday, he opted to plead guilty instead of pursue a trial.

That decision came after two Saratoga County sheriff’s officers and a former officer testified Tuesday that they heard Norton made admissions of guilt, including one who heard him tell an investigator that he hit his wife during an argument over a cigarette lighter. Those comments came as he was being treated at Saratoga Hospital in the days after his wife’s death for “alcohol and drug” issues, police said.

But when brought to court Thursday for the continuation of the pre-trial hearing, Norton instead opted to accept the plea agreement. The Saratoga County District Attorney’s Office had indicated that the plea deal offer would be withdrawn at the conclusion of the hearing.

He could have faced up to 27-1/3 years-to-life in state prison if maximum sentences were run consecutively.

Mr. Norton had a history of domestic violence and was awaiting sentencing for a felony reckless endangerment plea that stemmed from his shooting in a gun in their home when his wife was present. He could have faced consecutive sentences in that case and the homicide case.

His wife was found dead in the 7 Third Ave. home shortly before 1 a.m. that day, when Saratoga County sheriff’s officers responded to a 911 call from the home.

Saratoga County Sheriff Michael Zurlo said a neighbor reported a problem at the home, and officers arrived to find both Nortons there.

Sheriff’s deputies determined Mrs. Norton, found on the living room floor, was gravely injured and her death was suspicious.

An autopsy performed the next day led to the conclusion she was the victim of a homicide and died of “blunt force trauma” to the back of her head, the sheriff said. Her husband confessed later that day.

Mr. Norton is being held in Saratoga County Jail pending sentencing Jan. 11 by Saratoga County Judge James Murphy.

Mrs. Norton was the mother of an adult daughter and worked for an agency that assisted developmental disabled people.

Courtesy of WNYT-TV NewsChannel13  

Murder defendant Michael C. Norton, left, is seen Tuesday with his defense counsel, Andrew Proler, in Saratoga County Court in Ballston Spa.

Court records detail allegations against restaurateur

LAKE GEORGE — The Lake George restaurateur who was arrested Wednesday for alleged sexual assault of a young female employee and harassment of others at his eatery remained in jail Thursday as police heard from more women complaining about his actions toward his staff.

Jonathan L. LaRock, 65, of Moreau, was sent to Warren County Jail for lack of $15,000 cash bail or $30,000 bail bond after arraignment and not guilty pleas were entered in Lake George Town Court. He was represented by the Warren County Public Defender’s Office, which had no comment on the case Thursday.

LaRock has run the Howard Johnson’s Restaurant on Route 9 in Lake George since early 2015, when it reopened after being closed for several years.

After LaRock’s arrest was publicized, Warren County sheriff’s Lt. Steve Stockdale said police heard Thursday from additional potential victims, who officers plan to interview in the coming days. It was unclear whether they would lead to additional charges, he said.

LaRock was charged with felony sexual abuse, two misdemeanor counts of unlawful imprisonment and four misdemeanor charges of endangering the welfare of a child for alleged actions with employees ages 14 to 43 since June 2016. The felony charge accuses him of forcing sexual contact on a young woman who worked for him.

He was arrested after police documented allegations by four young women who had worked at the restaurant, and Stockdale said he “minimized” his actions when he was taken from the restaurant Wednesday to be questioned before he was charged.

“He said this was his way of joking with people,” Stockdale said.

LaRock was arrested Wednesday after an investigation by the Warren County Sheriff’s Office that began with a 17-year-old former employee taking her complaints of inappropriate contact to social media.

The teen worked as a waitress and said she quit because of sexual harassment, and hundreds of comments on Facebook ensued, including nearly three dozen from other current or former workers at the restaurant. One went to police, and a number of others followed.

In all, police said they had heard from 15 former employees who claimed misconduct by LaRock, though not all of the allegations rose to the level of criminal charges.

Court records paint a shocking picture of months of fondling, unwanted physical contact and harassment as well as offers to get underage teens alcohol and drugs.

Among the allegations:

One teen told investigators that one day in October 2016, LaRock grabbed her breasts, rubbed his crotch against her buttocks until she pulled away, and told her “You have to kiss me if you want to get paid.” The young woman told police: “Finally I was able to break free. I grabbed my bag and my phone and I walked out the door and got into my car. I cried the whole way home.”

Another told police that LaRock gave her $50 to take two white pills with the letter “M” and some numbers on them, and that she pretended to swallow them but spit them out. A friend of the teen, who also worked there, told police she witnessed the incident.

Some complained LaRock would trick them into looking at pornography on his cellphone.

They also alleged that LaRock paid many of them cash, off the books, served expired and moldy food and would use binoculars to watch women in bathing suits at Water Slide World across Route 9.

One said LaRock would offer to make her food, but she wouldn’t eat it because she was afraid he would put drugs in it.

LaRock could be overheard propositioning female foreign workers he employed as well.

Court records include numerous written statements from young women who outlined misconduct that typically ended only when they stopped working at the restaurant. He would repeatedly hug them and not let go, and employees would warn them about his behavior when they were hired, they said.

“He was always brushing his hand on my butt and would say, ‘Oh, sorry babe,’” one told police. “He would play with my hair and call me ‘blondie.’”

Several teens said he offered to buy and/or drink alcohol with them, invited them to his home and one said he told her he could get pills that would help her sexually. The behavior continued despite the fact that other employees would tell LaRock that his behavior was wrong and possibly illegal, court records show.

One alleged victim told police that she was afraid to tell her parents, and left because “I just didn’t want to deal with him harassing me anymore,” court records show.

“When I was working alone I would be terrified because I was afraid if he did something I was a little girl and I couldn’t protect myself,” the 16-year-old former waitress wrote.

The employees said they tolerated the abuse as long as they did because they needed the job, or that they didn’t come forward because they were ashamed or afraid.

Stockdale said the Sheriff’s Office had not been contacted by any of the alleged victims before the last few days, when the social media uproar grew.

Anyone with information in the case was asked to call the Sheriff’s Office at 518-743-2500.

LaRock had run the restaurant, the last remaining Howard Johnson’s Restaurant in the country, since 2015.

The status of the eatery was unclear Thursday morning. It did not appear open, and no one answered the phone later in the day.

Joseph DeSantis, who owns the property, could not be reached Thursday.

LaRock faces up to 7 years in state prison if convicted of first-degree sexual abuse.

Special prosecutor assigned for complaint against Queensbury supervisor

QUEENSBURY — A special prosecutor is looking into a misconduct complaint about Supervisor John Strough regarding the way he handled a scathing state audit last year.

The Warren County Sheriff’s Office criminal investigation unit looked into the situation this summer in response to a complaint made by Councilmen Doug Irish and Brian Clements. Both said Strough intentionally lied and misled the board about an audit.

After the investigation, they turned it over to the District Attorney’s Office to consider prosecution. It was sent on to the Albany District Attorney’s Office to avoid any conflict of interest, Sheriff Bud York said.

At the time, Irish and Clements kept the complaint secret. But when the Queensbury Democratic Committee filed a complaint against Irish, Irish made public the complaint he filed this summer against Strough.

Strough may have committed official misconduct when he lied to the Town Board about an audit of grant paperwork, Irish wrote in his complaint to the Warren County Sheriff’s Office.

“We certainly are not police officers, lawyers or judges but do believe there has been malfeasance committed by Supervisor Strough and wish to file a formal complaint and ask that your office investigate and determine if any crime has been committed with regard to the withholding of information and the public statements made by Supervisor Strough which clearly were made to mislead both the Town Board and the public,” Irish wrote. “At a minimum we would expect this to be a violation of the Public Officers Law and potential official misconduct in his capacity as town supervisor of the town of Queensbury.”

The letter was signed by Irish, Clements and resident Doug Auer. It was dated June 7, the same day that Irish told The Post-Star that he wanted to focus on how to avoid the problems noted in the audit, rather than focusing on criticizing Strough.

Strough said he had not lied when he told the board that the state was happy with the new process for documenting grant work.

“We did work it all out,” he said.

But he never told them about the audit that criticized the town before he worked it out.

The audit was performed by the state in 2015, regarding grants for the Lake George Watershed Coalition. Queensbury had sponsored a number of those grants, but the officer in charge of them, Coalition Director David Decker, sent in unacceptable documentation. He couldn’t document $1.49 million in in-kind work, which was required for one grant. Also, no one ever verified that work by contractors had been done and no one required documentation before paying them. The town did not even notice when it paid more than it agreed to in contracts.

“The town neglected their fiduciary duties,” the audit said.

The audit was sent to Strough’s office on Oct. 20, 2015, asking for his official response. Strough interpreted that to mean that it was a draft, awaiting his reply. The town never got the final version of the audit, and Strough never mentioned it at public meetings. He said he would’ve given the final draft to the board.

Nine months later, Town Board members asked about the audit. They knew auditors had been looking at town records, but not what the state had concluded.

Decker was at that meeting in August 2016, and he answered the question.

“We passed the audit,” he said.

Strough did not contest this. Instead, he emphasized the state auditors had looked at every detail before determining the town was not at fault. They discovered the state was at fault, he said.

“We said to the state, ‘You’ve got to improve things going forward,’” he said.

None of the board members asked to see the audit.

But the audit did not find fault with the state. It said that Queensbury was at fault and directed Strough to write a description of the steps the town would take to “responsibly manage Department of State contracts.”

Strough responded by saying he would meet with state officials and the leaders of Bolton and the village of Lake George to discuss how to comply with grants in the future. That meeting occurred, and Strough walked away believing everything was resolved. The state started processing grant payments again.

Then, in March 2017, Decker was arrested on charges of fraud. He is accused of falsifying paperwork and using an invented company to siphon money from grants while director of the coalition. That’s when the Town Board began to look more closely at the audit and other documents that could have revealed theft earlier, if anyone had been checking on Decker.