It is almost as if members of law enforcement have been reading this daily blog and decided to help me illustrate one of its chief lessons. The lesson?
Anybody can find themselves facing criminal charges…even someone you least expect. Maybe even you.
Today’s defendants come to our attention by crossing the aisle from the other side of the trenches.
A Suffolk County Grand Jury returned indictments Wednesday charging Medford High Football Coach and Chelsea Police sergeant James A. (hereinafter, “Defendant 1”), with misappropriating funds from the Chelsea High School football team’s booster club for personal expenditures.
Defendant 1, a 43 year old Revere resident faces five counts of larceny for allegedly withdrawing approximately $10,000 from the Chelsea Football Boosters Club to use for expenses that were unrelated to team activities from 2004-07. An extensive joint investigation by the Chelsea Police Department and Massachusetts State Police together with Suffolk County prosecutors revealed that Defendant1 allegedly used the team’s funds for personal travel and entertainment purposes. In 2007, the Chelsea Police Department began the internal investigation into his misappropriation of funds from the booster club, after parents and school officials notified authorities that they were concerned about the coach’s handling of monies raised during fundraising events. Based upon their findings, the department referred the matter to the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office and State Police assigned to the district attorney’s office.
Suffolk County District Attorney Conely called the charges “serious and troubling”. He announced that Defendant1 “abused the public trust in his role as a police officer, he violated the trust of the kids who looked up to him as a mentor and a coach, and the parents who put their faith in him. Were it not for the diligence of parents and school officials, and the hard work of prosecutors and detectives with both the Chelsea Police Department and Massachusetts State Police, he may have been able to continue to pilfer funds for kids to be used for his own entertainment.”
Defendant1, who was head coach of the Chelsea High school football team from 2004-07, was also the president of the boosters club and had sole access to a bank account established for the non-profit through TD Banknorth. In the Fall of 2006, parents who were involved in fundraising efforts became concerned about his control of the fund and complained to him. He responded to the complaints by transferring control of the account to a parent, but continued to carry an ATM card for the account. His previous colleagues allege that he used that ATM card numerous times for unauthorized personal purchases.
Monies donated to the fund were designated for the purchase of equipment and uniforms for the team, and to pay for activities for the players, including pre-season football camp. In November of 2006, parents relayed their concerns to Chelsea High School officials, who notified Chelsea Police. High schools officials did not renew Defendant1’s contract when it expired in 2007. He was also placed on paid administrative leave from the Chelsea Police department on Aug. 13, 2007, pending the result of both an internal affairs investigation and a separate investigation led by State Police detectives and Suffolk prosecutors.
“Charges such as these – whether committed by members of the public or police officers – are to be taken very seriously and investigated with due diligence and the utmost of professionalism,” Chelsea Police Chief Brian Kyes said after the indictments were returned. “Public accountability and trust is absolutely critical to the mission of effective law enforcement.”
Defendant1 is expected to be arraigned in the Magistrate’s Session of the Suffolk Superior Court on Oct. 22nd .
Meanwhile, a former Bristol County prosecutor already facing charges that he sexually assaulted a 17-year-old girl, is now accused of having a relationship with a 30-year-old female defendant in return for his influence in her case.
Arraigned Wednesday in New Bedford Superior Court, Peter C. (hereinafter, “Defendant2”), 39, pleaded not guilty to charges that include two counts of indecent assault and battery on a person older than 14, extortion, witness intimidation, and assault and battery. The charges stem from an August closed-door meeting in Attleboro District Court in which a 17-year-old girl alleged that Defendant2 kissed and groped her and said he could drop drug charges made against her boyfriend.
In addition, Defendant2 recently was indicted on two counts of a public employee accepting and soliciting a bribe. According to court records, the charges stem from an alleged relationship he had with a female defendant from May 24, 2006, to Jan. 15. Court documents did not disclose what charges the woman was facing in New Bedford District Court, or the disposition of the case.
Defendant 2 was a prosecutor for three years at New Bedford Superior Court before he was transferred in April to Attleboro, where he supervised prosecutors. Police arrested him without incident at his home two days after the alleged incident. Initially suspended without pay, he was fired last month.
The Plymouth district attorney is handling the case to avoid a conflict of interest. Defendant2 is free on $10,000 bail and is scheduled to appear in court on Nov. 21.
Defendants 1 and 2 have suddenly been struck with the lightning bolt of criminal justice reality; nobody is above suspicion. Anybody can be accused. Once accused, anybody can be indicted. Then, however you were known in your previous life….your last name, as far as the system is concerned, changes to “Defendant”.
Let’s look at some of the specific allegations in Defendant2’s alleged ill-fated attempted tryst . This guy is not just a prosecutor…he is a supervising prosecutor. He goes into work one day and, apparently, has a meeting with a defendant’s 17 year old girlfriend. Whether he is guilty or not, would he ever expect that law enforcement would end up taking her word against his? What about the word of a woman with criminal charges pending…would anyone expect the Commonwealth would entertain her claim that his proposed plea-bargain would include a sentence of love? I am willing to bet he would not have expected it.
And they may or may not actually believe her. The fact is, there is an allegation there that they ignore to their peril if it hits the press the next day. So, they feel they have no choice but to take the charges seriously and prosecute.
What do you think was going through Defendant1’s head when various expenditures were made which appear to be, at least, questionable? Was he expecting to be investigated or did he believe he was above suspicion? Perhaps he actually believed that he was entitled to spend the money as he did. Who was going to second guess him in these matters?
The fact is that nobody is above suspicion given the right circumstances. Given suspicion, once it is voiced, the question of “What happens if I don’t handle this seriously?” comes to law enforcing minds. What will tomorrow’s papers say? After all, when was the last time you heard criticism for being too tough on crime?
The solution most often chosen? Let the jury decide. In the meantime, what happens if the jury returns a guilty? What happens if they return an acquittal? Does the defendant get his life back or does everyone figure he “got away with it”?
The bottom line is that once you get pulled into the criminal justice system and have your name changed to “Defendant”, your life has changed. The less likely a criminal defendant you are….the more it will be changed. Guilty or not.
So, it is worth repeating time and time again. If you suspect you are the target of an investigation, it is critical to get an experienced attorney to advise you. At the least, he will hopefully keep you out of trouble. At the most, he may prevent a one way voyage into Criminal Justice Wonderland!
Have a good and law-abiding weekend!
The full article of this story can be found at :
http://www.wickedlocal.com/medford/homepage/x1424439618/BREAKING-NEWS-Grand-Jury-indicts-MHS-Football-Coach-Atkins , http://www.southcoasttoday.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20081003/NEWS/810030357 and http://www.telegram.com/article/20081002/APN/810021188