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Jim Kenyon: Blackmail in blue — victim speaks about online threats from a cop

Valley News Columnist
Published: 9/10/2022 10:44:01 PM
Modified: 9/10/2022 10:43:30 PM

After leaving a weekly session with her mental health therapist, Nicole Cremo checked her cellphone.

The threatening emails and Snapchat messages that had started arriving earlier in the day continued to flood her inbox. The senders appeared to be using fake names.

If Cremo didn’t do as ordered, the senders warned, embarrassing personal information — images, video files and messages — would be released to her family, friends, co-workers and boss.

Cremo started to drive home, but she couldn’t focus on the road. Her hands trembled. She pulled over at a convenience store to steady herself.

“I felt everything was crashing around me, and I had no control,” she said.

As Grafton County’s director of community corrections, Cremo, 33, helps people under court supervision find employment, housing and counseling.

Now she needed help.

“I came to the realization that the harassment wasn’t going to stop unless I did something,” Cremo said.

At home the next morning, she called the Grafton County Sheriff’s Office. When Lt. Eric James arrived at her apartment, Cremo gave him the name of a high-ranking Lebanon police officer: Lt. Richard Smolenski.

“I was absolutely certain he was the one behind all of this,” Cremo said.

Cremo, who was single, and Smolenski, who was married, met a few years earlier when he was the city’s police prosecutor. (A Lebanon cop for 18 years, Smolenski didn’t have a law degree, but New Hampshire allows police officers to handle misdemeanor cases.)

Their relationship lasted about eight months before, Cremo said, she ended it in early 2018. Afterward, in 2019, Cremo was married for a brief time.

In 2020, Smolenski “learned I was getting divorced and he wanted to rekindle the relationship,” Cremo said. She told him that she was trying to move on with her life. “I was in the midst of my own personal struggles,” she said.

In May 2020, Cremo began receiving the do-as-I-say-or-else messages. In one message, Cremo was warned, “If you start a fire, prepare to get burned.”

The sheriff’s department launched a nearly yearlong criminal investigation to uncover who was behind the fictitious accounts. (At the onset of the investigation, Lebanon police placed Smolenski on paid administrative leave.)

On May 6, 2021, Smolenski was charged with one misdemeanor count of stalking.

In his cyberstalking of Cremo, the state’s complaint said, Smolenski used fictitious online accounts and threatened to release details about their affair, if she “did not agree to send a message to (his) wife, denying their prior relationship.”

Smolenski, 44, has pleaded not guilty and maintains his innocence. The case is scheduled to go to trial in Lebanon District Court in March. I left a voicemail for his attorney, Anthony DiPadova, of Claremont, last week but didn’t hear back.

If convicted, Smolenski faces up to one year in jail, but with no previous criminal record, it’s highly unlikely that he’ll spend anytime behind bars.

“The biggest thing I hope to see out of all of this is for him to no longer be a police officer,” Cremo told me. “People go into police work to help others. They don’t get to use their power to hurt people.”

Shortly after Smolenski’s arrest, Lebanon police initiated an internal investigation, headed by Capt. Timothy Cohen.

A New Hampshire Supreme Court ruling earlier this year in Provenza v. Town of Canaan requires municipalities to make public internal police investigations funded with taxpayer money.

According to the report, Smolenski messaged Cremo in March 2020, saying his wife had come across a photograph of her in his personal email.

Cremo told James, the sheriff department’s investigator, that Smolenski “wanted her to lie” to his wife about the photograph. “He was trying to make it seem as if the two were only flirting online,” Cohen wrote.

During an interview with Cohen, Smolenski said he did “use some fake accounts to get (Cremo) to leave him alone.”

When asked about a fake name in a Snapchat message, Smolenski told Cohen “he might have used this but wasn’t sure. The next morning, he called (Cohen) denying any involvement with this chat.” (Under federal law intended to protect the rights of public employees, any admissions that Smolenski made during the internal investigation can’t be used against him in the criminal case.)

After more than a year on paid administrative leave, Smolenski was fired from his $100,000-a-year job in August 2021.

“This investigation, coupled with the investigation of the Grafton County Sheriff’s Department, substantiates Smolenski planned and executed a course of action” that led to Cremo to “fear for her safety,” Cohen wrote.

“Smolenski maintains he was trying to get (Cremo) to leave him alone, yet the evidence supports just the opposite — that she was trying to get him to leave her alone,” the report added.

Last week, I met with Cremo. In a strange way, she considers herself fortunate. She could afford a private attorney, Robin Melone, of Manchester, to help her navigate court proceeding, and she has a good-paying job with medical insurance that covers mental health counseling, which she started 2½ years ago.

Nationally, 3.4 million people age 16 or older were victims of stalking in 2019, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. But less than one-third (29%) reported the victimization to police in 2019, the most recent year for which federal statistics are available.

Although it meant the “skeleton in (her) closet coming out,” Cremo told me that she didn’t think she had a choice.

“He needed to be held accountable,” she said. “That badge means something.”

Jim Kenyon can be reached at jkenyon@vnews.com.




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