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Michael Goot / Michael Goot, mgoot@poststar.com  

Capt. Leo Lloyd of the Greater Glens Falls Salvation Army speaks at a Kettle Kickoff event Friday at The Queensbury Hotel in Glens Falls. 


Local
Three arrested in big Schuylerville/Greenwich drug case

Three men, one of them a three-time felon, were arrested early Friday in a multi-agency drug investigation that led to the seizure of large quantities of cocaine, prescription drugs, anabolic steroids and other drugs from alleged dealers operating in Schuylerville and Greenwich.

The arrests led to the confiscation of more than 8 ounces of cocaine and $4,000 in cash after an investigation that involved local, state and federal law enforcement agencies. Officers with the State Police Emergency Response Team, aided by a helicopter that focused on the alleged ringleader’s home on Broad Street in Schuylerville, were involved in at least one of the arrests.

State Police believe the men were involved in sales of significant amounts of cocaine as well as prescription drugs, marijuana and cannabis oil “dabs.”

Arrested were:

  • Peter D. Hockford Jr., 49, of Schuylerville, who was charged with the state’s weightiest drug count, first-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance, as well as three other lesser felony counts of criminal possession of a controlled substance. He is a three-time felon.
  • William Bullard, 30, of Hudson Falls, charged with felony criminal sale of a controlled substance.
  • Collin A. Morency, 19, of Greenwich, who was also charged with felony criminal sale of a controlled substance, police said.

Police said additional arrests are possible.

Washington County District Attorney Tony Jordan said the investigation was a lengthy one, and the age of one of the alleged dealers, having just gotten out of high school, and the location of Hockford’s home near Schuylerville High School was concerning to authorities because of his access to young people.

“These guys were major players in our neck of the woods,” Jordan said. “The amount of interagency and intercounty cooperation during this investigation was significant.”

Hockford has a lengthy criminal record that includes at least three felony convictions, including a 1997 federal drug conviction that led to a 7-year-federal prison sentence, as well as one for burglary, and a misdemeanor for attacking a man in Argyle with an ax handle in 2015.

Hockford and Morency were arraigned and sent to Saratoga County Jail for lack of bail. Bullard was released on bail.

State Police from the Greenwich station, the State Police Community Narcotics Enforcement Team and the Washington County Sheriff’s Office and U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration investigated the case, assisted by the district attorney’s offices in Saratoga and Washington counties.


Jenn March, Special to the Post-Star 

Molli Bailey of Fort Edward sits on Santa's lap and tells him what she wants for Christmas at Glens Falls Bank on opening night of Hometown Holidays in Glens Falls on Friday. The festivities will continue Saturday throughout downtown.  MORE ONLINE: Visit poststar.com/gallery to view more photos and read up on today's events.


International
Tariff tensions shadow US, Canada, Mexico trade pact signing

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — President Donald Trump signed a revised North American trade pact with the leaders of Canada and Mexico on Friday, declaring the deal a major victory for workers. But tensions over tariffs, looming GM layoffs and questions about the pact's prospects in Congress clouded the celebratory moment.

The U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement is meant to replace the 24-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement, which Trump has long denigrated as a "disaster." The leaders signed the new deal on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Buenos Aires after two years of frequently blistering negotiations. Each country's legislature still must approve.

"This has been a battle, and battles sometimes make great friendships, so it's really terrific," Trump said, before lining up next to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and outgoing Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto to sign three copies of the deal.

The signing came at the beginning of a packed two days of diplomacy for the American president that will conclude with high-stakes talks today with Chinese President Xi Jinping on ways to ease an escalating trade war between the two countries.

"There's some good signs," Trump said. "We'll see what happens."

For the new North American trade deal, legislative approval is the next step. That could prove a difficult task in the United States, especially now that Democrats — instead of Trump's Republicans — will control the House come January. Democrats and their allies in the labor movement are already demanding changes.

Within hours of the signing, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said the deal must have stronger labor and environmental protections in order to get majority support in Congress and "must prove to be a net benefit to middle-class families and working people."

Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi quipped, "The trade agreement formerly known as Prince — no, I mean, formerly known as NAFTA, is a work in progress."

Still, Trump projected confidence, saying: "It's been so well reviewed I don't expect to have very much of a problem."

Trump is describing USMCA as a landmark trade agreement. But most companies are just relieved that it largely preserves the status quo established by NAFTA: a regional trade bloc that allows most products to travel between the United States, Canada and Mexico duty free. During the negotiations, Trump repeatedly threatened to pull out, a move that would have disrupted businesses that have built complicated supply chains that straddle the borders of the three countries.

The new agreement does make some changes to the way business is done in North America. It updates the trade pact to reflect the rise of the digital economy since the original NAFTA took effect nearly a quarter century ago. It gives U.S. dairy farmers a bit more access to the protected Canadian market.

The biggest changes target the auto industry. The new deal encourages auto companies to invest or expand in the United States and Canada, not low-wage Mexico, by requiring that 40 percent of a car's content be made where auto workers earn at least $16 an hour; otherwise, the cars won't qualify for USMCA's duty-free treatment.

Trudeau said the deal "lifts the risk of serious economic uncertainty" and said Canada worked hard for a "new, modernized agreement." But he also used the ceremony to call on Trump to remove steel and aluminum tariffs the U.S. slapped on Canada and Mexico.

Before Trump arrived in Argentina he injected additional drama into the proceedings by canceling a planned meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Also of interest was whether Trump would have an encounter with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who was attending amid global dismay over the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Trump gathered with the leaders for a traditional group photo, but did not appear to acknowledge Putin or the crown prince as he walked by. A senior White House official who spoke on condition of anonymity said Trump and bin Salman exchanged pleasantries during a subsequent leaders' session.

At the G-20 summit, U.S. negotiators blocked progress on managing migration, slowing climate change, and streamlining how world trade is governed, according to European officials involved in the discussions.

Security concerns also weighed on the two-day talks in Buenos Aires. Argentina's security minister said eight gasoline bombs were discovered in an area of the capital several miles from the summit venue where a protest in the afternoon drew thousands of demonstrators.

The whole point of the G-20 — formed in the wake of the global financial crisis a decade ago — is finding ways to solve global problems together, but diplomats in Buenos Aires struggled to find enough things all the leaders agree on.

Trump sought to use the summit to make his own trade deals, and angered the Argentine hosts by misconstruing their position on China's trade practices.

Meanwhile, a spokesman with South Korea's presidential office said Trump has reaffirmed a willingness to hold his second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un early next year. Yoon Young-chan said Trump made the comments in a meeting Friday with South Korean President Moon Jae-in.


National
FBI: Inmate confessed to 90 killings, including Hebron native, in effort to move prisons

DALLAS — A 78-year-old inmate who says he killed roughly 90 people as he moved around the country for nearly four decades offered his confessions as a bargaining chip to be moved from a California prison, authorities say.

The FBI said in a statement Tuesday that Samuel Little offered the deal in exchange for being moved from California State Prison in Los Angeles County, but it didn’t say why he requested the transfer, where he asked to go or whether his offer was accepted. It did say that Little, in poor health and reliant on a wheelchair, will likely stay in jail until his death in Texas, where he was brought in September to face charges in the 1994 killing of a woman in Odessa.

Little was convicted in 2014 of killing three women in separate attacks in Los Angeles County in the 1980s. Audrey Nelson, 35, of Hebron was among the victims. She was found strangled and her body was left in a Dumpster on Aug. 14, 1989. Nelson graduated from Granville High School in 1972 and relocated to California in the 1980s seeking a dryer climate due to complications with asthma.

“Little remembers his victims and the killings in great detail,” the FBI said. “He remembers where he was, and what car he was driving. He draws pictures of many of the women he killed. He is less reliable, however, when it comes to remembering dates.”

Little, who also went by the name Samuel McDowell, targeted vulnerable women who were often involved in prostitution and addicted to drugs, authorities say. Once a competitive boxer, he usually stunned or knocked out his victims with powerful punches before he strangled them while masturbating.

“With no stab marks or bullet wounds, many of these deaths were not classified as homicides but attributed to drug overdoses, accidents, or natural causes,” the FBI said.

Based on information Little has provided, authorities in several states have already confirmed his ties to 34 killings that happened between 1970 and 2005, not including the three he was convicted of in California. Investigators in Mississippi and South Carolina recently announced that they had closed cold cases based on Little’s information. And police in Maryland and other states are looking into whether it can help them solve their own unsolved killings, including the 1973 strangulation in Omaha, Nebraska, of Agatha White Buffalo , whose body was found upside-down in a 55-gallon drum.

“He went through city and state and gave Ranger Holland the number of people he killed in each place,” said Christina Palazzolo, an FBI crime analyst who collaborated with Holland. “Jackson, Mississippi — one; Cincinnati, Ohio — one; Phoenix, Arizona — three; Las Vegas, Nevada — one.”

Palazzolo said Little lived a nomadic life from the time he dropped out of high school and left his Ohio home in the late 1950s. He would shoplift and steal to gather the money to buy alcohol and drugs, but he never stayed in one place for long, she said.

Enzo Yaksic, co-director of Northeastern University’s Atypical Homicide Research Group, said Little’s wandering lifestyle appears to set him apart from the habits of American serial killers such as Gary Ridgway, the so-called Green River Killer.

“Little is unique in that modern day serial murderers rarely travel the distances he claims to have traversed and instead select vulnerable victims from their own communities,” Yaksic said. “This behavior, paired with his selection of vulnerable people, no doubt contributed to his longevity. Most serial killers in today’s society kill two or three victims and are caught within a few years.”

Ridgway, who is serving a life sentence, pleaded guilty to killing 49 women and girls, making him the most prolific serial killer in U.S. history in terms of confirmed kills, though he has said he likely killed more than 71. Ted Bundy confessed to 30 homicides from about 1974 to 1978 and John Wayne Gacy killed at least 33 young men and boys in the 1970s. Both of them were executed.


Local
Records: Limo company involved in fatal crash was able to evade DOT inspections

ALBANY — The owner of the 2001 stretch Ford Excursion involved in the tragic Schoharie County crash appears to have circumvented the state’s inspection process repeatedly after buying the vehicle in 2016, according to state records obtained by the Times Union.

The vehicle was required to undergo rigorous inspections overseen by the state Department of Transportation every six months. Instead, the Excursion was improperly inspected by auto centers licensed by the state Department of Motor Vehicles during the two years it was in service for Prestige Limousine. The most recent inspection, according to records, was performed in May by Mavis Discount Tire shop in Saratoga Springs.

George Deutsch of Royale Limousine in Albany, who sold the vehicle to Prestige’s owner Shahed Hussain in 2016, said the vehicle was a DOT-regulated vehicle, and Hussain should have been aware of its status.

“Either way, you can’t get into this business and say ‘I did not know,’” Deutsch said. “There’s no other way to do business.”

Records obtained by the Times Union show that Hussain’s Wilton-based company appears to have bypassed the DOT inspection process for nearly two years after Prestige bought the vehicle from Royale. The company didn’t even try to obtain proper DOT certification, also called operating authority.

Over the same period, the limo’s registration was repeatedly revoked by the DMV for having its insurance canceled multiple times.

It’s unclear if the Excursion’s registration was still suspended on Oct. 6, when it hurtled into the parking lot of the Apple Barrel Country Store in Schoharie and plunged into a ditch. All 18 people aboard and two bystanders were killed.

The limo, carrying a group of 17 friends and family members, had been traveling from Amsterdam to Cooperstown for a birthday celebration at the time of the crash.

Hussain, a former FBI informant with a long history of shady business deals, is believed to be in Pakistan. His son Nauman Hussain, who goes by Arslan and was reportedly operating the business at the time of the crash, has been charged with one count of criminally negligent homicide.

The State Police and the National Transportation Safety Board are leading the investigation into the crash.

Deutsch, who owns one of the Capital Region’s largest limo companies, sold Prestige Limousine the stretch 2001 Ford Excursion as well as two stretch Lincoln Town Cars.

Under state law, stretch limousines like the 2001 Excursion have to go through rigorous inspections with the state DOT every six months. The process is similar to the one required for school buses.

According to records obtained by the Times Union, Prestige circumvented that requirement by going to DMV-licensed inspection stations instead.

Those stations are specifically banned from issuing inspection stickers to stretch limos. The DMV has refused to answer questions about where Prestige obtained inspection stickers for the Excursion.

“In light of the ongoing criminal investigation ... it would be irresponsible to comment on any information that could compromise the integrity of that investigation,” a DMV spokeswoman said in a statement.

Records obtained by the Times Union show that on July 22, 2016, the Excursion received a DMV inspection sticker at the Wilton Truck Center off Exit 16 of the Northway.

A DOT inspector noted the same DMV inspection sticker on the limo in a March 21, 2018, spot inspection in Wilton that ended with the Excursion being ordered off the road due to bad brakes and other mechanical and paperwork issues. The inspector also noted that Prestige should have been inspected under the DOT’s bus program.

But less than two months later, the Hussains on May 11 took the Excursion to the Mavis Discount Tire shop on South Broadway in Saratoga Springs, where it passed inspection again, even though stretch limos are not supposed to get such stickers.

A call to Mavis’s headquarters was not returned on Wednesday. The owner of Wilton Truck Center did not return a call seeking comment.

The DOT inspected the Excursion again on Sept. 4, again ordering the limo off the road. An agency spokesman said in an email Wednesday that DOT “inspected the crash vehicle, placed the vehicle out of service, and affixed a sticker to the windshield ordering that the vehicle not be used. The owner/operator of the vehicle removed this sticker and intentionally violated the law, and as a result, one of the owners has been charged with criminally negligent homicide.”

The Times Union has asked for the state’s inspection records on the Excursion under the Freedom of Information Law, although the DOT has told the newspaper that it is taking longer than usual to fulfill the request “due to a high number of FOIL requests recently received.”

A lawyer representing Prestige and the Hussains in civil matters related to the case declined comment.

Deutsch, the Royale Limousine owner, said that from the time his company purchased the Excursion, he always went through the proper DOT inspection process, and that the limo was safe when his company operated it.

“Our records our impeccable,” Deutsch said.

Deutsch said his company, which is located on Lark Street in downtown Albany, only sold the Excursion when his company was expanding its bus and taxi operations and needed to make space at its garage by selling off older vehicles.

Deutsch said that he helped the NTSB get up to speed on limousine companies since the federal agency usually deals with accidents involving planes, trains and buses.

“The NTSB has been in our facility for weeks,” Deutsch said. “They were kind of in a twilight zone with (understanding) limousines; they were able to see how we operated.”

NTSB spokesman Eric Weiss declined to comment.

“The investigation is ongoing,” Weiss said.

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