By Mark E. Vogler
Ex-Saugus Selectman Mark D. Mitchell will serve up to 18 months in the House of Correction after pleading guilty to his role in a $1.3 million embezzlement scheme while working as comptroller at the Boston Center for Adult Education (BCAE). Mitchell, 53, was scheduled to go to trial this month, but accepted a plea agreement last week, admitting to the 18 criminal charges that a Suffolk County grand jury indicted him on four years ago: five counts of larceny by scheme, six counts of improper campaign expenditures, three counts of forgery, three counts of false entries in corporate books and one count of publishing false or exaggerated statements.
“The scope of this scheme is made more contemptible when one considers the organization it victimized – an organization that has provided educational benefits to tens of thousands of adults since it was founded nearly a century ago,” District Attorney Kevin Hayden said in a statement this week.
“This calculated theft struck at the heart of the BCAE’s ability to do what it does so well and has done for so long. Mr. Mitchell’s plea is only the beginning of the reparations that are justified in this shameful breach of fiduciary and civic trust,” Hayden said.
Hayden’s office sought a prison sentence of three to four years. Attorney Carmine Lepore, who represented Mitchell in recent months, sought a suspended jail sentence, noting that he had no prior record and has heart issues. A suspended jail sentence means Mitchell would only spend time behind bars if he were to reoffend or violate other terms of an agreement, as well as having to pay restitution.
Judge Michael Doolin sentenced Mitchell to serve three years of probation upon his release from the Suffolk County House of Correction at South Bay. Judge Doolin also ordered Mitchell to pay restitution – an amount that will be determined at a Nov. 9 restitution hearing.
Prosecutors say that Mitchell wrote $896,537 in checks to himself, $82,510 in checks to the Saugus Wings – an AAU baseball organization which he owned and operated in Saugus – and $242,749 in checks to various unauthorized third-party organizations for his personal benefit and the benefit of his AAU teams. During the embezzlement scheme, which ran from 2011 to 2018, while comptroller, Mitchell also wrote $73,540 in checks to a BCAE instructor, forged her signature, then deposited the funds into his own account.
Mitchell also stole money from campaign funds collected during his successful campaigns for selectman in Saugus.
Michell’s two codefendants, Susan Brown, 70, and Karen Kalfian, 66, both of Marblehead, are scheduled for trial on Oct. 10. Prosecutors say Brown authorized $565,000 in checks to Kalfian between 2009 and 2018, when Brown served as executive director of BCAE. Kalfian served as a marketing employee for a portion of that time. Prosecutors allege that Brown helped to cover up the scheme by falsifying financial reports to the BCAE board.
Mitchell was also charged with misusing his political campaign funds for personal expenses unrelated to his campaign, commingling his campaign funds with personal funds and making cash withdrawals greater than the $50 maximum set by law. The unlawful cash withdrawals were made at locations in Boston, giving Suffolk prosecutors jurisdiction over the offenses.
During 2015 and 2017, Mitchell ran for and was elected selectman for the Town of Saugus. Investigators said he mismanaged more than $16,000 in campaign funds and underreported donations he raised by more than $15,000. Court documents show that Mitchell embezzled funds from the Committee to Elect Mark Mitchell.
The entire Board of Selectmen called on Mitchell to resign his office shortly after his indictment in July of 2019. He completed his term, but decided to not seek reelection.
BCAE, founded in 1933, decided in 2019 that it would no longer offer its adult education classes. In the email, the center said it had been losing money over the past few years because of declining enrollments and increased cancellations.
Some observers said the embezzlement scheme contributed to the once-popular center’s decline. The scandal led to the center losing its nonprofit status, which affected fund-raising efforts.
Hayden’s office blamed the embezzlement scheme with forcing BCAE to close, with the center’s assets being transferred to Jewish Vocational Service. The center offered non-degree classes to adults who were interested in learning how to cook, acquiring computer skills and improving their knowledge of language and the arts.