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Police Detect 'Large Scale' Credit Fraud Through Gas Pump Skimmers

Staff Reports

Images of a card receiver, left, and one with a skimmer, right, from the Minnesota Department of Commerce.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — A "large scale" credit card fraud operation was detected in the city.
 
Police say skimming devices were found inside two local gas pumps, at both Lipton Marts at 580 North St. and 460 South St. Police said it is not known how long the devices had been in place nor how much credit card information was stolen.
 
Police say the number of locations with such devices could increase as authorities worked to inspect gas pumps throughout the city.
 
The devices take credit card information when the cards are scanned and pass it along to third parties. The devices have been removed from both locations, eliminating the risk of further theft. However, residents who have used those pumps are asked to check their records and "be vigilant for signs of fraud."
 
Should residents find signs of fraud, they are asked to contact their bank first and then the Pittsfield Police Department at 413-448-9705.
 
Police say similar devices were found on gas pumps in Great Barrington and if anyone sees fraudulent activity from either of those to contact Police in that town.
 
PC Magazine did an article last year on how to identify a skimmer at an ATM or gas pump. 
 
Area businesses which operate the "Gilbarco Advantage" or the "Gilbarco Encore" pumps are asked to check their equipment as well because it appears those particular pumps were targeted.
 
Lipton Energy is reportedly cooperating with the investigation but cannot assist customers with questions about the investigation. Gas pumps throughout the city will be inspected by the end of Wednesday. 
 
Massachusetts State Police, the Massachusetts Division of Standards, and local authorities are working the investigation.
 
Correction: an earlier version stated that skimmers were found in Lee but Lee Police say that is incorrect.
     

Pittsfield Anti-Crime Unit Arrests Man on Drug, Firearm Charges

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The city's Anti-Crime Unit arrested a Stockbridge man on Monday on drug and firearms charges. 
 
According to police, police officers in plainclothes encountered William Lacy, 26, walking in the area of Center and Bradford streets. The encounter occurred at about 7 p.m. and officers say they developed probable cause for believing he was in possession of narcotics. 
 
Lacey was searched and police said he was found to be in possession of 42 bags of heroin and a crack pipe. After he was placed
under arrest, they conducted a search of the backpack Lacey was wearing. Inside the backpack, officers discovered a 9mm handgun with a loaded magazine inside of it.
 
Lacey was arraigned in Central Berkshire District Court on Tuesday morning on charges possession of a Class A drug (heroin); possession of a Class E drug (suboxone); possessing a firearm without a firearm identification card; and possessing ammunition without an FID.
     

Pittsfield Couple's Autopsies Show Trauma, Suicide

Staff Reports
Updated: Wednesday, July 26, 2017 at 7 p.m.
 
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Authorities have ruled that 39-year-old Celeste Kordana died from a blunt force trauma to the head. John Kordana, 53, died from asphyxiation and loss of blood from multiple superficial wounds.
 
John Kordana's injuries appear to be self-inflicted, according to District Attorney David Capeless' office. The autopsies were conducted on Wednesday by Associate Medical Examiner Robert Welton at the Holyoke Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.
 
The couple was found dead inside their Harryel Street home on Monday afternoon after Police were asked to do a well-being check. Firefighters were called to force entry into the home at about 2:50 p.m. 
 
The district attorney's office had said on Tuesday that there was no indication that a third party was involved.
 
The investigation is being conducted by members of the Pittsfield Police Department with the assistance of State Police Detectives assigned to the Berkshire District Attorney’s Office and troopers assigned to the Crime Scene Services Section.

Updated: Tuesday, July 25, 2017 at 4:45 p.m. 

 
An autopsy has been scheduled for Wednesday morning. At this point, police say there is nothing to suggest a third party was involved in the death. But, authorities say all possibilities are still being considered as police continue investigating the circumstances.

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Police are investing the deaths of a city couple.

 
Police say the bodies of John and Celeste Kordana, 53 and 39, respectively, were found in their Harryel Street home on Monday.
 
The bodies are being transferred to the Holyoke Office of the Chief Medical Examiner to determine the cause of death, though the autopsies have not been scheduled.
 
According to the district attorney's office, officers were called to do a well-being check on the pair and upon arrival were unable to get into the home. At about 2:50 p.m., the Fire Department forced entry into the home, where the bodies were found.
 
The investigation is being conducted by members of the Pittsfield Police Department, state police assigned to the district attorney's office, and troopers from the Crime Scene Services Section.
     

Report: Pittsfield Officer Used Excessive Force, Lied About Incident

By Andy McKeever
iBerkshires Staff
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — An internal affairs report contends that Pittsfield Police Officer Michael McHugh attempted to cover up an assault committed by a friend.
 
McHugh had not-guilty pleas entered on his behalf on single counts of assault and battery by means of a dangerous weapon, assault and battery, misleading a police officer or other person, and being a public employee making a false report on July 12. 
 
His co-defendant is Jason LaBelle, 37, who had not-guilty pleas entered on his behalf on Monday on single counts of assault and battery by means of a dangerous weapon, assault and battery, falsely reporting a crime, misleading a judge, and misleading a clerk.
 
The pair is accused of assaulting a 54-year-old man in Pittsfield on July 4, 2016. The victim in the assault was arrested by McHugh that night on counts of operating under the influence, disturbing the peace, and possession of an open container of alcohol in a motor vehicle.
 
The police internal investigation report says the arrest report had false information and that LeBelle was allegedly allowed to kick the man, which was left out of the report. McHugh is also accused of drinking at the time of the incident, which is against police conduct regulations.
 
McHugh, who has worked for the department for 18 years, was off duty at the time. In his report, he claims LaBelle, whom he described as a friend, had contacted him shortly before 9:30 p.m. that night claiming the 54-year-old was "stalking his house" and was likely intoxicated. LaBelle then went to McHugh's house.
 
McHugh said the pair drove around the neighborhood looking for the man's vehicle and eventually found it in a driveway of a neighbor. McHugh said he approached the vehicle, identifying himself as an officer, and the man refused to get out of the vehicle. He said the man appeared to be reaching for something, which he felt could be a weapon. 
 
"I had to pry his hands off of the steering wheel and eventually strike him in the midsection two or three times with my left knee in order for him to let go. Once I had his hands free, I pulled him from the vehicle and ground stabilized him, face down, on the ground," he wrote.
 
McHugh said he searched the vehicle and found empty beer bottles. He contacted a police sergeant and asked for patrol officers to be sent. McHugh said he then went to knock on the door of the owner of the home whose driveway the incident was occurring when he heard LaBelle and the victim yelling at one another. 
 
McHugh said he did not see [LaBelle] get "within arm's reach" of the victim. The internal investigation report, however, contends that was not true.
 
"McHugh denies that [redacted] was ever near [the victim] during the arrest. However, during McHugh's recorded call to the station [redacted] can be heard in the background and [the victim] can be heard groaning and stating [redacted]," the internal investigation report reads. 
 
"It is noteworthy that in his arrest report Ofc. McHugh wrote 'I never witnessed [redacted] get within arm's reach of [the victim].' At the time no complaint had been filed by [the victim]. There was no legitimate reason for McHugh to make this assertion."
 
A grand jury found that there was sufficient evidence, which includes witness interviews and video of the incident, to suggest that LaBelle was allowed to approach the victim and kick him several times.
 
The internal affairs report says those involved had "fabricated" the story of how the victim received his injuries. The injuries were apparently reported as being related to an earlier incident in which the victim is accused of swinging at someone, whose name was redacted in the report. But the investigation found that did not happen.
 
"Based on video evidence and interviews it was clearly determined that the early encounter in [redacted] driveway did not occur. It is unknown whose decision it was to bring forth this story, however, it is clear that Ofc. McHugh would stand to benefit from its use as reason for the severe injuries that [the victim] suffered," the internal investigation report reads.
 
The report continues to say the victim hadn't reported the encounter leading to the injuries and that the victim "certainly would have reported that and attempted to bring additional charges for it."
 
Based on interviews with witnesses, police say the story did not unfold the way McHugh described and that the officer had used excessive force. Further, the report found McHugh in violation of department rules and regulations of conduct unbecoming an officer, use of official position, truthfulness, duty status, cooperation with investigations, criminal conduct and falsifying records.
 
McHugh apparently admitted to other officers that he had "four beers" prior to the incident. The department's rules say "off-duty officers shall not consume alcoholic beverages while carrying a department issued firearm, nor shall they carry a firearm while under the influence of prescription medicine."
 
"Of his own admission, Ofc. McHugh had been drinking prior to the event. Ofc. McHugh decided to take possession of his duty weapon, activate himself as a police officer, and take action regarding a neighborhood disturbance. Ofc. McHugh had ample opportunity to step back and call the station to report the activities of [the victim]," the internal investigation report reads. "Instead he acted on impulse, encountering [the victim], and then forcefully removing him from the truck."
 
The victim brought forth the complaint on Aug. 5, 2016, looking for charges against McHugh and LaBelle. An investigation began by Lt. Michael Winston and Lt. Jeffrey Bradford and, on Sept. 11, 2016, the investigators determined that the arrest report was questionable. A few days before that, Chief Michael Wynn authorized a hold on the internal affairs investigation and proceeded with a criminal investigation.
 
Lt. Mark Trapani and Lt. Michael Grady launched the criminal investigation. That led to a grand jury indictment of both LaBelle and McHugh. During that investigation, the internal affairs report states that McHugh was untruthful during two interviews with the detective bureau and provided limited information about cell phone calls he was being questioned about.
 
McHugh has been on paid administrative leave since August 2016, when the internal affairs investigation began, pending the outcome of the Civil Service process. 
 
"Whenever the Pittsfield Police Department becomes aware of alleged misconduct by any of our members, we take those allegations very seriously. Complete and thorough investigations are conducted and when warranted, referrals are made to the appropriate criminal justice partners. Service as a police officer requires a high degree of public trust, and police officers, justifiably, are held to a higher standard," Chief Wynn had written in a prepared statement about the investigation two weeks ago.
 
McHugh has been involved in other off-duty incidents in the past. In 2009, he was knocked unconscious following a brawl outside of a city bar and was stabbed in 2011 following an altercation relating to a traffic issue.
     

Pittsfield Police Officer Facing Charges for Off-Duty Incident

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — A Pittsfield Police officer was arraigned Wednesday for charges stemming from an off-duty incident that occurred on July 4, 2016.

Officer Michael McHugh, 42, an 18-year veteran of the department,had not-guilty please entered on his behalf on single counts of assault and battery by means of a dangerous weapon, assault and battery, misleading a police officer or other person, and being a public employee making a false report.

He is accused of assaulting a 54-year-old man in Pittsfield on Indendence Day last year. It is also alleged that he generated a false report about the assault on July 6, 2016.

The investigation was conducted by members of the Pittsfield Police Department.

Superior Court Judge John Agostini released McHugh on personal recognizance on the condition that he have no contact with the alleged victim.

McHugh has been under investigation by Internal Affairs since August 2016 because allegations related to the above incident.

Subsequently, the investigation was reassigned to the Detective Bureau to conduct a criminal investigation. The criminal investigation resulted in the charges for which McHugh has been arraigned. The Internal Affairs investigation has been referred to the Appointing Authority under Civil Service requirements.

McHugh, who joined the force in 1999, remains on paid administrative leave, pending the outcome of the required Civil Service processes.

"Whenever the Pittsfield Police Department becomes aware of alleged misconduct by any of our members, we take those allegations very seriously. Complete and thorough investigations are conducted and when warranted, referrals are made to the appropriate criminal justice partners. Service as a police officer requires a high degree of public trust, and police officers, justifiably, are held to a higher standard," said Pittsfield Police Chief Michael Wynn.

     
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