By Doug Ireland
---- — Salem police have been asked to prosecute a Windham case because the suspect’s defense lawyers are two Windham selectmen.
Windham police asked for Salem’s assistance to avoid a potential conflict of interest involving Selectmen Kathleen DiFruscia and Ross McLeod, according to police Chief Gerald Lewis.
The case involves Jeffrey Yennaco, 40, of 8 Hidden Valley Road, Windham.
Yennaco faces felony charges following a domestic dispute March 14 when police said he threatened and assaulted his estranged wife, Alison Kachanian.
Yennaco, a Windham businessman, grabbed the woman by the shoulder and wrist, and threatened to kill her, according to court records. He also is charged with driving a vehicle toward Kachanian in an attempt to injure her, police said.
Yennaco, who is free on bail, is charged with criminal threatening, reckless conduct and simple assault. A probable cause hearing is scheduled for May 23 in 10th Circuit in Salem.
Lewis said yesterday it was in the town’s best interest to have another department handle the case since Windham selectmen are tasked with overseeing his department.
“We see that as a potential conflict,” he said.
The department has had a good working relationship with the two selectmen, Lewis said, and he doesn’t personally believe there is a conflict. It’s the first time this type of issue has arisen, he said.
Windham will not have to pay Salem to prosecute the case, Lewis said. The two towns often share prosecutors, especially if there is an illness or other absence, he said.
Salem prosecutor Jason Grosky said he doesn’t mind handling Windham’s case because the two towns have a sound cooperative relationship. Grosky said he’s received more help from Windham than Windham has received from him.
“It’s not a problem,” he said.
Windham officials praised the move, including DiFruscia, saying it avoids what could be a troublesome situation, whether there is a conflict or not.
“I think it’s the right thing to do,” DiFruscia said. “I don’t want there to be a question of any impropriety whatsoever.”
DiFruscia insisted it’s not a conflict of interest to represent someone arrested by Windham police. She said there would only be a conflict if she handled a case involving selectmen. Her law firm employs McLeod, who could not be reached for comment.
DiFruscia, the board’s vice chairman, said she accepted the case because she has known the family for years. Yennaco’s mother, Carol, was a longtime friend before she died a year ago, she said.
“I know she would want me to look out for her son,” DiFruscia said.
Selectman Al Letizio Jr. agreed with DiFruscia there would only be a conflict if the two attorneys were dealing with a legal issue involving their own board.
“I don’t see it as a conflict,” he said. “I don’t think the residents of Windham should be concerned.”
Board Chairman Phil Lochiatto declined to comment because he wasn’t familiar with the case. Selectman Roger Hohenberger could not be reached.