By MIKE DONOGHUE, Vermont News First
BURLINGTON, Vt. — A Manchester, N.H. man, who officials say has been linked to a more than $636,000 attempted interstate fraud case on an elderly Windsor County woman, has pleaded guilty in federal court in Burlington.
Nicholas Melanson, 41, signed a plea agreement in which he admits to the interstate transportation of stolen securities by taking a $25,000 check across state lines from Vermont to New Hampshire between May 11 and May 13, 2022. The check was made payable to Nicholas R. Melanson when he knew it had been stolen and taken by fraud, the indictment said.
Judge Christina Reiss, in accepting his guilty plea late Monday afternoon, told him he faces up to 10 years in prison, up to 3 years on supervised release and up to a $250,000 fine. The court also must order full restitution, the 11-page signed plea agreement notes.
While he could have been jailed after his guilty plea, Reiss agreed to allow Melanson to remain free pending sentencing on April 2. She ordered a presentence investigation report by the U.S. Probation Office.
The defense had noted that Melanson has held a job in New Hampshire for about 13 years and is responsible for two children, one in college and one a minor. If their father was jailed, the student would become responsible for her younger brother, Assistant Federal Defender Mary Nerino said. Both attended the change of plea hearing.
Melanson was working the scam with several people, including two people above him in the organization: “Natasha” and “John Broker,” court records show.
Melanson was driving from Manchester, N.H. to Windsor, Vt., (about 90 miles one-way) so much that on May 17, 2022 he requested the two bosses start paying him $10,000 a month to continue driving the woman around and assisting with her financial transactions, the plea agreement noted.
The agreement noted Melanson never met the two of them, but he took orders from them between May 10 and May 19, 2022 for various financial transactions involving the woman. At one point he told Windsor Police that Natasha was his girlfriend, court records show.
Prior to May 11, 2022, Melanson said he had never met or interacted with the victim, the agreement notes.
Melanson had been scheduled to go on trial on 14 felony charges on Dec. 6.
Windsor Police uncovered the interstate fraud scheme to steal money and property from the elderly local woman in 2022.
Police Chief Jennifer Frank said the investigation revealed the Mascoma Bank reported the victim wrote $430,000 in checks to four people and one business between April and May 2022.
Another seven checks totaling $206,782 were scheduled to be mailed in May 2022 when intercepted by investigators, Frank said in court papers.
The chief helped draft a court affidavit to seek a temporary emergency guardianship for the elderly woman in order to protect her assets, records show. The U.S. Secret Service determined her husband was dead and she had no known living relatives on either side of the family, records said.
Melanson, formerly of Hookset, N.H., was initially charged in Vermont Superior Court in White River Junction and later the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Burlington filed a 6-count federal indictment covering interstate wire fraud charges.
The plan involved getting the woman, who is in her mid-70s and has cognitive deficits, to write checks last year as part of the major fraud scheme, the federal indictment said.
Federal prosecutors added in July eight more felony charges, including seven counts of transmitting checks obtained by fraud across state lines in May 2022. The final new count was for bank fraud.
The indictment noted Melanson used phone calls and electronic messages to carry out the fraud across state lines — making it a federal crime — between May 11 and May 19, 2022.
The woman, who police say lived alone when swindled, had accounts at financial institutions, including the Mascoma Bank and the People’s United Bank.
Frank, the Windsor chief, had initially fielded a request to do a welfare check on the woman and things quickly mushroomed.
The chief said there were serious concerns when the woman reported her “broker,” who was helping her with investments, had indicated she would receive $3.5 million over the remainder of her lifetime and an additional $7,000 for each week or year she continued to live.
The initial five state charges included three felonies: felony exploitation of a vulnerable adult, false pretenses and identity theft to commit grand larceny. The other two misdemeanors were false information to police and abuse of a vulnerable adult, records show, Windsor Police said.
Frank said the U.S. Secret Service, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and U.S. Attorney’s Office were eventually brought into the case because of the size of the fraud and because it crossed state lines. It was unclear how far the fraud had spread, the chief said.
Hartford Police also assisted when Acting Lt. Thomas Howell Jr. found Melanson at a White River Junction bank with the victim on May 19, 2022, the day he was eventually arrested by Windsor Police. Melanson claimed he was a relative of the woman – and that proved false, police said.
The latest 19-page indictment provides more of a look inside the reported fraud initially uncovered by Windsor Police.
The seven checks mentioned in the new indictment ranged from $25,000 to $60,000. They included two for $25,000 for Melanson, one for $55,000 for a man known as “Samuel,” two checks for $49,000 and one for $48,000 all written to a woman named “Joyce,” and the final check for $60,000 to a business, the new indictment said.
The indictment notes Melanson was aided by a man called “John Broker” and a woman calling herself “Natasha,” also known as “Tatiana.” They both directed Melanson to meet with the woman and transport her to banks to allow her to engage in various financial transactions, the indictment said. Melanson also was directed to send various checks written by the woman by FedEx to out-of-state addresses, records show.
In an electronic message to Natasha on May 17, 2022, Melanson said he thought the woman “is starting to have Alzheimer’s,” the indictment said.
When confronted by law enforcement on May 19, 2022, Melanson said he thought the woman was unable to make informed decisions about large financial transactions without guidance and direction from someone else, the indictment said.
Melanson drove to Windsor at the request of Natasha on May 11, 2022 to pick up two envelopes from the woman, the indictment said. He was instructed to wait until there were no other cars at the residence before meeting with her. One envelope had his name on it. The other was addressed to a woman with the first name “Janice” and he was told to send it by FedEx to an address in Texas.
The next day, Broker directed Melanson to drive back to the woman’s home and collect two more envelopes with the names Joyce and Samuel, the indictment said. The Samuel envelope had three checks totaling $149,000, records show.
The Joyce envelope had two checks for $49,000 each and Natasha directed Melanson to deposit one each at the Bank of America and at Chase Bank on behalf of Joyce with account numbers provided to him, the indictment said.
Melanson assisted the woman in moving $90,000 from her People’s United Bank account to her Mascoma Savings Bank account on May 12, 2022 and moving another $80,000 between People’s and Mascoma on May 16, 2022, the indictment said.
The indictment lists other transactions and wraps up with a May 19, 2022 incident. Melanson, at the direction of Broker, brought the woman to both the People’s United and Mascoma Banks in an effort to open and close her accounts. It notes Melanson falsely claimed he was her nephew when he was not related in any way.
While at one branch, Melanson reported to Broker the police had responded. Broker reportedly told Melanson “tell them you’re trying to help her out because of all the fraud that is going on,” the indictment said.
Windsor Police responded to a bank and arrested Melanson on the five state charges. Officers lodged him overnight at the Southern State Correctional Facility in Springfield and he pleaded not guilty to the charges in Vermont Superior Court in White River Junction.
Melanson is believed to be the only person charged so far. It is unclear if any federal indictments are under seal.
Reiss had initially scheduled the trial to start Aug. 8, but eventually a delay was requested by the defense.
Chief Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael P. Drescher, who specializes in fraud cases, was added to the prosecution team to aid Assistant U.S. Attorney Nicole P. Cate.
Magistrate Judge Kevin J. Doyle had initially released Melanson on strict conditions, including he have no contact with the victim and witnesses. Doyle also ordered him to be monitored by the U.S. Probation Office in Manchester, N.H. and restricted his travel to Vermont and New Hampshire. Doyle also ordered Melanson to commit no new crimes and avoid guns and excessive use of alcohol.
Cate, the prosecutor, attempted to have Melanson jailed in May for violating his conditions of release after he was charged with two felonies in Hillsborough County, N.H. Manchester Police said Melanson was wanted for passing a worthless $10,000 forged check and a $4,332 theft by deception, both in December 2022, records show.
His lawyer told Judge Reiss on Monday that those criminal charges in New Hampshire have been dropped after he made restitution.
Doyle denied the detention request and did allow Melanson to remain free.