Famed Keene Cop Called Out for Federal Entrapment

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Part of the Exculpatory Evidence Schedule released late last month. See whole list inside story.

See the list here: http://indepthnh.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/12/partialEES.pdf

By DAMIEN FISHER, InDepthNH.org

Renowned former Keene Police Detective James McLaughlin, who is reportedly fighting his placement on the state’s Laurie List, was caught sending child sex abuse images to a suspect he would later arrest, according to court records.

“It was entrapment, basically,” said Mark Sisti, the Chichester defense attorney in the case.

Vermont resident Lee Allaben, who operated a youth camp, was arrested and charged with federal distribution of child sex abuse images in 1997 based on McLaughlin’s investigation. McLaughlin became famous for his undercover sting operations that nabbed men looking for sex with children.

In Allaben’s case, according to Sisti, McLaughlin pretended to be a 14-year-old boy interested in sex, but Allaben did not believe him. During the course of the prosecution, Sisti discovered a back and forth conversation between his client and McLaughlin on a computer in which Allaben worried McLaughlin was really a cop, and not a teen. To allay these fears, McLaughlin sent Allaben a sexual image that clearly depicted two young children having sex, Sisti said.

“It was a very detailed, clear image,” Sisti said. 

Once McLaughlin sent Allaben the image, described as an illustration in court records, Allaben allegedly began to send images of his own. He then reportedly made arrangements to meet the teen/McLaughlin in Keene for sex, and it was there he was arrested and charged with attempted coercion, interstate travel for a sexual act with a juvenile, and distribution of child sex abuse images.

Once it was discovered that McLaughlin had sent images to Allaben, United States District Court Judge Steven McAuliffe censured the police officer in court, Sisti said. Court records have been archived in the case and are not immediately available, but references to McLaughlin’s censure in the Allaben case are found in other court records. 

Allaben would go on to plead guilty to the first two charges, and the child sex abuse images charge would be dismissed. He was sentenced to probation in the case and did not serve prison time. 

According to a copy of the Laurie List, now formally called the Exculpatory Evidence Schedule released by the Attorney General’s Office late last month, McLaughlin was placed on the schedule for falsifying evidence in 1985. The attorney general reversed course a couple of hours later and removed McLaughlin from the public list, along with 15 other officers, citing ongoing legal challenges to their placement on the list.  

The Exculpatory Evidence Schedule is a secret list of police officers with known credibility problems. Defense attorneys are supposed to be informed when a police officer on the list is involved in a case, but Sisti said he was never informed that McLaughlin had a Laurie issue during Allaben’s prosecution.

“Hell no. This came up as a surprise,” Sisti said.

If McLaughlin was indeed on the Laurie List, that should have been disclosed not only to Sisti and Allaben, but to the hundreds of other suspects he helped prosecute. 

 McLaughlin specialized in pretending to be a teen online and getting men he encountered to engage in sexual discussions. The conversations would often result in the men agreeing to travel to Keene to have sex with the teen/McLaughlin. It was in Keene that the men would be arrested.

In 1998, a federal appeals court threw out the conviction of a Massachusetts man, Paul George Gamache, who travelled to Keene initially to have sex with someone he thought was an adult woman, but who turned out to be McLaughlin. During the online discussions with McLaughlin, Gamache was offered, and agreed, to have sex with a minor. The First Circuit Appeals Court in Boston ruled that McLaughlin had entrapped Gamache.

“It was the government that first mentioned the children as sex objects … It was the government that escalated the subject of sex with children,” the appeals court ruled.

In 2016, Adelbert Warner II, and three other men, all prosecuted and imprisoned after they were investigated by McLaughlin, filed a lawsuit claiming McLaughlin had altered the text of conversations used to help prosecute them. That lawsuit was eventually dismissed on technicalities, in part, because it was filed past the relevant statute of limitations.

McLaughlin has declined requests for comment on his Laurie List status. He gained fame in the 1990s and early 2000s for his use of undercover-Internet investigations to make sex crime arrests, similar to the Allaben case.

McLaughlin investigated hundreds of cases in New Hampshire, and would go on to lecture other police departments on how to emulate his techniques. In 2016, McLaughlin was given the Lifetime Achievement Award by the New Hampshire Police, Fire and EMS Foundation.

The 1995 New Hampshire Supreme Court Laurie decision led to the creation of secret lists of police officers with credibility problems kept by County Attorneys.  The attorney general started keeping a statewide master list in 2017.

A law that went into effect Sept. 24, 2021, is making the names on the list public for the first time, though officers on the list are being given a grace period to fight their placement in court.

And the attorney general has removed 30 names from the list since 2017 using an internal protocol.

 The New Hampshire Center for Public Interest Journalism, which publishes InDepthNH.org, is continuing its lawsuit against the attorney general arguing for the release of the unredacted list in its entirety.

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