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Former NH state lawmaker arrested and charged with wrongful voting, other charges

Representatives Hall before the New Hampshire House of Representatives convenes. Dan Tuohy photo 2022 / NHPR
Dan Tuohy
/
NHPR
Representatives Hall in the New Hampshire State House.

Troy Merner, a former state lawmaker and Lancaster selectman, has been criminally charged with wrongful voting and faces misdemeanor theft and falsification charges tied to his refusal to resign his State House for more than a year after moving out of his legislative district.

Prosecutors say Merner, a 63-year-old Republican, voted in Lancaster's 2023 town election when he no longer lived there and wrongly filed mileage reimbursements for travel to the State House from Lancaster, when he actually lived in the town of Carroll, where prosecutors say he moved in August 2022. In an affidavit released Tuesday, prosecutors allege Merner repeatedly lied to or misled investigators trying to determine where he was living between August 2022 and September of this year.

The New Hampshire Attorney General’s office announced in September that an investigation had concluded that Merner had continued to hold his seat in the House of Representatives for more than a year after moving out of his district, but only arrested and charged him on Tuesday.

The wrongful voting charge is a felony punishable by up to seven years in prison and a permanent loss of voting privileges if Merner is convicted.

The newly-released affidavit also added new details to the chronology of events surrounding the investigation, including prosecutors’ efforts to inform State House officials about their investigation into Merner.

Prosecutors say they shared details of the investigation with Terry Pfaff, the Legislature’s chief operating officer, by phone and email in December 2022. But it’s unclear whether that information was conveyed to House Speaker Sherman Packard or other House leaders at that time. Packard has maintained that he only became aware of concerns about Merner’s residency in September of this year, at which time Republican House leaders urged him to resign. Pfaff did not return a request for comment Tuesday,

Despite the fact that investigators began raising concerns about his residency before the start of the last legislative term in January, Merner continued serving in the narrowly divided State House for the entire 2023 session, voting on dozens of bills while not living in the district he was elected to serve. Several of those votes were tied or decided by a single vote — a fact Democrats have seized on to suggest that Republican leaders purposely failed to push Merner to resign earlier.

Merner has denied wrongdoing, and in Septemberhe told NHPR he lived in Lancaster when he voted there.

'Everyone in Lancaster knows'

According to the affidavit detailing the investigation that led to Merner’s charges, plenty in Lancaster knew of his situation.

Prosecutors say they were first alerted to Merner’s situation on Nov. 16, 2022, when Herbert Richardson, a former state representative, told a state investigator that Merner had sold his house in Lancaster following the death of his wife, then remarried and relocated to Carroll.

“Everyone in Lancaster knows that [Merner] lives in Carroll,” Richardson said according to the affidavit.

Later that month, a separate state investigator spoke to the owner of the Lancaster building where Merner claimed to have lived after selling his house, who “confirmed that [Merner] rents the office space in the rear of [the building] and that Merner does not live there.”

Less than a week later, the investigator visited the address in Carroll where Merner allegedly lived and said Merner answered the door “and appeared to still be in his sleepwear” of boxer shorts and a T-shirt.

While he ate a bowl of cereal, Merner told the investigator that he was, in fact, not living in Carroll “full time” and hoped to return to Lancaster. He told the investigator that he “could not believe someone had actually complained to this office, stating further that he has done so much for the Town of Lancaster.”

That same day, Lancaster Town Manager Benjamin Gaetjens-Oleson told the investigator he’d warned Merner that moving out of town “would cause an upheaval with the locals.” Gaetjens-Oleson said people complained to him about Merner’s move, and said he didn’t think he could do anything about it because Merner, a selectman, was his “boss.”

Contact with House

According to the Department of Justice, Pfaff — the Legislature’s chief operating officer — was notified about the investigation into Merner in early December 2022, the day before lawmakers were sworn in and picked leaders for their 2023 session.

The affidavit says two top Department of Justice lawyers — Myles Matteson and Anne Edwards — spoke on the phone with Pfaff and reviewed the complaint and investigation into Merner’s domicile.

“The conversation was memorialized in an email to Mr. Pfaff on December 6, 2022, including a summary of facts then known regarding Merner’s residency in Carroll,” the affidavit reads

The Department of Justice, meanwhile, declined to elaborate on why Packard, the top elected official in the House, wasn’t notified directly about their findings at that point.

“We alerted the Chief Operating Officer of the General Court,” Micheal Garrity, the spokesman for the Attorney General’s office, said via email Tuesday. “We have no further updates to provide as our investigation remains active and ongoing,”

Packard, who had previously suggested he moved to seek Merner’s resignation from the House as soon as the Attorney General notified him about his residency issues in September, indicated on Tuesday that Merner’s situation was more widely known within the State House at least nine months earlier, but that officials felt comfortable allowing him serve while under criminal investigation.

“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,” Packard said in a statement.

House Democratic Leader Matt Wilhelm accused Republican House leaders of “overlooking” concerns about Merner’s residency in order to hold onto their narrow partisan majority.

“Voters trust us to respect their voices and follow the laws we write, and this episode raises serious questions about the House’s commitment to uphold a democratic process,” Wilhelm said in a statement.

Merner’s seat will be filled in a special election slated for Jan. 23 Merner himself is scheduled to be arraigned in Coos County Superior Court on Dec. 28.

This story was updated at 9:45 p.m.

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