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Former Chamber CEO pleads guilty to grand larceny



HUDSON—Former President and CEO of the Columbia County Chamber of Commerce, Jeffrey Hunt was convicted by guilty plea in Columbia County Court July 12 for stealing funds from the Chamber.

Mr. Hunt, 54, of South Carolina, pleaded guilty to third degree grand larceny, a class D felony, before County Judge Jonathan D. Nichols, according to a press release from District Attorney Paul Czajka.

Investigators with the State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation arrested Mr. Hunt September 16, 2021 for stealing $46,686 from November 11, 2016 to November 10, 2020 from the Chamber of Commerce’s credit and debit accounts. Deputy Chief Assistant District Attorney Ryan Carty is prosecuting the case.

A person is guilty of grand larceny in New York State when he or she knowingly and intentionally steals property in excess of $3,000.

Mr. Hunt waived a possible indictment by a grand jury October 31, 2022. He is scheduled to be sentenced September 25. In New York State, third degree grand larceny is punishable by up to seven years in prison.

The Public Defender represents Mr. Hunt.

In another court case:

Hernandez Hayes

Columbia County Judge Jonathan Nichols sentenced defendant Hernandez Hayes June 26 to 17 years with the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision and 3 years post-release supervision upon his conviction after his guilty plea, according to a press release from the DA’s office.

Mr. Hayes, 49, of New York City, pleaded guilty in County Court on May 15 to:

•First degree criminal possession of a controlled substance (CPCS), a class A-1 felony—cocaine in excess of 8 ounces (defendant possessed about 600 grams, which is equivalent to 1,200 individual doses)

•Third degree CPCS, a class B felony—intent to sell cocaine

•Third degree CPCS, a class B felony—fentanyl in excess of a half ounce (defendant possessed about 40 grams, which is equivalent to approximately 400 individual doses)

•Third degree CPCS, a class B felony—possession of fentanyl with intent to sell it.

Judge Nichols sentenced Mr. Hayes as a predicate felon, meaning he was guaranteed a sentence because he was previously convicted of multiple felonies in the past 10 years. Mr. Hayes has six prior felony convictions for narcotic-related offenses.

Deputy Chief Assistant District Attorney Ryan Carty prosecuted the case.

“Narcotic drugs in such large quantities poses serious risks to our communities, especially fentanyl which is the leading cause of overdose-related deaths. Fentanyl is extremely potent and dangerous, especially to those suffering from addiction. Sixty-four percent of overdose deaths in Columbia County in 2021 involved stimulants in combination with Fentanyl. I commend the members of the New York State Police for their diligence and hard work to get these dangerous drugs off of our streets,” DCADA Carty said in the release.

While out on bail for his charges in Columbia County, Mr. Hayes was also one of three people arrested for drug trafficking in Warren, Washington and Saratoga counties, March 12, 2023. Mr. Hayes’ charges in Columbia County would not have qualified for bail prior to the change in the state’s bail laws in 2020.

The joint investigation by the Saratoga County Sheriff’s Office Narcotics Unit, Warren County Sheriff’s Office and Washington County Sheriff’s Office accused the trio of possessing large quantities of cocaine with the intent to sell. Mr. Hayes was additionally charged with possession of fentanyl pills. In total, police said they seized 465 grams (more than 16 ounces) of cocaine, 16 grams of fentanyl pills and U.S. currency during a traffic stop on Interstate 87 in Halfmoon, Saratoga County.

Mr. Hayes was charged with first-degree, third-degree and fourth-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance, all felonies. Those charges are still pending.

“The agencies involved in this investigation hope these arrests offer a relief to their communities who have been plagued by these illegal activities,” the Saratoga County Sheriff’s Office wrote in a news release, March 13.

Attorney Eric Schillinger represents the defendant.

FASNY sounds alarm as NY’s fire death lead continues

ALBANY—Last weekend’s tragic house fire in New Scotland sadly added four more individuals to the state’s mounting residential fire death toll for 2023, according to a July 14 press release from the Firefighters Association of the State of New York (FASNY).

In 2017, 2018, and 2019 New York unfortunately led the nation in fire deaths. Once again, the state is currently on track for the same dishonorable mention in 2023. Earlier this year, FASNY cautioned that New York was again poised to lead the nation in fire fatalities, with 45 residential fire deaths reported as of March 14. This week that number has climbed to 98—almost double the number of home fire deaths in the next leading states of Texas and Ohio (59), Pennsylvania (57) and California (55).

These fatal fires do not discriminate in locale. Destructive and deadly house fires have occurred not only in the dense neighborhoods of New York City but also on Long Island, Buffalo, the Hudson Valley, the Adirondacks, the North Country and other communities around the state where volunteer firefighters provide the vast majority of response, the release said.

The latest tragedy in New Scotland occurred early in the morning Saturday, July 8. According to a 911 distress call, two individuals were unable to escape due to an air conditioning unit in the window. It was unclear if there were smoke alarms in the home. Thankfully, no firefighters were injured after more than a dozen volunteer fire departments responded to the scene.

Whether it be a fire caused by exploding lithium-ion batteries or something as simple as home cooking, ensuring all homes have working smoke detectors will save lives. Nationally, two-thirds of residential fire deaths occur in homes where there were either no smoke alarms or no working smoke alarms. According to the United States Fire Administration, 48 of the 98 fire deaths in New York this year occurred in residences with no working smoke alarm. Families facing today’s economic challenges may not have the resources to purchase these devices, putting them at greater risk of injury or death in the event of a fire.

Change is long overdue and the answer to this problem is twofold. FASNY is a staunch supporter of fire safety public education and is working steadfastly to bring awareness to this issue and create change. Preventing fires is a key step in reducing fire deaths and injuries. FASNY also supports economic incentives to make fire safety equipment more readily available, including putting forth legislation to create a tax exemption for smoke detectors and other home fire safety items, restoring fire and building code funding for localities and increasing code enforcement and penalties for code violations.

Even with the best fire safety education, prevention and code enforcement efforts, fires will sadly still happen. Retaining and building up the contingent of volunteer firefighters statewide is critical to maintaining an environment of readiness and response. In addition to hosting the annual statewide RecruitNY volunteer recruitment effort, FASNY continually advocates in Albany for policies that would support the recruitment and retention of volunteer firefighters. This includes the efforts to recognize the service of our state’s 80,000 dedicated volunteers via tax incentives and other policies and programs. (FASNY reported earlier this year that New York’s volunteer firefighters save New York taxpayers $4.7 billion annually through their service.)

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