A look back at 2012: Methadone clinic, politics at forefront

Sunday December 30, 2012


Controversy over the location of a methadone clinic that morphed into a political issue. The first election involving the state's newly redrawn congressional districts. Two high-profile sexual assault cases. The slow progress of a murder case as it wends its way through the judicial system.

These are some of the stories that made headlines in Berkshire County in 2012, a year when legal matters became the dominant theme.

The year's top stories also include the FBI's search of the Lee Police Department, the controversial history of a drunk driver who caused a fatal motor vehicle accident in Sheffield, and allegations that the world's oldest profession -- prostitution -- took place at a historic inn in Lee.

But not everything was gloom and doom in the Berkshires.

Tanglewood, the county's top tourist attraction, celebrated its 75th anniversary with a star-studded gala in July. Following four years of anxiety, the parishioners of St. Stanislaus Kostka Church in Adams celebrated when the Diocese of Springfield allowed the 110-year-old structure to reopen as a place of worship.

And who could forget the weather, which featured an exceptionally mild winter, moderate drought conditions through the spring and summer, and a love tap from Hurricane Sandy, a Category 1 storm that devastated the East Coast but barely touched the Berkshires.

Other items of note included the ongoing controversy regarding the placement of the belvedere in Lenox's Kennedy Park, accomplishments by Pittsfield-based teams in sports, and the Pittsfield Public Schools' failure to apply for a significant chunk of federal funding due to action by its teachers union.

Today we feature the top Berkshire County stories of 2012. The list, compiled by the newspaper's reporters and editors, ranks the stories in order of importance.

1. Methadone clinic

The controversy began in June when word leaked out that Spectrum Healthcare Systems of Worcester was about to finalize a deal to place a methadone clinic in a mostly residential neighborhood on Stoddard Avenue in PIttsfield. That site came under consideration after the city denied Spectrum's request to place a similar facility downtown on Summer Street in 2011. That action led to the company suing the city in federal court.

Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi declined to sign off on the Stoddard Avenue location following angry protests by the affected residents (see picture). But after Berkshire District Attorney David F. Capeless questioned the "transparency" surrounding the clinic's possible location, word soon surfaced that Spectrum was interested in placing the methadone clinic in the downtown location the city had rejected before. In August, the Summer Street location became official when it was included in an out-of-court settlement of the federal lawsuit, which also required the city to pay Spectrum $100,000.

Next, questions arose over City Solicitor Kathleen Degnan's handling of the negotiations with Spectrum, which led three city councilors to claim she had misled the 11-member panel. Ward 1 Councilor Kathleen Yon filed a petition with the council seeking a no-confidence vote against Degnan, a measure that was supported by four colleagues.

Yon withdrew her petition after a contentious City Council meeting in October, but one month later Councilor at large Melissa Mazzeo filed a complaint with the state Attorney General's Office claiming the five councilors who had supported that petition had violated the state's open meeting law.

The Council settled the matter by agreeing to limit the amount of public discussion among its 11 members before the agenda for its meetings is released. Spectrum's clinic opened on Summer Street in October without incident.

2. Politics & elections

As veteran Congressman John W. Olver chose to leave office after 21 years in Washington, the state's congressional districts were redrawn based on the results of the 2010 federal census. Under redistricting, the 1st Congressional District became part of the district governed by U.S. Rep. Richard E. Neal, which meant Berkshire County would be in the same jurisdiction with the city of Springfield.

Anticipating the redistricting, Middle Berkshire Register of Deeds Andrea F. Nuciforo Jr. of Pittsfield had announced that he planned to run for Olver's seat in 2009, a year before Olver was elected to his last two-year term. But the early start didn't pay off. Bolstered by his support outside the county, Neal, a former Springfield mayor, easily defeated Nuciforo and activist Bill Shein of Alford in the Democratic Party primary in September. There were no Republican Party candidates in the field.

Among Berkshire County's contingent in the state Legislature, only William "Smitty" Pignatelli of Lenox faced an opponent. The longest-serving member of the Berkshire delegation, Pignatelli easily defeated Green-Rainbow Party candidate Scott Laugenour in the general election in November.

In August, Michelle Obama became the 11th first lady, and third in a row, to visit the Berkshires when she attended fundraising events at the Colonial Theatre and at Gov. Deval Patrick's home in Richmond.

In December, state Sen. Benjamin B. Downing of Pittsfield said he would consider a run for U.S. Sen. John F. Kerry's seat if Kerry's nomination for Secretary of State is approved.

3. Sexual assault cases

Two separate incidents rocked the Berkshires in 2012.

In May, Scott Muir, 37, a former counselor at the former Stockbridge Plain School, was charged with molesting three young girls between 2003 and 2004, when he worked for the Berkshire Hills Regional School District.

After the town of Stockbridge suspended Muir indefinitely without pay from his positions as the town's facilities manager and emergency services coordinator, police continued to investigate the case, and in July two more teens came forward with similar allegations against Muir.

In all, 20 charges have been filed against Muir, whose trial is scheduled for September 2013 in Berkshire Superior Court.

In October, four Pittsfield teens -- 18-year-olds Adam Liccardi, Emmanuel Bile and Justin King, and 17-year-old Caleb Womack -- were accused of raping a University of Massachusetts student in her dorm room in Amherst.

The four were arrested in Pittsfield, indicted by a grand jury, and arraigned in Hampshire Superior Court in Northampton. A pre-trial hearing is scheduled for March 19. Three of the four were signed into the dorm by an unnamed student, but it remains unclear how the fourth suspect entered. The alleged assault has prompted a full review of security procedures at UMass.

4. Murder cases

The slaying of three men in Becket in August 2011 -- The Eagle's top story last year -- remained in the headlines as the case slowly wound through the legal system.

It's still unclear whether Adam Lee Hall, 35, of Peru, David Chalue, 45, of North Adams, and Caius Veiovis, 32, of Pittsfield, will go to trial in 2013 for allegedly killing Pittsfield residents David Glasser, Edward Frampton and Robert Chadwell. A fourth man, David Casey, 64, of Canaan, N.Y., is charged as an accessory. A trial date could be set at the next pre-trial hearing, on Jan. 31.

Police say Hall carried out the slayings to prevent Glasser from testifying against him in an upcoming trial. Frampton and Chadwell allegedly were killed to keep them from being witnesses to the Glasser slaying.

In June, lawyers for Hall, Chalue and Veiovis filed motions to dismiss the charges against their clients, but a hearing to argue the matter was canceled when the Berkshire District Attorney's office resubmitted the cases to a grand jury. The three defendants were reindicted and rearraigned in August, although the charges remained largely unchanged.

The four defendants also changed lawyers this year, with all but Casey hiring attorneys who live outside of Berkshire County. Hall's original attorney, William A. Rota of Pittsfield, was allowed to withdraw from the case in September after his client met twice in August with state police investigators without Rota's knowledge. Rota claimed Hall revealed his defense strategy during those meetings. The pace of the case stalled in October as Hall's new attorney acclimated himself with it.

In January, Berkshire District Attorney David F. Capeless maintained his office had been diligent in handling previous cases against Hall after it was reported that his office had either dismissed or failed to pursue multiple charges against Hall between 1997 and 2006.

Elsewhere, the 2010 slaying of former Lee High boys' basketball star Jahda Martin was resolved in the spring when Terrance Brown of Springfield received a 10- to 12-year state prison sentence, and three of the four other defendants were sentenced to various amounts of jail time.

Police reports indicated the incident was gang-related, and that the attackers mistakenly believed Martin was a police informant.

5. FBI searches Lee Police Department

Although details of the incident still have not been made public, the FBI on Nov. 19 performed a court-authorized search of both the Lee Police Department and a private residence in Pittsfield.

Joseph Buffis, a 33-year veteran of Lee law enforcement who had been named the town's police chief in September, responded by hiring an attorney.

The FBI is working on the case with state police detectives assigned to the Berkshire District Attorney's office, according to FBI supervisor Mark Karangekis. He has declined to comment further.

In December, Lee's Patrol Officers Union, which includes all of the town's full-time police officers except Buffis, responded to the FBI's investigation by stating they aren't the focus of it.

6. Tanglewood anniversary

Tanglewood, the Boston Symphony Orchestra's summer home, celebrated its 75th anniversary with a gala concert in July in the Shed.

The 21 2-hour event, combined with a dinner for contributors, brought in $1.4 million before expenses, which BSO Managing Director Mark Volpe said was the largest amount ever raised for a single concert at Berkshire County's top tourist attraction.

The BSO's nine-week summer season also included nine world premieres of new compositions, including one by Andre Previn.

7. Weather extremes

After getting pounded by snowstorm after snowstorm during the winter of 2010-11, Berkshire County experienced the opposite in 2011-12. Last winter had the third-lowest amount of snow since record-keeping began at Pittsfield Municipal Airport in 1938. Of the 46 inches that fell last winter, 20 came during the freak late-October snowstorm of 2011.

Temperatures soared, too. The four-month period comprising November to February was the warmest ever in the Berkshires, according to the airport's records. And in the 100 days between Dec. 1 and March 10, above-normal temperatures were reported in the county on 70 of them.

Hot, dry conditions continued for most of the rest of 2012, as the National Weather Service had the Berkshires listed in its moderate drought category through the spring and summer. The dry conditions contributed to a two-day brush fire on October Mountain in April that Lee officials said was the town's largest and most challenging blaze in 40 years.

Hurricane Sandy devastated the East Coast in late October, but it only grazed the Berkshires, bringing small amounts of precipitation and creating wind gusts that downed some trees and power lines. In Pennsylvania, however, an 81-year-old Williamstown resident died when her car slid off a road during a snowstorm generated by the massive hurricane.

8. Repeat drunken driver charged in fatality

In February, a car accident on Route 7 in Sheffield that killed 24-year-old resident Moira Banks-Dobson received increased notoriety when the man who allegedly caused the accident -- 35-year-old Frederick Weller of Connecticut -- was charged with drunken driving for the seventh time.

It was then learned that Weller, who has been charged with drunken driving in four states since 1994, had only been prosecuted as a repeat offender in only two of those cases.

Prosecutors in Berkshire County plan to charge Weller as a five-time offender, the state's most serious repeat offender charge. In addition, Weller is charged with motor vehicle homicide. His trial tentatively is scheduled for March in Berkshire Superior Court.

9. Prostitution case in Lee

In January, the couple that owns own the Inn at Laurel Lake in Lee -- Tara Viola and Thomas Fusco -- were charged with running a prostitution ring out of the historic lakeside bed and breakfast on Route 20. They have owned the inn since 1996.

According to police, Viola and Fusco had discretely tried to advertise the prostitution service on the Internet under the guise of the wife's massage business. Viola is a legally licensed massage therapist.

Authorities were alerted to the online advertisement after it had been posted for some time, and they launched a monthlong investigation that culminated in the couple being charged.

Viola was charged with soliciting sexual favors for a fee. Both Viola and Fusco were charged with keeping a house of ill repute and conspiring to promote prostitution. The case was resolved in February at a hearing before a magistrate in Southern Berkshire District Court that was closed to the public. The records have been sealed.

10. St. Stan's Church re-opens

After an anxious year as the appeal of the status of their church wound its way through the Vatican's legal system, the parishioners of St. Stanislaus Kostka Church in Adams rejoiced in February when the Diocese of Springfield ordered the historic structure re-opened as a place of worship.

The diocese had ordered the 110-year-old church closed in December 2008 so that it could be merged with two other parishes. Parishioners appealed the Diocese's decision to the Vatican, then staged a vigil that lasted for 1,150 days until the decision was reversed. St. Stan's is now part of the Parish of Pope John Paul the Great.

The church was packed in late February when the Eucharist that signifies the sacrament of Holy Communion was returned to the church's tabernacle. The first Mass was celebrated on Palm Sunday in April.

Special mentions

Monuments and memorials: The saga regarding the placement of the belvedere in Kennedy Park in Lenox remained on hold at the end of 2012 as town officials and opponents await a ruling on whether a lawsuit filed by 20 citizens in May should be dismissed. The suit seeks the removal of the monument; lawyers for the town filed a motion in Suffolk Superior Court in September seeking the lawsuit's dismissal. The 20 citizens are seeking the removal of the memorial that New York-based architect Michael Fieldman had erected in the park in honor of his son, Dr. Jordan Fieldman, a BMC physician who died of cancer in 2006 at the age of 38. The citizens say the belvedere is an obtrusive nuisance that violates the state's Scenic Mountain Act.

Athletic accomplishments: Not only did Mount Greylock Regional High School's football team set a Berkshire County record in the fall by winning 33 games in a row, the Mounties became the first Berkshire team to win three consecutive Super Bowls since the format began in 1972. Greylock's third straight title came over Belchertown, 24-0, in Western Massachusetts Division III play. In baseball, Pittsfield's Babe Ruth 15-year-old All-Stars qualified for the World Series in Arkansas when they beat Waterford, Conn., twice on the same day to win the New England championship in Quincy. The Pittsfield All-Stars finished fifth out of 10 teams in the World Series and in September were honored by the Red Sox at Fenway Park.

Education: In November, the Pittsfield Public Schools missed out on an opportunity to receive as much as $20 million in available federal funding. The city needed approval from its teachers union to apply to the federal grant program, but the United Educators of Pittsfield voted 135-41 against filing the application, citing "legal," "moral," "professional" and "financial" issues as the reasons for its decision. Teachers unions in Los Angeles, Palm Beach, Fla., Las Vegas and Maryland also declined to approve their district's filing applications for the "Race For The Top" grants on similar grounds. Pittsfield School Superintendent Gordon Noseworthy and UEP President Gail Yates later declined an invitation to discuss the matter before the City Council.

To reach Tony Dobrowolski:
or (413) 496-6224.


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