Ex-Rep. Merner Arrested, House COO Knew He Was Serving Illegally Before Session Began

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Former Republican State Rep. Troy Merner's mug shot.

Updated at 5:20 p.m.

By NANCY WEST, InDepthNH.org

CONCORD – Former Republican state Rep. Troy Merner who now lives in Carroll has been arrested and charged with one class B felony count of wrongful voting, and misdemeanor charges of theft by deception, unsworn falsification and tampering with public records.

In the affidavit filed for Merner’s arrest, investigator Thomas Defosses dropped a bombshell stating that the Attorney General’s Office had investigated an earlier complaint against Merner for living out of district and notified Terry Pfaff, the Chief Operating Officer for the General Court, before the last session began.

According to the affidavit, on Nov. 16, 2022, investigator (Dick) Tracy received a call from former state Rep. Herbert Richardson, who has since died, reporting that Merner was then living in Carroll with his new wife, out of the Lancaster district he represented in the House and on the selectboard.

“Richardson stated that state Rep. Merner claims he currently lives at 80 Elm St. in Lancaster,” but Richarson said he knew that wasn’t true.

“Richardson stated that ‘everyone in Lancaster knows that state Rep. Merner lives in Carroll.’”

On Nov. 30, 2022, Anna Brewer-Croteau, an investigator with the Attorney General’s Office, spoke with Rita Cloutier, the owner of 80 Elm St., Lancaster, where Merner claimed he was living, who confirmed Merner didn’t live there.

On Dec. 5, 2022, Brewer-Croteau went to 144 Grandpa Harry Lane in Carroll to speak with Merner who answered the door in his sleepwear consisting of boxers and a T-shirt and they sat in the living room while he ate cereal.

He told her that he couldn’t believe someone would complain about him because he had done so much for Lancaster. Merner said he knew of others who vote in Lancaster but are not domiciled there, but wouldn’t say who.

“On Dec. 6, 2022, Deputy General Counsel Myles Matteson and Associate Attorney General Anne Edwards had a phone conversation with Terry Pfaff, the chief operating officer of the General Court regarding the complaint received and investigation into state Rep. Merner’s domicile,” the affidavit said.

 Matteson memorialized the conversation in an email to Pfaff that day including a summary of facts known regarding Merner’s residency in Carroll.

Pfaff and Republican House Speaker Sherman Packard didn’t return phone messages Tuesday. Merner also didn’t respond to a request for comment.

It was four months later on March 22, 2023, that the second complaint came in to the Attorney General’s Office about Merner’s residency from Lancaster poll worker Kathy Lavoie of Lancaster that led to another investigation into Merner’s domicile and eventual notification to Speaker Packard on Sept. 18.

Merner resigned the House seat the following day and resigned from the Lancaster selectboard.

Merner infuriated Democrats in the House for voting during the whole session after moving out of his Lancaster House district at a time when the number of Democrats and Republicans was very close and every vote mattered.

 The arrest complaint alleges that Merner knowingly voted in the March 8 Lancaster town election after he had moved to Carroll, according to a news release from Attorney General John Formella’s office.

The theft complaint alleges that Merner represented on General Court mileage cards that he resided in Lancaster when in fact, he resided in Carroll resulting in him receiving greater travel reimbursements from the state than he was entitled to receive, in an amount that did not exceed $1,000. 

The unsworn falsification and tampering with public records charges were in connection with Merner falsely reporting his address on a General Court mileage card received on or about Sept. 12.

The wrongful voting charge carries a potential sentence of 3½ to 7 years in the State Prison and a fine of up to $4,000.  Additionally, anyone convicted of a willful violation of the state’s election laws will lose the right to vote in New Hampshire.

The remaining class A misdemeanor charges each carry a potential penalty of up to one year in the House of Corrections and a fine of up to $2,000.

 Merner is scheduled to be arraigned on Dec. 28 at 1 p.m. in Coos County Superior Court.

After the news broke in September that Merner was living out of district during the entire last House session, Rep. Kat McGhee, D-Hollis, said he told her that “everyone knew” he had moved away from Lancaster but House “leadership” told him to continue serving.

House Speaker Packard, R-Londonderry, has denied knowing Merner lived out of district and therefore was illegally serving in the House until receiving a letter Sept. 18, 2023, from the Attorney General’s Office saying Merner was under investigation and hadn’t been living in Lancaster.

Merner resigned from the House Sept. 19 and little information was released as the criminal investigation at the time was ongoing.

The state Constitution is clear that House members must live in the district they represent.

Democratic Leader Matt Wilhelm, D-Manchester, was particularly concerned about Merner voting on legislation to have the school voucher program administered by the state Department of Education deemed inexpedient to legislate, effectively killing it in a close vote.

“Rep. Merner’s illegal vote likely affected the outcome of many motions that were decided by zero or one vote margins and on one bill, HB 626, his vote directly caused the bill to be killed,” Wilhelm said previously in an email.

Chichester attorney Paul Twomey represents former state Senators Peter Burling of Cornish, a Democrat, and Mark Hounsell, a former Republican now Independent from Conway, who filed right-to-know requests trying to find out whether the Republican leadership knew and encouraged Merner to vote illegally.

“We’re very encouraged by the actions the Attorney General’s Office in taking this first step in resolving this matter but there are still many unresolved questions,” Twomey said after learning of Merner’s arrest.

Twomey said ultimately what happens to Merner if convicted is not as important as who knew he was serving in the House illegally and when they knew it.

If it is true that House leadership knew, “that is a very serious allegation and the attorney general should take steps to determine if is true and release all information to the public as soon as possible.”

“I think they should explore getting Merner on the record and give him a really good deal. It is really important to get the information out so people can make decisions about how their government is being operated,” Twomey said.

In a statement late Tuesday afternoon, Speaker Packard’s office released the following statement: “Allegations against Merner were made in December 2022, and the General Court was made aware that Merner disputed and contested those allegations at that time. Merner continued to attest to the General Court through signed official paperwork that his residence was in Lancaster.

“The details of Merner’s admissions relative to his residing outside of his district were not brought to the attention of the Speaker’s Office until September when the Department of Justice investigation had concluded.

“When the Speaker’s Office was made aware of the conclusions made by the Department of Justice, rapid action was taken to force Merner to vacate his seat,” Packard’s statement said.

After Merner’s arrest, former Sen. Hounsell told InDepthNH.org: “I am greatly encouraged.  But it seems to me that not enough people have been arrested…yet. The investigation had better not be treated as ‘complete’! The cover of this septic tank has been removed.  It is time to drive headlong right into it and get to the bottom of things.”

Ray Buckley, chairman of the state Democratic Party said: “The arrest of former State Rep. Troy Merner is the first step towards accountability for a profound deception that strikes at the very heart of our democratic values. Merner’s alleged actions, including wrongful voting and residing outside of his district, represent a violation of the law and a deep betrayal of the public trust. 

“The silence and lack of accountability from the House Republican majority in this matter are alarming. It is imperative to determine how long Merner’s actions were known and seemingly tolerated within their ranks. This situation reveals a possible conspiracy that goes beyond a single individual, suggesting a systemic issue that must be addressed to restore public confidence in our state’s governance.

“This investigation continues to raise troubling questions about the extent of knowledge and potential complicity within the House Republican caucus. Granite Staters demand a thorough investigation into these serious allegations. The implications of this conspiracy, if proven true, are far-reaching and could challenge the legitimacy of critical decisions made in the House.”

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