PHILADELPHIA >> In spending a suburban New York City man to prison for waging a “months-long campaign of terror” against a Kennett Square businessman and his associates, a federal judge this month cautioned that he remained concerned that the punishment would have little or no impact on the man’s future behavior.
“I tell you quite candidly your client frightens me,” U.S. District Judge Paul S. Diamond told the court-appointed attorney for Roger Eichenholtz, who spread false stories about his former colleagues and their company, ChromaGen Vision, after losing his stake in the firm, made veiled threats against them, and finally stepped into criminal conduct by sending an e-mail last September mentioning “6 silver bullets that have your name on them.”
“How do I know that if your client violates supervision, it is not going to be by hurting somebody?” Diamond asked Federal Defender Kathleen M. Gaughan at Eichenholtz’s Aug. 6 sentencing at the federal courthouse.
When Gaughan responded that her client had “no history of violence whatsoever,” Diamond demurred.
“No, he only has a history of great anger,” the judge said.
Diamond sentenced Eichenholtz, a 71-year-old resident of Westchester County, New York, to one year in prison, followed by three years of federally supervised probation. He also forbid Eichenholtz from having any contact with his former business partner, Ted Edwards of Kennett Square, his family, or the ChromaGen offices on Ceder Street in the borough, and ordered him to undergo a mental health evaluation.
“After years of false threats to file lawsuits and to have various prosecuting agencies charge them with sundry crimes, (Eichenholtz) crossed the line into clear criminality when he sent an e-mail to the victim (Edwards) and 14 others, threatening to have them arrested by the Manhattan District Attorney’s office,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Levy, who prosecuted the case, wrote in a pre-sentencing memorandum.
“He concluded the e-mail with the words: “PLAN B – if for some unforeseen miracle you escape justice, I have access to a Side Bolt .45 cal with 6 silver bullets that have your name on them.”
Edwards, 61, told the judge that even after all the harassment he and his associates had suffered at Eichenholtz’s hands for years – e-mails and letters and false reports to law enforcement and IRS authorities, not to mentioned his trusted business clients – that last e-mail forced him to change his life.
He bought weapons for his home and office, trained to use the guns, and made his wife learn to fire a handgun as well. At one point a security expert counseled him that should Eichenholtz break into his home, a possibility that struck Edwards and not out of the realm of possibility, he should prepare to fire the entire chamber of bullets into his assailant at “center mass.”
“This has been very disturbing to my family,” Edwards said, according to a transcript of the sentencing proceeding. Even though Eichenholtz had been warned by federal judges to stop his behavior during previous litigation, in which Edwards was represented by attorney Buck Riley of the firm of Riley, Riper, Hollin & Colagreco of Exton, he continued to wage his campaign of harassment.
“Each time, as he’s done here today in court, Mr. Eichenholtz will say, yes, I’ll stop, I’ll do it. (He) shows up as a grandfather and a meek kind of likeable guy and he said he would stop, (but) he wouldn’t do it. He has promised he wouldn’t do it again, and of course he did numerous times,” Edwards told the judge.
The history of the matter stretches back to 2005, when Eichenholtz purchased the domestic rights to market an ocular product of colored filters, contacts lenses, and eyeglass lenses that aid in the diagnosis and treatment of dyslexia and other reading disorders. It is marketed to eye doctors across the nation to help their patients deal with a variety of conditions, and at some point after his purchase, Eichenholtz sought a source of capital to run the business. He and Edwards formed ChromaGen International.
At the time, Eichenholtz had what might be described as a checkered business past. As Diamond noted at the sentencing hearing, he had been arrested and charged federally more than 20 years ago with burning down a business he owned and trying to collect the insurance. He spent one year in federal prison for the crime.
According to Levy’s sentencing memo and Edwards’s court testimony, Eichenholtz was forced out of day-to-day operations with ChromaGen in October 2009 in a dispute concerning the a loan of $250,000 that he failed to disclose to the ChromaGen board. “He started a campaign of harassment against the board,” Edwards said, calling one member a neo-Nazi and making other disparaging remarks.
When Eichenholtz filed for bankruptcy soon afterwards, Edwards acquired his interest in ChromaGen through the bankruptcy court for the company’s shareholders. Eichenholtz blamed Edwards personally for his loss in the company, and began legal action to have his interest reinstated.
Eichenholtz “continued to assert that he had rights to the product line,” Levy wrote. He sent e-mails to Edwards, other board members, and customers and suppliers threatening them with civil action, and falsely claiming that criminal charges were likely to be filed against his enemies.
“These e-mails were designed to cause customers to stop dealing with the company and to achieve through intimidation what he could not achieve though the litigation,” Levy said.
Edwards described for Diamond the arduous process he would have to reassure past clients when they would be battered by Eichenholtz’s charges, and to attempt to convince new clients that the charges they would hear of were false. About 50 percent of the potential clients he spoke with dropped out, he said.
When Eichenholtz eventually wrote the “6 silver bullets” e-mail, he was charged by the FBI with making threats via the Internet in December. He pleaded guilty to the charge in April.
In his statement to Diamond, Eichenholtz, now homeless and destitute, grieving the death of his wife from pancreatic cancer, started to apologize, only to be caught in a searing dialogue with the judge.
“I am aware of what I did,” he began, according to the transcript.
“What did you do, Mr. Eichenholtz?” the judge interrupted.
“I sent an e-mail which was something I never should’ve done,” Eichenholtz responded. “I was emotionally distraught at the time” over the death of his wife.
“Did the people at ChromaGen steal your business from you?” the judge asked. “The whole ChromaGen matter I don’t think is something we should discuss her today,” Eichenholtz answered, only to have the judge tell him, “We’re discussing it, sir.
“Do you think the people at ChromaGen stole your business from you?” the judge asked again. “Yes, I do,” Eichenholtz admitted. “So you are still angry about it?” the judge asked.
“Well, I’m disappointed would be a better word.”
In asking for a sentence, both Levy and Gaughan recommended that Diamond impose only supervised probation, with Levy saying he did so to insure Eichenholtz would be under court jurisdiction for five years instead of only four. But Diamond rejected that, saying that imprisonment was called for.
“If the defendant is at liberty, I remain quite concerned that he is capable of and inclined to do something terrible in connection with the people at ChromaGen,” Diamond said in doing so. When Gaughan asked if her client could report to prison in his home state of New York, the judge refused, and Eichenholtz was led from the courtroom by federal marshals.
To contact staff writer Michael P. Rellahan call 610-696-1544.