Ayotte e-mails reveal scant info

Last modified: Friday, May 14, 2010
Those looking for a link between former attorney general Kelly Ayotte and her office's investigation of an alleged Ponzi scheme were left disappointed by the nearly 5,000 pages of e-mails and correspondence released this week.

Many of the documents were redacted, and those that were released show nothing indicating she was aware of problems with Financial Resources Mortgage, the Meredith company that closed last year amid accusations it was running a multimillion-dollar Ponzi scheme.

But the pages that were made public confirmed this: Being New Hampshire's attorney general isn't all flash and intrigue. It also means writing a lot of thank-you notes, tending to office housekeeping, and responding to matters big and . . . otherwise.

In one e-mail, Ayotte replied to a Londonderry legislator upset that another motorist had allegedly fired "large staples" at him on Route 101, flattening his tire.

Ayotte's e-mails and correspondence are drawing interest in political circles because she is now a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate. The first Right-to-Know request for her e-mails and correspondence came from an out-of-stater described in press reports as a "Democratic operative."

More recently, the campaign manager for U.S. Rep. Paul Hodes, a Democrat running against Ayotte, filed the same request, hoping the material would provide insight into Ayotte's role in investigating Financial Resources Mortgage.

Matt House, a spokesman for the Hodes campaign, criticized the state yesterday for releasing only some of Ayotte's e-mails and correspondence. Too much was redacted, and too little was released, he said.

"The . . . Ponzi scheme and the subsequent deletion of her e-mails upon resigning to run for office raises some serious questions about her leadership as attorney general," House said.

Attorney General Michael Delaney issued a report Wednesday blaming three state agencies, including the attorney general's office, for failing to uncover the alleged fraud and share information.

The material from Ayotte that was released this week came from two main sources: case files that Ayotte had worked on and the inboxes of employees who still had e-mails from Ayotte, though not all the employees in the office have made their e-mail correspondence with Ayotte public yet.

Many of the released pages were redacted to keep confidential personnel matters, financial information and protected investigative files, according to Attorney General Michael Delaney.

Ayotte's own e-mails in her in- and out-boxes were deleted when she left the office, as is office policy. And while Ayotte has asked Delaney to recover her deleted e-mails from the state's backup server, doing so is not required by law.

Delaney has not said whether he'd take that step.

What was released this week, however, does tell the public something about the former attorney general.

In a state this small, just about everyone felt comfortable writing directly to Ayotte. And she wrote back.

In 2007, Ayotte answered the questions of a homicide victim's family and told them she was sorry for their loss. Last February, she wrote back to a Stratham middle school student who was doing a school project on the death penalty. When someone sent her a song he'd written about the Old Man of the Mountain, she forwarded it to the group proposing a legacy fund for the fallen monument, adding a handwritten note to the group's chairwoman wishing her new baby well.

She gave her attention to cases and legislation, asking legislators and police chiefs to help her advocate for particular issues like child internet safety, the fight against medication abuse and drunken-driving laws. She routinely followed up with thank-you notes.

She was sometimes sensitive to press coverage. In one e-mail, Ayotte complained about the "one-sidedness" of a news media story on efforts to curb drunken driving. She asked her staff for documentation on her office's efforts so she could "push for a more accurate article."

Ayotte appears to have negotiated vigorously for her office's budget and staff salaries. When she returned from budget sessions, she e-mailed the office to say how those discussions had gone. When she succeeded in getting small raises, they responded with appreciative e-mails.

It wasn't unusual to find e-mails from Ayotte praising her office's hard work. Last year, just before she resigned, she hosted a pizza lunch in the office. She acknowledged the state budget cuts and wrote, "When measuring success, there is no recession in this office! Please plan to take a break and join me for a celebration of all our accomplishments."

That cheerleading extended to employees when they marked 20 years in the office and to lawyers who won convictions.

When the trial team won a capital murder conviction against John "Jay" Brooks in 2008, Ayotte sent this office-wide e-mail: "Job well done. One important part of our mission is 'To seek . . . justice in all prosecutions.' Your hard work has brought the first step of justice to the victim, his family and our state!"

Ayotte also e-cheered to the whole office in 2007 when staffers bested federal prosecutors in a golf match. "Yeah!! Go team AG!"

Absent from the e-mails released this week are jokes and asides typical of correspondence between co-workers. At one point, Ayotte learned that a former legislator had claimed in open court that someone other than Michael Addison had shot and killed Manchester police Officer Michael Briggs.

The information came from Addison's lawyers as Ayotte and her team were preparing for trial. Ayotte decided her office should check out the claim, even though it had come from a man with a history of making untrue and outrageous statements.

When one of the lawyers prosecuting Addison asked Ayotte why she wouldn't leave that job to the defense, Ayotte responded: Because "we are the truth tellers."