FARMINGTON — A Rumford-based lawyer said in Franklin County Superior Court on Friday that he took 100 percent responsibility for phoning in two bomb scares to elementary schools in Wilton in March.
Ronald Hoffman, 53, of Sumner pleaded no contest to two misdemeanor charges of terrorizing in a plea agreement before Justice Nancy Mills.
Under the agreement, Hoffman was sentenced to 364 days at Franklin County Jail, all suspended, and placed on a one-year administrative release for each charge.
An administrative release is similar to probation, with Hoffman being monitored by the Somerset County District Attorney instead of a probation officer, Somerset County Assistant District Attorney Brent Davis said.
The case is being handled by the Somerset County District Attorney's Office because Hoffman also practices law in Farmington, Franklin County Assistant District Attorney James Andrews said in July.
Hoffman must have no contact with the school secretaries, not go onto RSU 9 property, take all medications and follow recommendations of his physicians and counselor, continue psychological counseling and report monthly to the Somerset County District Attorney.
He must also make restitution of $5,677.50 to RSU 9 and Wilton, East Dixfield and Farmington public safety departments, along with court costs.
If the case had gone to trial, the state would have shown that on March 29 a call was placed to Academy Hill School. When that line was busy, another call was made to G.D. Cushing School. The caller made a second call to Academy Hill, Davis said.
School secretaries would have testified that a male voice said there was a bomb in the school.
A secretary left the phone off the hook, which allowed Verizon to retrieve the phone number. Police investigations showed the phone had been purchased the day before at Walmart in Mexico. Store photos showed Hoffman purchasing the phone.
Hoffman told police he bought the phone and tried to activate it, but it didn't work so he threw it away, Davis said.
Darlene Paine, principal of both schools, submitted a three-page statement on the impact to students and staff from the events of March 29. She also told the court about her discipline procedure for students, a form that makes them accept responsibility and consider what was wrong with doing what they did and who they hurt, among other questions. She said she wanted Hoffman held to the same standards as her students.
She also asked the court to treat Hoffman as any other citizen.
School librarian Joan Cook and first-grade teacher Lisa Gagnon relayed how fearful the day was for the young students who didn't know why they were told to leave the school on the cold spring day.
“It's something they are not going to forget for a long time,” Gagnon said.
Students at schools in Farmington were also disrupted as the Wilton students arrived. Parents learned of the bomb scare but didn't know where their children were.
“A plea agreement is not going to deter anyone from doing this again,” said parent Claire Andrews, who is an attorney and a school board member.
The biggest question is “why Wilton,” Paine said. “The community is outraged.”
Hoffman suffers from multiple, severe and chronic diseases, his attorney, James Martemucci, told the court. In March, he said Hoffman was taking 10 medications daily with no monitoring of interaction.
Along with diabetes, he suffers from Graves' disease, which is an autoimmune disease that affects the thyroid, compulsive disorder and depression, he said. There is a Graves' rage from the disease that can cause irrational behavior, but Martemucci said Hoffman has accepted 100 percent responsibility.
“I apologize to Franklin County. It's my fault, and I take responsibility,” Hoffman said. “I'm not asking for forgiveness or for anyone to feel sorry for me.”
Hoffman spoke of how his actions deeply affected his wife, two adopted children and a foster child, his colleagues and friends. He also said he was highly sensitive to medications.
Attorneys David Austin, Michael O'Donal and Margo Joly gave words of support for Hoffman.
“My friend is in trouble. I'm asking the court to help him,” Austin said.
Mills explained why she accepted the plea agreement, stating that Hoffman has a clean record, has gotten help and has done much free legal work for the courts. He showed remorse and took responsibility to make sure it won't happen again, she said.