Published in the October 1, 2015 edition


WOBURN — John Norton, former president of the North Reading Athletic Boosters Club, pleaded guilty in Woburn District Court on Tuesday morning on the charge of embezzlement by an association officer over $250  –  siphoning off donated funds given to the Athletic Boosters for the benefit of North Reading Public Schools sports teams and student–athletes.

Norton was arrested by the North Reading Police in October, 2014 on charges of stealing more than $10,000 from the organization. Norton, 69, who has been held in the Middlesex House of Correction since his arrest last October, entered the courtroom wearing a faded plaid shirt and in handcuffs. After Judge Stacey Fortes explained Norton’s rights, District Attorney Tommy Noda recited the facts of the case according to the Commonwealth.

According to Noda, the North Reading Police Department began investigating Norton, who maintained sole control of the finances of the Athletic Boosters, in May of 2014. The investigation showed that between December of 2013 and June of 2014, unauthorized funds were withdrawn from the North Reading Athletic Boosters bank account. Police discovered that Norton had withdrawn approximately $10,000 in cash from the Boosters Club account via ATM withdrawals in amounts from $20 to $200 and by writing checks to “Cash.” Approximately $5,000 was deposited in cash into Norton’s personal account on the same day or on consecutive days over a six month period.

Norton admitted to the facts of the case as outlined by Noda and pleaded guilty. In view of the fact that he has already served nearly a full year in jail – Tuesday was his 336th day in custody –  Judge Fortes said he would be sentenced to 11 months time served and held his case over for final disposition until Oct. 13, when Norton will return to court again. In the meantime, he was returned to the House of Correction.

Superintendent of Schools Jon Bernard and Sandy Valenti read victims’ impact statements on behalf of the community, calling Norton’s actions a flagrant breach of trust and a betrayal of the town’s youth.

In addition, Norton’s actions had a direct financial impact on the school department’s finances, said Bernard. “Several orders of equipment and apparel were placed by school department personnel with the belief that funds raised largely by students were being held by the Athletic Boosters; the invoices for these products remained unpaid. Because the school department was already using the products, the invoices were paid by the North Reading Public Schools. In addition, two scholarship awards to deserving students sponsored by the Athletic Boosters were also paid by the North Reading Public Schools.”

These financial obligations totaled slightly more than $14,000 – money that was not accounted for in the school department budget but which the schools were obligated to pay.

Bernard requested that Norton be required to make restitution to the taxpayers of the community and further asked that Norton be banned from North Reading Public Schools property and all off–campus events that the schools might sponsor.

An impact statement was also read by Sandy Valenti, who explained it was incredibly painful to learn that nearly $4,000 raised in memory of the late Sara Valenti, an ardent booster of North Reading sports who passed away from cancer, was almost completely gone.

“How could someone have stolen money donated in the name of such an advocate of North Reading?” Valenti asked. “This is a bitter pill and lesson for the teenagers of North Reading,” she said.

Valenti said Norton owes a formal apology to the people of North Reading and the teenagers of town who raised that money.

Judge Fortes said it was clear Norton’s actions had a tremendous impact on the people of North Reading and eroded trust in the community. She said the court was not able to order restitution or that he be banned from school property in the future.

But Norton was ordered to write a letter of formal apology to the community and the victims of his actions prior to his return to court on Oct. 13.

“In this case the defendant took advantage of student athletes and donors to this organization,” said District Attorney Marian Ryan. “Mr. Norton was entrusted with managing funds that were meant to benefit the North Reading community, and instead he chose to take advantage of confidence the public placed in him.”

“This was a very unfortunate case from the start, in which a longtime community resident stole money directly from the hands of the children he was tasked with aiding,” North Reading Police Chief Michael Murphy said. “I am proud of the work done by the North Reading Police Department and I wish to thank the prosecutors from the Middlesex District Attorney’s Office for bringing this to a successful conclusion.”

Norton is a former member of the School Committee and the Community Planning Commission and the town’s former representative to the Citizens’ Advisory Board of the Reading Municipal Light Department.

He was charged with a similar offense in 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 football player who suffered an aneurysm during a game. Norton pleaded no contest to those charges and waived his right to a jury trial and was ordered to make restitution.