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Superior Court Briefs: April 8 - April 10
Staff Reports On: 02:58PM / Friday April 11, 2014
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Cases heard before Judge Daniel Ford on Tuesday, April 8.

Dylan Greiter, 24, Stephentown, N.Y. had not guilty pleas entered on his behalf on two counts of receiving stolen property over $250, two counts of wanton destruction of property and a single count of being present where heroin is kept.

He was released on personal recognizance. Greiter allegedly sold copper that belonged to Iberdrola Renewables between October 26, 2013 and November 12, 2013.

Cases heard before Judge Daniel Ford on Thursday, April 10.

Christopher Blair, 34, of Hillsdale, N.Y. had not guilty pleas entered on his behalf on single counts of unarmed robbery and larceny over $250.

He was ordered to be held at the Berkshire County House of Correction on $250,000 bail. Blair is accused of robbing the Stockbridge branch of Lee Bank on March 10, 2014.



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North Adams Apartment Fire Displaces 20 People
By Tammy Daniels On: 01:31PM / Thursday April 10, 2014
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Amanda Beckwith is reunited with one of her cats. Beckwith lives in the apartment below where the fire broke out. More photos can be seen here.

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — About 20 people were temporarily homeless after a fire broke out early Thursday afternoon on the fourth floor of a Furnace Street apartment building.

Damage was limited to one side the eight-unit building at 132-146 Furnace St.; no was injured.

Fire Chief Stephen Meranti said it was possible the tenants in the four units on the south side of the building could return home by the end of the day, depending on the health inspector's approval.

"It's under investigation right now with the North Adams Police and Fire Departments," he said. The fire marshal's office had not been called so far. "It doesn't appear to be suspicious. We're going to do our thing and then if we need to call them, we will."

The building has a commanding view of the city's downtown and smoke could be seen from Main Street pouring from the top of building.

"Leaving the station, we could see the smoke, we called for all off-duty firefighters," said Meranti. "We got on the scene found fire on the rear porch in the roof area. ... It had extended into the attic space."

At about noon, neighbors noticed smoke and flames on the decking on the eastern side of the building. All of the occupants home at the time escaped unharmed.

"I heard crackling and then I smelled something a minute or two later ...  it was a plasticy kind of burning smell," said Amanda Beckwith, who lives in the apartment directly below where the fire started. "Then I looked out the window and saw fire [in the decking above] ... we ran out."

Beckwith, a photographer, ran back in to grab her camera. By the time she realized the seriousness of the situation, the fire trucks had arrived and she was unable to get back in to rescue her cats. By mid-afternoon, two of her pets had been removed unharmed but a three more were still inside.

Animal Control Officer Carrie Loholdt was on the scene to assist with pet recovery.

Fire trucks maneuvered the steep street to get in front of the structure and a ladder truck was used to reach and break through the roof to combat the blaze.

"We had to make sure we kept the front of the building open so we could move the ladder truck in here," Meranti said, explaining some of the difficulties in accessing the building, which is three stories on Furnace but four stories and a steep lawn facing Francis Street below.

"It's very labor intensive to fight a fire in a building like this. The guys took a real beating on this one," he said. "They did a great job getting here quickly the way they did and getting the water on it.  We prevented it from extending to the other apartments."

The Furnace and Francis streets were closed down as firefighters from the city, Adams and Clarksburg brought it under control it. North Adams Ambulance Service was on scene to provide recovery services for firefighters and Williamstown Fire Department was covering the station.

Neighbors and occupants of the building watched from Francis Street as burning shingles fell to the lawn and water poured down.

"The heat and the fire are trapped in the attic, so it's building, accelerating in the attic," said Meranti. "By opening the hole in the roof, you're directing the fire to where you want it to go.    

"So it's not extending horizontally, it's extending the fire vertically so we can get in there and get it from underneath."
 
Meranti said firefighters were successful in doing that, which prevented the blaze from reaching the apartments on the south side. The fire damage was contained to the top apartment in the northeast corner; the apartments below it suffered smoke and water damage.

The gas and electric were shut off but the owner's electrician was going to see if the power could be restored to separate units.

Nichole Bushey, who lives in the apartment where the fire started with her boyfriend, George Sawtelle, said she lost everything. Both she and Sawtelle were at work when the fire started; a friend and neighbor called to tell them what had happened.

Bushey said she'd lived in the building for about a year, but it was the second time a fire had left her homeless. She'd been living in the apartment building on Washington Avenue when it burned down around 2006.

The building's owner Charles Swabey, who owns multiple properties in the city, was confident the building was salvageable: "It's going to be around for a long time."

He said he loved the architecture of the house, which is notable for the number of wrap-around porches and balconies.  

"I bought it in 2003, it was one of the first ones we bought," he said.

Seven of the eight units were occupied and about 20 people were living in the structure. The Red Cross had been contacted.

Update: complete rewrite with comments from fire chief at 4:30 p.m.

 



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Superior Court Briefs: March 24 - April 4
Staff Reports On: 12:03PM / Friday April 04, 2014
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Cases heard before Judge John Agostini on Monday, March 24.

Kijuame Taft, 33, of Waterbury, Conn. was found not guilty of single counts of armed robbery, assault and battery by means of a dangerous weapon and intimidation of a witness or other person.

A jury found him not guilty after 15 hours of deliberation. Taft was accused of the charges in relation to an incident in Great Barrington involving a 26-year-old man on September 15, 2012.

Cases heard before Judge John Agostini on Tuesday, March 25.

Dustin Clark, 30, of New Ashford had not guilty pleas entered on his behalf on single counts of rape and indecent assault and battery on a person who has attained the age of 14.

He was released on personal recognizance. Clark is accused of sexually assaulting a 25-year-old woman in Pittsfield on November 4, 2013.

Charles Crisp, 31, of Adams had not guilty pleas entered on his behalf on single counts of being present where heroin is kept and possession of heroin.

He was released on $1,000 cash or $10,000 surety bail. The charges stem from a motor vehicle stop in North Adams on February 21, 2014.

Cases heard before Judge John Agostini on Wednesday, March 26.

Jamel Robinson, 30, of Pittsfield pleaded guilty of single counts possession of cocaine with intent to distribute and assault and battery in connection to a domestic disturbance call at his home on July 19, 2013. He pleaded guilty to single counts of possession of a counterfeit substance with intent to distribute and operating a motor vehicle with a suspended license in connection with a motor vehicle stop in Pittsfield on February 17, 2014.

Robinson was ordered to serve concurrent two-year sentences at the Berkshire County House of Correction on he assault and batter and possession of cocaine charges. He was given an addition one-year sentence at the Berkshire County House of Correction on the possession of a counterfeit substance charge. He was given concurrent time on the other charges.

Johnny Nieves, 38, of Pittsfield pleaded guilty to three counts of assault and battery by means of a dangerous weapon and a single count of assault and battery.

The charges stem from an incident in North Adams on June 15, 2013 involving a 41-year-old man and a 22-year-old woman.

He was ordered to serve 45 days at the Berkshire County House of Correction on two of the assault charges and the assault and battery charge. He was placed on probation on the other assault charge.

Cases heard before Judge John Agostini on Monday, March 31.

Charles Katz, 49, of Pittsfield had not guilty pleas entered on his behalf on two counts of drug violation in a school zone and single counts of possession of heroin with intent to distribute, distribution of heroin, conspiracy to violate drug laws and possession of lorazepam.

He was ordered to be held at the Berkshire County House of Correction on $10,000 cash or $100,000 surety bail. The charges stem from the execution of a search warrant at 35 Appleton Avenue in Pittsfield on February 27, 2014.

Justin Gaetani, 30, of Pittsfield was found guilty of 12 counts of illegal possession of a large capacity feeding decide, three counts of improper storage of a large capacity firearm, two counts of illegal ownership of a firearm, two counts of illegal possession of a large capacity weapon, two counts of illegal ownership of a firearm and single counts of possession of ammunition without a firearm identification card, possession of a firearm with a defaced serial number and improper storage of a firearm.

He was ordered to be held without bail until sentencing. The charges stem from the execution of a search warrant at his home on March 3, 2013.

Judith Luczynski, 58, of Pittsfield had not guilty pleas entered on his behalf on single counts of possession of heroin with intent to distribute and drug violation in a school zone.

She was ordered to be held at the Berkshire County House of Correction on $2,500 cash or $25,000 surety bail. The charges stem from the execution of a search warrant at her home on February 27, 2014.

Kassidy Lemire, 19, of North Adams had not guilty pleas entered on her behalf on single counts of possession of heroin with intent to distribute, conspiracy to violate drug laws and possession of cocaine.

She was ordered to be held at the Berkshire County House of Correction on $5,000 bail. The charges stem from a motor vehicle stop in North Adas on February 26, 2014.

Brooklyne Schneider, 19, of North Adams had not guilty pleas entered on her behalf on single counts of possession of heroin with intent to distribute and possession of cocaine.

She was ordered to be held at the Berkshire County House of Correction on $5,000 bail. The charges stem from a motor vehicle stop in North Adams on February 26, 2014.

Recep Sarikcioglu, 29, of Pittsfield pleaded guilty to two counts of violating a restraining order and single counts of assault and battery by means of a dangerous weapon, intimidation of a witness and soliciting to commit a felony.

He was ordered to serve 55 days of a one-year sentence at the Berkshire County House of Correction on the soliciting to commit a felony charge. He was placed on two-years probation on the other charges.

He assaulted a 27-year-old woman in Pittsfield and solicited another to commit arson between May 13, 2013 and June 30, 3013. Three counts of intimidation of a witness and a single count of assault and battery were dismissed by the state.

Cases heard before Judge John Agostini on Tuesday, April 1.

Shane Hamilton, 24, of Dalton had not guilty pleas entered on his behalf on single counts of armed robbery while masked, armed assault with intent to rob, armed breaking and entering in the daytime and assault by means of a dangerous weapon.

He was ordered to be held at the Berkshire County House of Correction on $75,000 cash or $750,000 surety bail. Hamilton allegedly robbed an elderly couple in the Price Chopper parking lot in Pittsfield on March 12, 2014.

Justin Gaetani, 30, of Pittsfield was found guilty of 12 counts of illegal possession of a large capacity feeding device, three counts of improper storage of a large capacity ffirearm, two counts of illegal possession of a large capacity feeding device, two counts of illegal ownership of a firearm and single counts of possession of ammunition without a firearm identification card, possession of a firearm with a defaced serial number and improper storage of a firearm.

He was sentenced to serve concurrent five to eight years at the Massachusetts Correctional Institution at Cedar Junction on the illegal possession of a large capacity weapon, illegal possession of a large capacity feeding device and improper storage of a large capacity firearm. He was given concurrent time at the Berkshire County House of Correction on the other charges. The charges stem from a search warrant at his home on March 3, 2013.

Damarcus Swazy, 18, of Pittsfield had not guilty pleas entered on his behalf on single counts of armed robbery while masked and assault by means of a dangerous weapon.

He was ordered to be held at the Berkshire County House of Correction without the right to bail. Swazy allegedly held up a cab driver in Pittsfield on February 16, 2014.

Kamil Kujawa, 23, of North Adams had a not guilty plea entered on his behalf on a single count of possession of heroin with intent to distribute in connection with a motor vehicle stop in Cheshire on February 1, 2014. He also had not guilty pleas entered on his behalf on possession of heroin with intent to distribute, conspiracy to violate drug laws and possession of cocaine in connection with a motor vehicle stop in North Adams on February 26, 2014.

He was ordered to be held at the Berkshire County House of Correction on $50,000 bail.

Cases heard before Judge John Agostini on Wednesday, April 2.

Terrence Ebling Jr., 34, of Pittsfield was found guilty of single counts of leaving the scene of property damage accident and operating a motor vehicle with a suspended license. He was held without bail until sentencing.

The jury found him not guilty of operating under the influence of alcohol.

The incident occurred in Pittsfield on August 28, 2013.

Eric Cohen, 55, of New Marlborough had not guilty pleas entered on his behalf on two counts of rape.

He was ordered to be held at the Berkshire County House of Correction on $25,000 cash bail. Cohen allegedly assaulted a woman who is now 50-years old. The incidents allegedly occurred in North Adams between May 1, 2013 and May 31, 2003.

Chelsea Sigsbury, 28, of North Adams pleaded guilty to three counts of distribution of cocaine, three counts of conspiracy to violate drug laws and a single count of distribution of heroin.

She was given concurrent 177-day sentences at the Berkshire County House of Correction on two distribution of cocaine charges and single counts of distribution of heroin and conspiracy charges. She was given a two and a half year suspended sentence and placed on probation on the other charges.

The charges stem form incidents that occurred in Pittsfield between January 7, 2011 and May 5, 2011. Three counts of drug violation in a school zone was dismissed by the court.

Cases heard before Judge John Agostini on Thursday, April 3.

Terrence Ebling Jr., 34, of Pittsfield was sentenced to two years at the Berkshire County House of Correction on a single count of leaving the scene of a property damage accident. He was given a concurrent one-year sentenced on a single count of operating a motor vehicle with a suspended license.

Neyvon, Pinckney, 22, of Springfield pleaded guilty to a single count of assault and battery by means of a dangerous weapon.

He was sentenced to six months at the Berkshire County House of Correction. The charge stems from an incident in North Adams on June 15, 2013 involving a 41-year-old man.

Cases heard before Judge John Agostini on Friday, April 4.

Michael Tarpeh, 24, of Stafford, Va. had not guilty pleas entered on his behalf on single counts of carjacking, assault and battery by means of a dangerous weapon, assault and battery and larceny of a motor vehicle.

He was ordered to be held at the Berkshire County House of Correction on $200,000 bail. The charges stem from an incident that occurred at the east-bound travel plaza on the Massachusetts Turnpike in Lee on February 22, 2013.



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Law Enforcement Seizes Guns, Drugs From Pittsfield Apartment
Staff Reports On: 06:48PM / Thursday April 03, 2014
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Area law enforcement launched a "no-knock" warrant on a city apartment Thursday morning and seized more than 300 bags of heroin, $540 in cash and guns.

At about 11 a.m. the Berkshire County Special Response Team executed the warrant on a second floor apartment of 55 Worthington Street. The warrant was executed by the SRT in conjunction with Pittsfield Police's drug unit and the Berkshire County Drug Task Force.

The search of the home turned up a loaded 9 mm handgun, other fully loaded magazines, 350 individual bags of heroin, more than $540 in cash, a digital scale and prescription pills.

Five parties were arrested and charged with drug crimes.

 

 



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AG Claims Pittsfield Travel Company Ripped Off Consumers
Staff Reports On: 12:48PM / Monday March 31, 2014
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The attorney general is accusing a city-based travel company of deceptive business practices.

Attorney General Martha Coakley is suing Berkshire Concepts LLC for allegedly misleading customers into paying thousands of dollars for services that were never provided. Coakley is seeking more than $278,000 from the company.

Coakley alleges that Berkshire Concepts, Netrate Concepts and CRW Marketing "used high pressure sales tactics to offer consumers free travel incentives and extreme discounts on travel but instead charged consumers thousands of dollars for access to a 'proprietary software' database that failed to provide the promised discounts."

The company is owned by Charles Whiteman and Dennis and Daniel Merritt of Pittsfield.

"Vacation or travel scams offer free or discounted deals that often never materialize, and our office alleges these companies stole thousands of dollars from consumers through their deceptive memberships," Coakley said in a press release issued on Monday. "While many travel opportunities are genuine, we want to educate the public as much as possible to protect themselves and be wary of deals that sound too good to be true."

According to the complaint issued in court on Tuesday, between February 2011 and April 2013, the companies sent postcards to several residents offering a free cruise or airline tickets for attending a presentation. Other mailings told residents that they had won free travel and needed to claim the prize.

However, the free travel required hundreds of dollars in taxes and fees to redeem. The company also claimed that their website provided customers with direct access to travel tickets at wholesale price. Membership for that access cost thousands of dollars and the company failed to provide log-in information until after the cancellation period expired.

One family paid nearly $6,000 for the 'platinum level' membership, Coakley said. The website did not provide the deals promised during the presentation. Others found the website offered more expensive travel rates than other free websites.

According to the complaint, the company collected thousands of dollars from at least 25 consumers. None of the customers received refunds from the companies and Coakley is seeking more than $108,000 in restitution and $170,000 in civil penalties.

Coakley alleges that the company violated consumer protection laws by advertising 'free' travel while requiring customers to pay taxes and fees, advertising non-existent 'wholesale' discounts and holding customers to a three-day cancellation period without allowing the customer to have access to the website.

The attorney general's office provided the following tips to help residents avoid scams:

  • Calls or letters saying consumers have won "prizes" or "awards" for a contest that they never entered are almost always ploys.
  • Always read the fine print on all "prizes" and "gifts" to determine any costs associated with them. It is the consumer’s responsibility to pay for anything not specifically mentioned.   
  • Walk away from high pressure sales tactics including "one-day" or "one-time" offers. Reputable companies will never pressure customers to make immediate decisions, and will allow time to consider the terms of an offer.
  • Search Internet sites for customer feedback, and call the attorney general's office to determine if other consumers have filed complaints.    
  • Get the details of any offer in writing and review the terms before deciding to sign up or pay a deposit.
  • Compare promised rates with travel agents, airlines or available Internet-based services. Determine the company that is actually providing the goods or services being promised.
  • Get the details behind vague promises that packages include stays at "five-star" resorts or sailing on "luxury" cruise ships.
  • Find out all possible unexpected expenses including hotel costs, meals and transportation. What will the company do if hotel and other accommodations are completely booked?
  • After determining that a business is reputable, use a credit card to purchase the trip. Credit card companies often provide some protection and can help consumers dispute charges.


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News Headlines
La Festa Baseball Renews Boston-North Adams Competition
Pittsfield School Building Panel Opts for New High School
Berkshire Bank Renames Its Mortgage Lending Division
Hoosic River Revival Project in Line for $8.8M from State
Local Swimmers Head to YMCA Nationals
Letter: Williamstown Land Needs to Stay in Conservation
'Sex Tape': Risqué Behavior
Fund for Williamstown Awards $14,000 to Individuals and Community Groups
Movies Under the Stars Kicks Off Aug. 1
Williamstown's Overland Overcomes 'Worst Thing That Can Happen'
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