NASHUA — Kathryn Vitale, the former Nashua alderman charged with felony witness tampering, made her first court appearance on Wednesday when her attorney publicly disputed the facts of her case.
“This is a political witch hunt,” Attorney Joe Fricano said Wednesday during a bail hearing at Hillsborough County Superior Court. “This case is all about guilt by association.”
Vitale, 54, of 8 Massasoit Road, is facing two charges of conspiracy to witness tampering, both felonies.
Vitale’s legal counsel claims her case stands on “one soundbite” taken out of context from hours of telephone conversations between Vitale and Ernesto Rivera, 48, who is incarcerated at Valley Street Jail for various assault charges.
Leslie Gill, assistant county attorney for Hillsborough County, has a different opinion on the matter.
“The state is extremely concerned with Miss Vitale’s behavior,” Gill told the court while seeking a $10,000 cash or corporate surety bail and requesting that Vitale report to the Nashua Police Department for booking because she was indicted prior to an official arrest.
Police allege that Vitale conspired with Rivera and Rene Lavoie, 52, to persuade Elvira Kersey to recant her statement in an assault case against Rivera.
The indictments also state that Vitale allegedly contacted Lavoie, of 21 Hospital Ave., Apt. 1, Manchester, to make arrangements to bring Lavoie to Kersey’s residence so Lavoie could tell Kersey to recant her statement, and later drove Lavoie to her residence.
Kersey is a key witness in a case against Rivera, who is incarcerated in connection with various weapons, assault and drug charges, according to court documents.
Rivera is accused of assaulting Kersey and another woman, Chantel Guertin, during a dispute last August outside of a Nashua restaurant that resulted in six domestic violence assault charges.
According to Gill, Vitale’s ex-boyfriend is now dating Guertin. Vitale began visiting Rivera in jail quite frequently, and spoke with him over the telephone more than 90 times, said Gill.
Vitale also showed up at Rivera’s previous bail hearing as a character witness, Gill added.
“He was her friend. They were acquaintances,” Fricano said.
After reviewing more than 1,000 pages of discovery, Fricano maintained that Vitale did not fully understand the severity of felony charges that Rivera was facing, and that she had no idea what his intentions may have been.
Much of the telephone discussions circled around Rivera’s interest in selling tires and rims in exchange for bail money, according to Fricano, who said Vitale never drove Lavoie to Kersey’s residence.
“The facts here are very much in dispute,” he said.
Gill argued that Vitale contacted Kersey and Lavoie on several occasions to try to set up a meeting between the two because Ernesto wanted Lavoie to convince Kersey to recant her statement to authorities.
Gill said that as a courtesy, Vitale was not arrested because she was a Nashua alderman, although she stressed that Vitale was brought in for questioning. While Vitale initially denied speaking with Rivera, she eventually admitted to police that she was relaying conversations between Rivera and Lavoie, said Gill.
The court continued bail at $10,000 personal recognizance, and ordered that Vitale does not need to arrive at the Nashua Police Department for the booking process.
Vitale, who previously served as a Ward 1 alderman, was ousted last fall by newcomer Sean McGuinness. However, she was still serving in her role as alderman until the end of 2013.