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What you need to know for 10/19/2017

Deputies: Facebook post led to Lake George restaurateur's arrest

Deputies: Facebook post led to Lake George restaurateur's arrest

Investigators believe there may be more victims
Deputies: Facebook post led to Lake George restaurateur's arrest
Jonathan L. LaRock.
Photographer: Provided

LAKE GEORGE — A woman's recent Facebook post touched off a sexual misconduct investigation that has led to the arrest of a prominent Lake George businessman once widely hailed for reopening a classic restaurant.

The Warren County Sheriff's Department on Wednesday filed multiple charges against Jonathan L. LaRock, 65, the man who resurrected the Lake George Howard Johnson's, the last of its kind in the country.

LaRock, of Michael Road in Moreau, is accused of sexually harassing more than a dozen female employees ranging in age from 14 to 43 years old over a span of at least June 2016 to July 2017 and occurring at the restaurant, police said. 

Investigators believe there may be more victims, department spokesman Lt. Steven Stockdale said. They are combing through employment records and employment agencies to contact any other former employees.

Among the charges is one felony count of first-degree sexual abuse. LaRock is accused of grabbing an 18-year-old woman in October 2016 and kissing her neck, according to court documents. 

When she turned to walk away, documents say, LaRock grabbed both her breasts with his hands and rubbed his groin area against her buttocks. He then held "onto her for an extended period of time while she struggled to get away," documents read.

LaRock also faces two unlawful imprisonment counts and four counts of endangering the welfare of a child, both misdemeanors.

The endangering counts center on victims ages 14, 15 or 16, according to court documents and police accounts. In one unlawful imprisonment charge, LaRock is accused of grabbing a 14-year-old around the waist at the restaurant in October 2016 and refusing to let her go after she asked him to and tried to push him away, according to documents.

In one of the endangering counts, LaRock is accused of paying a 14-year-old $50 to take two white oval pills embossed with the letter 'm' and numbers, and telling her it would make her "high like weed."

Sheriff's officials also accused LaRock of offering alcohol to several employees younger than 17.

He was arraigned and ordered held on $15,000 bail. He remained in custody Thursday afternoon, Stockdale said. He was not aware of an attorney for LaRock.

The investigation began last week with the Facebook post. Stockdale described it as a young woman airing grievances against LaRock. That led to other women offering comments of similar experiences.

Warren County sheriff's investigators were made aware of the comments and started their investigation, Stockdale said.

"We then had success tracking down these young ladies to get their stories," Stockdale said.

Police are looking for anyone who may have worked for LaRock to determine if other victims exist, Stockdale said.

Investigators said LaRock sometimes paid employees off the books, meaning there may be no record of their employment at the restaurant. Investigators have shared those allegations with the state Department of Labor.

Stockdale noted that Lake George summer workers often come from outside the country. Investigators are working to identify any of those workers who spent time at the Howard Johnson's.

LaRock reopened the property in January 2015, leasing the site and restoring the interior. He and the location gained notoriety, first as one of the few Howard Johnson's restaurants left, then as the only Howard Johnson's restaurant left.

The Gazette featured the reopening in June 2015. Eater.com featured it in February 2017. In its article, Eater.com referenced the month of its visit: October 2016, the same month as at least two of the allegations against LaRock.

The doors of the restaurant were locked on Thursday afternoon. The future of the business is unknown.

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