Four years later, Howie Leung faces no charges in NH

By EILEEN O’GRADY

Monitor staff

Published: 01-14-2023 3:09 PM

On a chilly December morning four years ago, three Concord High School students approached a school administrative assistant and asked her if they could talk about something private.

“We didn’t want anyone to know we were the ones who told,” the students said, according to a report published by independent investigator Djuna Perkins a year later. “We were driving and we stopped at a stop light and looked in the rearview mirror and we saw Mr. Leung and a student. She had her head on his shoulder and he leaned over and kissed her forehead.”

It’s been more than four years since those first reports were made on Dec. 10, 2018, that led to the arrest of former Concord teacher Howie Leung in April 2019, but in Massachusetts, a jury trial on child rape charges has yet to take place. Earlier this month, the trial which was scheduled to begin Tuesday, was rescheduled for the sixth time, pushing it to September 2023.

Since August 2019, Leung has been out on pretrial supervised release, living in Malden, Massachusetts, according to court documents, and abiding by a list of bail conditions that include wearing a GPS monitoring ankle bracelet and maintaining a curfew between midnight and 6 a.m. He is required to stay away from the Fessenden School and Concord public schools and to stay out of New Hampshire altogether, except for medical appointments with 48-hours notice.

The Massachusetts Office of the Commissioner of Probation declined to provide info about Leung’s adherence to the bail conditions, or about how many times Leung has traveled to New Hampshire in the last three years.

Leung is also banned from having contact with a list of people: the victim and her family, a different Concord School District student who assisted him at the Fessenden School and all Concord School District personnel and students. He’s banned from unsupervised contact with children under 16, and he’s no longer allowed to work or volunteer with children under 16. However, the bail conditions mention no restrictions on electronic communications, or contacting other former students not specifically outlined.

Leung is facing two charges of aggravated rape of a child with a 10-year age difference, two charges of aggravated indecent assault and battery on a child under age 14 and two counts of aggravated indecent assault and battery on a person age 14 or older. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Warning signs of abuse

The report by Perkins published in September 2019 pointed to years of warning signs that administrators at the time did not address, including “casual” manner and body language with students, buying food and coffee for a group of students and favoring certain students for projects and activities. Sexual assault prevention advocates have since described it as grooming behavior.

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Despite clear warning signs, administrators at the time protected Leung. When a middle-school student spoke out in 2014 about the favoritism Leung displayed toward her classmates, she was suspended by the principal for “gossiping.” Months later, the sexual abuse of a Concord student began, according to court records. 

In 2016, Leung followed the same group of girls from eighth grade to the high school after he accepted a new job at Concord High. Eventually the student left Concord public schools. In 2017, Leung met a 16-year old girl who would later become the student he was seen kissing in a car, she said in court documents. 

In a restraining order taken out three months after Leung’s arrest, the 18-year-old wrote that Leung initiated a relationship with her in June 2018, when she was 17, and when she tried to leave the relationship, he “coerced” her into staying. While the school district began their investigation of the relationship in December 2018, no one told Leung to stop contact with the girl until the end of January 2019, according to the Perkins report.

“I was upset and didn’t talk to him at school, so he showed up at my house and wanted an explanation,” the 18-year-old Concord student wrote in the restraining order. “Shortly after the school asked him to not have contact with me, but he ignored that order and the relationship escalated. From mid-December 2018 through February 2019 he would come to my home almost every day after school. I continued to try to leave the relationship several times, but he continued to show up, call and message.”

Days before his arrest, Leung is accused of giving her $10,000 in cash. 

The former student, now 22, received $1 million from the Concord School District in February 2022 as part of a settlement agreement.

At the end of January 2019, then-superintendent Terri Forsten submitted a report to the State Dept. of Education. The state alerted police, who located the former Rundlett Middle School student who was identified through the district’s email server. In subsequent interviews with New Hampshire law enforcement, the girl reported that she had been assaulted by Leung at the Fessenden School summer ELL program during the summers of 2014 and 2015 when she was 13 and 14 years old.

In her report, Perkins expressed concern about more potential victims, and noted that she brought her concerns to Concord Police.

“As I learned more about Leung’s methods, I became concerned that Leung may have engaged in sexual misconduct with additional students,” Perkins wrote. “In July [2019], the District received an anonymous call identifying a third student, [redacted], as a potential victim; and I discovered information that caused concern about a fourth.”

Trial delays

When Leung was arrested at Concord Hospital the morning of April 3, 2019, it was as a fugitive of justice from Massachusetts, as the most serious charges accused him of sexually assaulting the former Concord student while at the Fessenden School in West Newton, Massachusetts. Leung was at the hospital when taken into custody because he attempted suicide, police said, after he was warned of his impending arrest.

Concord police and Perkins noted other instances where Leung was accused of sexually assaulting the girl – who was in middle school at the time – in New Hampshire. Merrimack County’s top prosecutor has not commented on why Leung has not been charged with any crimes in New Hampshire. The Attorney General’s Office had no comment about any plans to charge Leung in New Hampshire. Concord Police Chief Bradley Osgood had little to say other than the department considers the case to still be an open investigation.

Within two weeks of the arrest he was transported to Massachusetts, where he was arraigned, held and eventually released on bail five months later in September, 2019.

But in the last three years, Leung’s Massachusetts jury trial has been postponed six times, prolonging closure to the case.

Earlier this month, New Hampshire attorney Mark Rufo, who represents the former Concord student, Fabiana McLeod, expressed dissatisfaction with the delays. The Monitor doesn’t typically name victims of sexual abuse, unless they choose to be identified. McLeod came forward publicly in May 2021 while filing a civil lawsuit against the Fessenden School, saying at the time that she wanted to help protect others.

“We feel it’s been going on for too long and there’s too much concern for the rights of the accused and not enough concern for the rights of the victim,” Rufo said at the time.

The trial, which was originally scheduled for June 2020, was postponed to November 2020, and again to May 2021 when Massachusetts paused jury trials due to the COVID-19 emergency, which created a backlog that lasted months.

But as the new date of May 4, 2021 drew near, Assistant District Attorney Allison Brown and Leung’s defense attorney Ghazi Al-Marayati submitted a joint request for the trial to be rescheduled to January 2022, citing the “serious and complicated” nature of the case. In asking for more preparation time, the two cited the fact that Brown had only recently taken over responsibility for the case from Assistant District Attorney Radu Brestyan, that the amount of documentary evidence is “voluminous” and the amount of electronic data “extremely large.” They also mentioned witnesses.

“The case involves a relatively large number of witnesses, most of whom are out of state, including police officers, investigators, school employees and others,” Brown and Al-Marayati wrote. “Obtaining the attendance of some of the witnesses may require that they be summoned from out-of-state, requiring legal proceedings in the foreign state.”

A judge agreed to postpone to January 25, 2022, but as the new date neared the two submitted another joint motion, asking to bump the case to June 2022, this time to allow Leung’s defense attorney to obtain more evidence.

According to the motion, new information was revealed to both parties when McLeod filed a separate civil lawsuit against the Fessenden School in May 2021, including a claim that she had been given alcohol and marijuana at Fessenden School staff parties and a claim that Leung assaulted her at a hotel during a Fessenden program trip to New York City. Since these details were not raised during early interviews with New Hampshire police, Leung’s lawyer views the information as inconsistent and an example of “exculpatory evidence” that is favorable to Leung. In addition, the defense attorney wanted to obtain McLeod’s therapy records, saying that they could also be considered critical pieces of evidence if they contain no mention of assault.

“The defendant is deeply concerned about the prospect of this case proceeding to trial without the defendant having an opportunity to obtain records that appear likely to contain exculpatory information,” Al-Marayati wrote. “It would seem to the defendant to be a terribly unfair outcome for a criminal trial to occur without the defendant having access to what could very well turn out to be the most critical evidence in the case.”

A judge approved rescheduling to June 10, 2022, but five months later trial date was postponed for a fifth time, to January 2023. The Middlesex District Attorney’s office said in August that the trial was rescheduled “so both parties can review records in the case.” But the document explaining the reason for the fifth delay is currently “impounded” in Massachusetts Superior Court, meaning it is concealed from public inspection. According to the Middlesex Superior Court Clerk’s office, the document was impounded because it contains “medical/health information of counsel.”

Earlier this month, the January trial was rescheduled for a sixth time, pushing it nine months ahead to Sept. 6, 2023. The latest joint motion to reschedule says Brown is planning to leave her position, and Assistant District Attorney Thomas Brant, the third consecutive state prosecutor to assume responsibility for the case, “will not be ready” by January.

The motion also shows that Al-Marayati wants more time to review new evidence, including a video interview with New Jersey police relating to the New York City trip allegations, the therapy records and some new photo and video evidence that McLeod provided to the Newton Police Department.

“Defense counsel needs more time to review these records and make determinations concerning trial witnesses, and, if necessary, to secure the attendance of witnesses potentially from multiple foreign states,” the motion reads.

Other avenuesof litigation

While the Massachusetts case continues to face delays, the case against Leung remains open in New Hampshire. Prosecutors have not brought any sexual assault charges against Leung in New Hampshire, despite reports that abuses happened in the Granite State.

A Concord Police affidavit filed the day of Leung’s arrest says their investigation yielded reports from a former middle school student that Leung abused her between 2014 and 2016 in both New Hampshire and Massachusetts. According to the Perkins report, email exchanges between Leung and the underage student suggest the abuse began as early as February 2015, four months before the student crossed state lines to work at the Fessenden School in Massachusetts.

New Jersey law enforcement officials have also been made aware of allegations that Leung assaulted McLeod at New Jersey hotel while the Fessenden summer ELL program was on a class trip to New York City, according to court documents. A video interview with New Jersey police concerning new allegations is among the evidence that the state of Massachusetts provided to Leung’s lawyer in recent months. So far no charges have been filed in New Jersey, according to the prosecutor’s office in Bergen County, New Jersey, and they declined to say whether there is an investigation underway.

McLeod’s family filed a civil lawsuit against the Fessenden School in Massachusetts in May 2021. The suit accuses the school and its administrators of negligence and failing to protect their daughter, who was a Rundlett Middle School student, from sexual harassment, exploitation and sex trafficking at the hands of Leung who was a Fessenden summer program director.

“She’s been living with this thing and she’s still living with it. She doesn’t want this to happen to anyone else,” Rufo said at the time. “She thinks that by coming forward, she will encourage other people to come forward also, although they do not have to be named.”

Earlier this month, Rufo said he believes the Fessenden School has not addressed reports of sexual abuse at the school in a satisfactory manner.

“We’re looking for some measure of justice through the civil process which we are pursuing through the federal  court,” Rufo said. “We would like to see some kind of apology from the Fessenden  school and assurance that  this won’t happen in the future to other children who go there.”

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