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akuczkowski / Andrew David Kuczkowski, akuczkowski@poststar.com 

Chef Michael Bolton discusses the plan for a ribbon-cutting event Wednesday with his SUNY Adirondack culinary students at 14 Hudson Ave., Glens Falls.


Local
Queensbury couple sentenced for massive financial fraud

QUEENSBURY — A Queensbury couple whose wide-ranging business fraud victimized companies around the country offered apologies Thursday as they were sentenced to state prison and ordered to pay back more than $1.3 million to their victims.

Robert J. Mirel, 73, and Debra Burnett, 65, pleaded guilty last month to felony counts of grand larceny, money laundering, scheme to defraud and criminal tax fraud for their actions when running Arlington Manipulators, a Queensbury company that produced machines for industrial glass installation. Mirel offered a lengthy apology, saying they didn’t intend to rip off their customers.

“It shouldn’t have happened,” he said. “There was never any intention for this to happen. We are extremely sorry for all of the damage we caused.”

His lawyer, John Goodman, said the fraud stemmed from “desperation” during business financial problems.

“It was desperation, not greed,” he said.

Mirel was sentenced to 5 to 15 years in state prison, while Burnett received a 3- to 9-year sentence.

The company manufactured equipment from industrial buildings in Queensbury for more than a decade, until it closed amid massive financial problems in 2016. Authorities said the couple operated a sort of Ponzi scheme where they took money for machines they did not provide, and re-sold machines that had been sent to them for repairs.

The Warren County Sheriff’s Office arrested them last April, after victims from around the country came forward.

Warren County Judge John Hall said Wednesday that there were more than 100 victims, and Mirel and Burnett had signed or were to sign 160 confessions of judgement indicating they owe more than $1.3 million in restitution.

The couple heard victims impact statements from the heads of two glass companies that were defrauded, both of whom told of losing tens of thousands of dollars. They were read by state Assistant Attorney General Philip Apruzzese, who prosecuted the case.

Apruzzese previously said the couple created numerous shell companies, and moved cash between them, money that wasn’t accounted for. The couple’s home on tony Lyndon Drive in Queensbury is in foreclosure.

He read one from Linda Leuch, chief executive officer of Blue Water Glass of Michigan, who wrote that her company lost $95,000 through its business dealings with Mirel. First, the company purchased a $40,000 glass manipulator that didn’t work, but Mirel sold it to someone else when it was returned to Arlington Manipulators for service.

She called Mirel’s actions “unconscionable.”

Karl Rusnock, owner of Ace Glass System of Long Island, told of paying the company tens of thousands of dollars for a machine that was never delivered.

“Mr. Mirel lied to me on a daily basis for two years,” he wrote.

Burnett’s lawyer, Warren County Public Defender Marcy Flores, said her client was remorseful, but the prospects of restitution were slim.

“There is no secret bank account. There are no funds anywhere to give them,” she said.

“We’d like to be able to make up the damaged, but we have to get back to work to do it,” Burnett said.

Goodman filed a notice of appeal after the sentencing.


National
Fiery Kavanaugh denies quiet accuser Ford in Senate showdown

WASHINGTON — In an extraordinary and highly emotional day of Senate testimony, California psychology professor Christine Blasey Ford quietly recounted her "100 percent" certainty Thursday that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her when they were teenagers. He angrily declared he was "100 percent certain" he did no such thing.

They both said the event and the public controversy that has erupted 36 years later had altered their lives forever and for the worse — perhaps the only thing they agreed on during a long day of testimony that was a study in contrasts of tone as well as substance.

The hearing was a stunning public airing of a partisan fight — charged with explosive gender politics. The future of a high court, and potentially control of Congress, hangs the balance.

Senators were left to decide whether the long day tipped their confirmation votes for or against President Donald Trump's nominee.

Coming forward publicly for the first time, Ford quietly told the nation and the Senate Judiciary Committee her long-held secret of the alleged assault in locked room at a gathering of friends when she was just 15. The memory — and Kavanaugh's laughter during the act — was "locked" in her brain, she said: "100 percent." Hours later, Kavanaugh angrily denied it, alternating a loud, defiant tone with near tears as he addressed the Senate Judiciary Committee.

"You have replaced 'advice and consent' with 'search and destroy," he said, referring to the Constitution's charge to senators' duties in confirming high officials.

What happens next may hinge on what Trump and his Republican allies think about the display in what could become a defining moment for a party that has struggled to retain female voters. The GOP-controlled committee was scheduled to vote Friday morning on whether to push ahead with the conservative judge's nomination.

Repeatedly Democrats asked Kavanaugh to call for an FBI investigation into the claims. He did not.

"I welcome whatever the committee wants to do," he said.

Republicans are reluctant for several reasons, including the likelihood that further investigations could push a vote past the November elections that may switch Senate control back to the Democrats and make consideration of any Trump nominee more difficult.

Across more than 10 hours, the senators heard from only the two witnesses. Ford delivered her testimony with steady, deliberate certitude. She admitted gaps in her memory as she choked back tears and said she "believed he was going to rape me." Kavanaugh's entered the hearing room fuming and ready to fight, as he angrily denied the charges from Ford and other woman accusing him of misconduct, barked back at senators and dismissed some questions with a flippant "whatever."

"You may defeat me in the final vote, but you'll never get me to quit, never," he said.

Trump nominated the conservative jurist in what was supposed to be an election year capstone to the GOP agenda, locking in the court's majority for years to come. Instead the nomination that Republicans were rushing for a vote now hangs precariously after one of the most emotionally charged hearings Capitol Hill has ever seen. Coming amid a national reckoning over sexual misconduct at the top of powerful institutions, it exposed continued divisions over justice, fairness and who should be believed. And coming weeks before elections, it ensured that debate would play into the fight for control of Congress.

The day opened with Ford, now a 51-year-old college professor in California, raising her right hand to swear under oath about the allegations she said she never expected to share publicly until they leaked in the media two weeks ago and reporters started staking out her home and work in California.

Wearing a blue suit as Anita Hill did more two decades ago when she testified about sexual misconduct by Clarence Thomas, the mom of two testified before a committee that with only male senators on the Republican side of the dais.

The psychology professor described what she says was a harrowing assault in the summer of 1982: How an inebriated Kavanaugh and another teen, Mark Judge, locked her in a room at a house party as Kavanaugh was grinding and groping her. She said he put his hand over her mouth to muffle her screams.

"I believed he was going to rape me," she testified.

When the committee's top Democrat, Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, asked how she could be sure that Kavanaugh was the attacker, Ford said, "The same way I'm sure I'm talking to you right now." Later, she told Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., that her certainty was "100 percent."

Asked by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., for her strongest memory of the alleged incident, Ford, said it was the two boys' laughter.

"Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter," said Ford, who is a research psychologist, "the uproarious laughter between the two."

Republican strategists were privately hand-wringing after Ford's testimony. The GOP special counsel Rachel Mitchell, a Phoenix sex crimes prosecutor, who Republicans had hired to avoid the optics of their all-male line up questioning Ford, left Republicans disappointed.

Mitchell's attempt to draw out a counter-narrative was disrupted by the panel's decision to allow alternating five-minute rounds of questions from Democratic senators.

During a lunch break, even typically talkative GOP senators on the panel were without words.

John Kennedy of Louisiana said he had no comment. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz said he was "just listening."

Then Kavanaugh strode into the committee room, arranged his nameplate just so, and with anger on his face started to testify with a statement he said he had shown only one other person. Almost immediately he choked up.

"My family and my name have been totally and permanently destroyed," he said.

He lashed out over the time it took the committee to convene the hearing after Ford's allegations emerged, singling out the Democrats for "unleashing" forces against him.

"This confirmation process has become a national disgrace," he said. He mocked Ford's allegations — and several others since — that have accused him of sexual impropriety. He scolded the senators saying their advice-and-consent role had become "search and destroy."

Even if senators turn vote down his confirmation, he said, "you'll never get me to quit."

Kavanaugh, who has two daughters, said one of his girls said they should "pray for the woman" making the allegations against him, referring to Ford. "That's a lot of wisdom from a 10-year-old," he said chocking up. "We mean no ill will."

The judge repeatedly refused to answer senators' questions about the hard-party atmosphere that has been described from his peer group at Georgetown Prep and Yale, treating them dismissively.

"Sometimes I had too many beers," he acknowledged. "I liked beer. I still like beer. But I never drank beer to the point of blacking out, and I never sexually assaulted anyone. "

When Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., pressed if he ever drank so much he blacked out, he replied, "Have you?" After a break in the proceedings, he came back and apologized to Klobuchar. She said her father was an alcoholic.

Behind him in the audience as he testified, his wife, Ashley, sat looking stricken.

Republicans who had been scheduled to vote as soon as Friday at the committee — and early next week in the full Senate — alternated between their own anger and frustration at the allegations and the process.

"You're right to be angry," said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, his voice rising in anger, called the hearing the "most unethical sham since I've been in politics."


National
Americans grapple with emotional hearing

As the Senate Judiciary Committee heard testimony from Christine Blasey Ford and Brett Kavanaugh about allegations of sexual assault, AP journalists around the country talked to Americans to gauge their reactions to the dramatic events unfolding. Many who viewed Ford’s testimony — including some Republicans — said they found her credible and consistent. But others continued to believe Kavanaugh’s staunch denials.

Echoes of Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill abounded, with many recalling that fraught 1991 hearing. Some addressed the momentous nature of the event. “This is history,” said Laura Williams, a law student from Mississippi.

Here are just a few of the reactions:

Jarred by emotion

Jalon Alexander was expecting to hear soft-spoken, deferential testimony when Kavanaugh took the stand. Instead, he said, he heard a fiery, raised voice — and he didn’t find it convincing.

“The more and more I listened to him, there was nothing he said that made me doubt Dr. Ford’s accusation,” he said.

Alexander, a 25-year-old law student at the University of Pittsburgh, identifies as a Democrat but said he began watching Thursday’s proceedings as neither a supporter nor a detractor of the nominee.

That changed with Kavanaugh’s testimony. The student was rattled by the temperament he felt Kavanaugh exhibited and the anger he showed at Democrats while vying for a nonpartisan job.

He even questioned the judge’s displays of emotion. “I didn’t see tears of genuine concern,” Alexander said. “Those tears to me scream, ‘I’m losing something I’m entitled to.’”

Concerned by tone

Philadelphia attorney Shabrei Parker multitasked from her office during Ford’s testimony, jumping from her computer monitor to the television screen to her social media feeds.

Her initial impressions confirmed her worries going into the hearing: It had the feeling of a trial. “It’s supposed to be a space for open-mindedness ... to at least give the impression of being transparent,” said Parker, who pointed out that questions from GOP senators came through a prosecutor.

As the hearing progressed, Parker said she felt Ford was getting a fair hearing, but also saw bias, noting that “the tone is one where she’s being expected to prove something.”

Parker, 33, said she believes the biggest impact of the hearing could be far from Washington, on American society and the women’s movement.

“Every system might not crumble because of the first rock that is thrown at it,” she said. “This woman is getting a little bit more of a platform than Anita Hill did, because Anita Hill had to come before her.”

Remembering a rape

For Mary Ann Almeida, the hearing brought back painful memories of her own rape as a 14-year-old.

Almeida, who watched from her home in southeastern Kentucky, said every detail of her attack is crisp in her mind — the ropes on her arms, the smell of Old Spice on the assailant, the threat that she should not scream.

“When you’re a true victim, you remember where it happened, you know who was in the room, you also remember every single detail,” she said.

Ford came across as untruthful to Almeida, who said she was a lifelong Democrat but began supporting Republicans with Donald Trump’s candidacy.

Almeida said she doesn’t doubt Ford was victimized, but believes Democrats convinced her to wrongly blame Kavanaugh for what happened. “It hurts true victims everywhere,” she said.

This is history

At Yeshiva University’s Cardozo School of Law in New York, a hush settled over the school’s student lounge as the proceedings started.

“Everybody wants to watch this. I mean, this is history,” said Laura Williams, a second-year law student from Senatobia, Mississippi.

Watching Ford testify, student Jordana Balsam said, reminded her of the time she spent volunteering in college to give “safe rides” to female classmates scared to walk alone at night, and of friends who confided about being sexually assaulted.

“I think this is a tremendous step forward for women,” Balsam said. “I think this is....going to be what I’m telling my children about, that I know exactly where I was when Dr. Ford gave her testimony.”

But Sam Erlanger, 25, said the proceedings dashed his hopes for a confirmation process that would appraise Kavanaugh’s background and qualifications in an orderly, timely pursuit of truth. Instead, he said, it devolved into partisan politics, with senators responding to Ford’s testimony with their own agendas in mind.

“Essentially, they’re using her as a pawn,” Erlanger said.

A ‘witch hunt’

Connie Cook Saunders, a fitness director for a San Diego athletic club who considers herself a moderate Republican, was able to catch about 15 minutes of the hearing before heading to work. She recorded the rest to watch later.

“I personally feel like it’s a witch hunt,” she said. “It’s political. If it happened to her I am sorry, but it doesn’t make sense to bring it up now. We all did things in high school we don’t want to be judged for now.”

Agonizing to watch

For Elizabeth Jacobson, listening to Ford’s testimony was emotionally exhausting. “To watch someone have to recount something that traumatic, I feel very on edge for her,” said Jacobson, 24, of Minneapolis.

Jacobson, a first-year law student at Mitchell Hamline School of Law who identifies as a Democrat, watched the hearing with colleagues in a classroom. She said she found the opening by Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley frustrating, adding, “He didn’t uphold his duty to make sure that it was a very fair and neutral introduction.”

Jacobson said she was nervous before the hearing started.

“It could be a really important step forward — or it could be a very large wall in some ways, another hurdle, another obstacle,” she said. When asked what she would like to see in the hearing, she cited “respect,” saying that challenging Ford’s credibility could discourage others from coming forward.


Mirel


Burnett


Local
Restaurant operator pleads guilty in sex case

QUEENSBURY — The Lake George restaurant operator who has been accused of sexually abusing and inappropriately touching a number of his employees pleaded guilty Wednesday to two charges, agreeing to serve up to 6 months in jail and 6 years on probation.

Jonathan LaRock pleaded guilty to misdemeanor counts of forcible touching and unlawful imprisonment, satisfying an eight-count indictment that was brought on behalf of five alleged victims and included a felony charge of sexual abuse.

LaRock, 65, of Moreau, pleaded guilty to charges that he fondled an 18-year-old woman who worked for him and held a 14-year-old against her will, both incidents happening at the Howard Johnson’s restaurant on Route 9 in Lake George last year. Asked by Warren County Judge John Hall how he pleaded, he quietly replied “guilty.”

Hall agreed to impose a six-month sentence in Warren County Jail to be followed by 6 years on probation.

His lawyer, Tucker Stanclift, said his client questioned the “veracity” of some of the complaints against him, but accepted the plea deal to avoid the uncertainty of trial and a possible prison sentence.

“There were a lot of unpredictable issues that were weighing on his mind,” Stanclift said.

He has continued to run the eatery in the months since his arrest, and was concerned about how it would keep going while he was in jail, Stanclift said.

Warren County District Attorney Jason Carusone said his office had no comment on the case pending sentencing.

LaRock was arrested last October, after an investigation by the Warren County Sheriff’s Office that began when a 17-year-old former employee of his lambasted him on social media and accused him of asking her for nude photos, repeatedly touching her hips and stomach and telling her she was sexy.

In all, police said they were contacted by 15 former employees of LaRock’s, ages 14 to 43, before his arrest in October, with many of them telling of inappropriate contact that dated back years.

Sworn written statements that the workers gave Warren County sheriff’s officers include allegations he grabbed a young woman’s 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.”

Others alleged he touched their buttocks, offered them drugs and alcohol and had them look at pornography on his cellphone.

Police said at the time of LaRock’s arrest, he told officers the physical contact was “his way of joking” with his workers. He testified before the grand jury, which indicted him despite his testimony.

LaRock faced up to 7 years in state prison if convicted of the felony charge. If he violates probation, he faces up to an additional 1 1/2 years in jail.

He is free pending sentencing Oct. 31.

The Howard Johnson’s restaurant he has run is the last remaining in the U.S. using the iconic chain’s name.


LaRock