NORTH READING — Police Chief Michael P. Murphy announced last Wednesday that the North Reading Police Department arrested North Reading Athletic Boosters Club President John Norton and charged him with larceny.
The police department arrested Norton, 68, after an investigation revealed he allegedly stole more than $10,000 from the organization meant to help local sports teams. Police allege that Norton, a longtime North Reading resident and former town official, solicited donations from residents and businesses on behalf of the Boosters Club and pocketed the proceeds for himself.
“This is a case in which we allege that this well–known member of our community built himself up to be a trusted helper, until reality showed him to be little more than a fraud,” Chief Murphy said. “We believe that this individual stole money that was donated from our citizens to help local sports teams and athletes. We believe that this alleged fraudulent act is isolated to this individual and in no way should reflect negatively on those organizations which raise money for the right reasons.”
Police, along with the Middlesex County District Attorney’s office, began investigating Norton, in May after he mailed the police department a personal check, from his own account, to pay for police detail officers who worked a high school basketball tournament in December 2013. The investigation that followed also revealed that the North Reading Athletic Boosters club have allegedly never filed the required charity and financial paperwork with the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office.
According to police, the investigation revealed that Norton was allegedly the only Athletic Boosters member with access to the bank accounts and maintained sole control and responsibility for depositing fundraising donations to the bank as well as paying vendors. He also had the ability to make purchases or cash withdrawals using a debit card.
Police allege that Norton fraudulently withdrew $10,700 from the club’s accounts between December 2013 and June, primarily performing cash withdrawals at ATMs and writing checks to “cash” drawn on the club’s accounts.
As a result of the police department’s investigation, Norton has been charged with larceny of property over $250 by embezzlement, in violation of Massachusetts General Laws 266 §58. The department has also filed a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office about the club’s lack of required legal filings.
Norton was arraigned in Woburn District Court on Oct. 22, where he pleaded not guilty to one count of larceny of property over $250 by embezzlement. He is due back in court for a pretrial hearing Nov. 14.
Norton, of Main Street, is a former member of the School Committee and the Community Planning Commission. Until just a few weeks ago was the town’s representative to the Citizens Advisory Board of the Reading Municipal Light department.
Norton was charged with a similar offense 1999, when he was arraigned in Woburn District Court on charges of larceny over $250 for his handling of a fund to benefit the family of a North Reading High School player who suffered an aneurysm during a football game. Norton pleaded no contest to those charges and waived his right for the case to be heard by a jury. He was ordered to make restitution.
In August, the School Committee, on behalf of the school department, severed all ties with the Athletic Boosters and recommended citizens no longer donate to the organization. School Committee Chairman Jerry Venezia declined commenting on the matter at Monday’s School Committee meeting, but fellow school board member Mel Webster said on his Facebook page: “It is a sad story but also one that makes me so angry. The School Committee recently approved a new policy and regulations with a goal of preventing this from happening again.”
School Committee Vice Chairman Cliff Bowers concurred with Webster’s sentiment on Monday night.
“I think this makes it clear to everybody why we modified our policy,” said Bowers.
Superintendent of Schools Jon C. Bernard sent an email statement to school families, faculty and staff saying he could not comment on the Athletic Boosters investigation because it is an active legal matter. But he asked for continued support of students’ educational and co–curricular experiences through organizations like the Parents Advisory Councils and Parents Associations and other individual booster groups.