A1 A1
Local
top story
Doodle a day: Maplewood resident processes pandemic through art
  • Updated

WESTMORELAND — In the corner of his room at Maplewood Assisted Living on Tuesday, Bob Seaman sat down at his drawing table and began to outline his next doodle.

“Sometimes I’ll just start with a shape,” the Long Island native said, “and then it’ll grow.”

Tuesday’s piece was no exception, with various lines and figures intersecting across the page.

It had no real direction yet, he said that morning. But by the end of the day, it would transform into one of the doodles he’s created amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Doodles,” as the 88-year-old artist refers to the daily drawings, belies their detail. But whatever you’d call them, they’ve kept Seaman busy.

And in some cases, they’ve also helped him process his feelings about the pandemic, especially since he moved into Maplewood from his home in Keene just weeks before its effects were felt in the Monadnock Region.

Updated

“We went into lockdown pretty fast [here], and we even couldn’t leave the rooms to go to the dining room ... so one of my thoughts I had was, ‘I’ve gotta do something to keep myself busy or I’ll go nuts,’ “ he said.

Soon after, Seaman began to share his work with loved ones over email to give them a serotonin boost. His daughter, Robin Hayes, then started to post the drawings on her Facebook page.

“Then people started asking, ‘Hey, can I buy this?’ or ‘Can I get a print of this?’ “ said Hayes, 53, of Keene.

She started an Etsy shop to sell the originals, prints and notecards, with half of the proceeds donated to local charities, such as Hundred Nights homeless shelter in Keene and Amazing Grace Animal Sanctuary in Sullivan.

Now, Seaman has created 479 doodles — pencil sketches finished up with ink and watercolors — and about 800 items had been sold as of Tuesday.

“Robin does all the work,” he said with a laugh. “I really just sit here drawing pictures.”

Seaman grew up in a family of artists and has been putting pen to paper since he was a toddler. But it wasn’t until he was 60 — after careers in the U.S. Army and in real estate — that he decided to pursue his passion professionally.

“I finally couldn’t stand not doing it full-time, and toward the end of my real-estate life, I was really depressed and I didn’t want to get up in the morning,” he said.

With painting his forté, Seaman — who was the 2018 recipient of the Ruth and James Ewing Arts Lifetime Achievement Award — picked up work for various publications, such as magazines and greeting-card companies.

And though he never stopped creating, his daily doodles have given him another sense of purpose.

“It’s been such an interesting little journey to take on at this late stage,” Seaman said.

For his daughter, it’s been the only way she could connect to her dad, with visitation restrictions and other safety precautions put in place amid the pandemic.

“We didn’t get to see each other for over a year, so this was our daily contact,” Hayes said. “... The greatest thing is he’s not doing still lifes. All this stuff is coming out of his head like every day.”

Seaman draws inspiration from various places, from other artists’ paintings to an image he conjures up while reading a good book. Some are realistic, some abstract, and others resemble a New Yorker cartoon.

It can be difficult to create something new every day, Seaman said, but the biggest challenge is keeping the images uplifting.

“It’s very easy to go dark,” he said, noting the movement of people against the COVID-19 vaccine, “... but that isn’t the purpose of the doodles, so I try to be light.”

But overall, he’s glad to be lifting people’s spirits, with no plans to stop anytime soon.

“I’ll be sad when I have to stop, when I can’t do it anymore,” Seaman said. “... But I’m sure I’m gonna draw as long as I can.”


Local
Out $2.3M, Peterborough looks to insurance, but email fraud sometimes not covered

When Peterborough lost $2.3 million through an email scam, it joined a growing list of businesses and towns victimized by a prevalent but easily avoided type of fraud that can fall outside insurance coverage.

Officials from three other towns contacted by the Ledger-Transcript, one in Massachusetts, one in Florida and another in Colorado, said insurance has not reimbursed them for most of the losses they incurred in similar situations.

Across the country, swindlers are committing thousands of these crimes, which fall under the category of business email compromise.

The FBI’s 2020 Internet Crime Report said the agency received 19,369 such complaints last year with losses of more than $1.8 billion. The report said complaints are growing, and this type of fraud takes advantage of people’s accelerative use of and comfort with email.

In a typical version of this scam, a criminal posing as a known vendor sends a seemingly reasonable email asking for a change in the financial routing of an upcoming payment. Due diligence demands a simple phone call to the vendor to confirm the request, but if this is not done, millions of dollars in payments can be sent to whoever is running the fraud.

This played out in Peterborough with money that was supposed to go to the ConVal School District and to Beck and Belluci, a bridge contractor. Instead, the public funds went to those behind the fake emails, which Town Administrator Nicole MacStay described as “an incredibly good forgery job.”

“Though it is now believed that no town staff were criminally involved in the transfers, the Finance Department staff who were directly targeted in this fraud are on leave until the U.S. Secret Service’s ongoing investigation has been concluded,” she said in announcing the crime on Aug. 23.

MacStay also said town officials do not believe the funds can be recovered by reversing the transactions and do not know if the losses will be covered by insurance.

Peterborough is insured through Primex, the N.H. Public Risk Management Exchange.

Mike Ricker, general counsel for Primex, which provides insurance for municipalities across the state, said a thorough investigation of the incident is required before any decision is made on whether the loss is covered.

Ricker said he isn’t sure if the cyber policy Primex provides for municipalities across the state is conditioned on the policyholder maintaining certain performance or bookkeeping standards. He said he couldn’t discuss Peterborough’s coverage.

Naples, Fla., lost about $700,000 two years ago in a fraud similar to the one in Peterborough but found out it couldn’t collect from insurance because the policy had a condition requiring verification when the city receives a request to change the routing of a payment to a vendor.

“It is a common condition under most cyber policies for public entities,” said Lori McCullers, deputy human resources director and risk manager in Naples. “Obviously, since that time we marketed our cyber liability insurance rather heavily to find more or better or different coverage, and I know that it is a very common condition in most policies, if you can even find social engineering or spear phishing coverage.”

Tricking someone to unknowingly assist in fraud is sometimes called social engineering. “Spear phishing” is a fraudulent email directed to a specific person.

McCullers said the $700,000 loss was absorbed in a city budget of more than $150 million, and no tax increase was required.

Also, there are limits to insurance coverage. Naples had $250,000 in coverage for this type of fraud, so an insurance payoff wouldn’t have covered the entire loss in any case.

MacStay, Peterborough’s town administrator, said Friday she is still trying to learn about coverage conditions and loss limits in the town’s insurance policy as regards this type of incident.

Even in a worst-case scenario in which it couldn’t get insurance money, the town has $3 million in a fund balance that could potentially be applied to the loss, so there would be no need for a tax increase, MacStay said.

Payments have been sent to the bridge contract to make up for the misdirected money. A public hearing will be held to approve removal of money from the fund balance to pay for the school district.

She declined to say which members of the town’s finance department were placed on paid leave, or if more than one employee was involved in the transactions. She also said the town has a standing policy of requiring verification when a vendor changes payment information.

In Naples, the city employee at fault in failing to follow verification procedures was demoted, and her salary was reduced. Those who perpetrated the crime were never caught.

The town of Erie, Colo., lost $1.01 million in a business email compromise scam in late 2019. Town spokeswoman Gabi Rae said the investigation continues, and no insurance payment has been received. The fraud occurred after a town employee changed a vendor’s payment information based on a request that came in through the town’s website. The employee ended up resigning.

In Franklin, Mass., in late 2020, the town treasurer was suspended for a month and her compensation was reduced after a town payment of $522,000 was misdirected to a fraudster posing in an email as a vendor on a water-treatment plant project. The town was able to recover $200,000 through insurance — less than half of the loss.

Town Administrator Jamie Hellen said that after this incident, the town has tried to get the word out about the need for diligence in acting on emailed requests.

“If we really, truly don’t know something is coming to our inbox, an email, and we don’t know where it’s coming from, just delete it,” he said. “If the person wants to get in touch with you and you inadvertently delete something by mistake that was real but looks fake, they’ll get in touch with you.”

Another step some municipalities have taken is to get more than one person to sign off on any changes for routing of payments.

What is notable about the fraud in Peterborough is that misdirected payments occurred more than once, said Lisa Thompson, an attorney who is chair of the N.H. Bar Association Intellectual Property Section.

One payment for the school district and two for the bridge contractor were misdirected.

“Any insurance company is going to try to find any way not to pay a claim,” she said. “If I have a fender bender, they’re going to find a reason not to pay it, so you can bet that they’re going to do the same thing here.

“This is a very unique circumstance. I haven’t heard anything like this, particularly in New Hampshire, but also other states.

“My first thought when I read about this was that this sounds like a training issue, that people aren’t getting adequate cyber-security training.”


Wapo
Hate crimes rise to highest level in 12 years

WASHINGTON — The number of hate crimes in the United States rose in 2020 to the highest level in 12 years, propelled by increasing assaults targeting Black and Asian victims, the FBI reported Monday.

In all, the federal agency tallied 7,759 hate crimes last year, a tumultuous 12 months marked by a global pandemic, a divisive presidential election and upheaval in the economy. The total represented an increase of 6 percent from 2019 and the most since 2008, when 7,783 hate crimes were reported.

It is the sixth time in the past seven years that the number of attacks rose. The number of hate crimes reported has increased by nearly 42 percent since 2014, according to federal data.

Attacks targeting Blacks rose from 1,930 to 2,755, and the number targeting Asians jumped from 158 to 274, the data showed. Those figures come as civil rights groups have warned of increasing hostility toward minorities, amid a rise in white nationalism and an increase in violent crime levels nationwide.

Attacks targeting whites rose to 773, an increase of about 16 percent.

“These hate crimes and other bias-related incidents instill fear across entire communities and undermine the principles upon which our democracy stands,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement. He pointed to steps the Justice Department has taken to improve incident reporting and bolster law enforcement training.

Congress mandates that the FBI collect hate-crime data annually based on reports from local law enforcement agencies. In 2020, the number of agencies that participated in that effort fell for at least the second consecutive year — to 15,136, which is 422 fewer than in 2019. Of agencies that did participate, the vast majority reported no hate crimes.

Congressional Democrats and civil rights advocates have criticized what they describe as a large undercount in the number of hate crimes and other bias incidents, saying local police are poorly trained in how to identify and catalogue hate crimes and lack sufficient resources or interest in investigating them.

“While the numbers in this report are shocking, we know that they are not even close to the complete picture,” said Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus.

Chu cited “increasingly racist and xenophobic rhetoric from political leaders” as contributing to the increase in hate crimes and said the FBI’s report “must be a wakeup call to all who irresponsibly spread fear and anger in our communities that they are putting lives at risk.”

Civil rights advocates have cited President Donald Trump’s use of xenophobic language last year, including blaming China for the coronavirus, as contributing to a backlash against Asians.

Stop AAPI Hate, a grass-roots group based in California, reported 6,603 hate incidents against Asians from March 2020 — the start of the pandemic in the United States — through March of this year. According to that data, which was collected through self-reporting portals online and was not thoroughly vetted, about 65 percent of incidents involved of verbal harassment, such as name calling, while 12.6 percent involved physical assault.

John Yang, executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice-AAJC, said the FBI statistics were “woefully underreported.” He expressed guarded optimism that increased public attention on anti-Asian hate incidents, after several brazen attacks were captured on video, would help efforts to improve accounting of hate crimes.

In May, Congress approved the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, which requires the Justice Department to appoint an official to expedite investigations into hate crimes reported to federal authorities. The bill also seeks to improve reporting of hate crimes among localities by bolstering online reporting channels and offering resources in more languages to help immigrants.

“Although there is not a lot of dollars involved, hopefully some of the programs by the federal government will gain traction,” Yang said.

Attacks targeting Jewish people fell from 953 in 2019 to 676 last year, according to the FBI data. The Anti-Defamation League, using a broader definition of hate incidents, tallied 2,024 incidents of assault, harassment and vandalism against Jews in the United States last year, representing a slight decrease from 2019 but still the third-highest number on record.

The group’s chief executive, Jonathan Greenblatt, called the FBI’s numbers “disturbing on their own,” but emphasized that the federal data was likely an undercount, given the declining levels of data reporting from local jurisdictions.

“The fact that so many law enforcement agencies did not participate is inexcusable, and the fact that 64 jurisdictions with populations over 100,000 affirmatively reported zero hate crimes is simply not credible,” Greenblatt said in a statement. “Data drives policy and without having a complete picture of the problem, we cannot even begin to resolve the issues driving this surge in hate and violence.”

The number of murders classified as hate crimes fell from a record 51 in 2019 to 22 last year. The 2019 figures included a mass shooting in El Paso in which a gunman killed 22 people, most of them Latino. (A 23rd victim died of his injuries in 2020).

The FBI report said 3,633 hate crimes were allegedly perpetrated by White assailants, while 1,309 allegedly were committed by Blacks. The race of the perpetrators was not known in another 1,080 cases, the report stated, and assailants who identified by more than one race are accused of committing 378 of the crimes.


Local
top story
Hundred Nights curbs access to resource center, angering some of city’s unsheltered

Nicholas Wilbur has lived in a tent in Keene for the past seven months.

Wilbur, previously a Winchester resident, said he’s spent much of that time at Hundred Nights’ resource center on Lamson Street, where the organization offers meals from another Keene nonprofit, The Community Kitchen, as well as laundry services and help finding housing.

But after Hundred Nights opted in early August to limit use of the resource center by anyone not among its 24 guests, Wilbur said he’s had to turn elsewhere for a break from the outdoors. He and some others experiencing homelessness in the city say the new rules, which allow non-guests to enter the resource center only at specific mealtimes and to meet with Hundred Nights staff, make daily life harder and expose unsheltered people to inclement weather.

“The other people are just allowed to sit in there,” he said of Hundred Nights guests. “… That’s not fair.”

Hundred Nights Executive Director Mindy Cambiar confirmed the new rules at the resource center — the former St. James Thrift Shop, near the organization’s overnight shelter.

Those restrictions went into effect early last month, she said, after multiple people damaged the space, including by tearing a sink off the bathroom wall, which needed a $1,500 repair. Those people have been barred entirely from using the resource center, though Cambiar said they can still pick up food there and have their laundry done.

“That is not acceptable behavior,” she said of the damage. “I don’t know any facility that would let them come inside.”

Non-guests may still go to the resource center from 7 to 9 a.m. for breakfast, from noon to 1 p.m. for lunch and for a couple hours in the evening for dinner, according to Cambiar. Coffee, water and bagged lunches are also available to them, and the space remains open for meetings with Hundred Nights staff about housing, health or employment and for other programs offered there, she said.

Cambiar noted, as well, that Hundred Nights’ resource center has one of the few public bathrooms in Keene. (The organization’s plans for a new shelter on Water Street, which the city’s planning board approved last month, include more bathrooms at the facility.)

“We’re not trying to keep people away from that, although it’s been very difficult with some of the guests,” she said.

Keene’s library has public restrooms, and people experiencing homelessness sometimes use those in local convenience stores, according to an unsheltered woman living outdoors in Keene who asked to remain anonymous over concerns that she would face consequences for speaking out. She said the resource center is a popular spot because of the other services offered there and the camaraderie among visitors.

“It was just nice to have that place as like a base station, so to speak,” she said. “You go in in the morning, have your coffee and sort of just plan out your day and meet up with other peers that are in the same predicament … It made me feel like I’m not all alone.”

The woman said she’d been using the resource center’s computers to look for a job earlier this summer. Under the new policy, however, she can continue that search only under the supervision of a Hundred Nights case manager — though Cambiar said another computer is available in the organization’s offices, if needed.

Arguing that Hundred Nights overreacted to the damage caused by a few people, she said the new rules reinforce false stereotypes that people experiencing homelessness are destructive and untrustworthy.

They also disadvantage people who’d rather camp in the woods than live in the shelter’s tight quarters, she said. That could be particularly dangerous if unsheltered people aren’t allowed into the resource center during bad weather, she said, estimating that as many as 20 people typically hung around inside on rainy days in the past.

“What they’re doing is not fair,” she said, adding if the new rules remain in place for the colder months that, “I don’t think they should be allowed to be calling themselves the resource center.”

Cambiar said Tuesday, however, that she expects many of the people angered over the new policy to claim shelter beds in the fall and winter, thus giving them daytime access to the resource center. She also said that “hopefully any behavior issues will be resolved long before then.”

A current shelter guest, who also asked to remain anonymous, said she’s been unsheltered in the past and disapproves of those restrictions, too.

Access to the resource center has typically allowed people to escape bad weather, get their mail or simply charge their phone, she said. She spent much of her time there writing letters and meeting up with friends, she said.

“Now people don’t even have that anymore,” she said. “… We should not be treated any different than people that are staying out in the tents.”


Back