Local Government and Politics, News

Saugus selectmen want embattled Mitchell to resign

SAUGUS — Selectman Mark Mitchell’s fellow board members want him to resign. 

Mitchell, 49, is one of two former employees of the Boston Center for Adult Education accused of stealing $1.7 million from the nonprofit. Prosecutors allege he wrote unauthorized checks to himself and others, used the company’s money to fund his participation in golf tournaments, and to cover expenses related to a youth baseball team he owns and operates in Saugus. He is also accused of misusing his political campaign funds for personal expenses unrelated to his campaign.

Mitchell, who declined to comment on the charges, pleaded not guilty in Suffolk Superior Court last week.

“While we as the Board of Selectmen cannot force Mark Mitchell to resign, all of us collectively feel he should step down,” said Selectman Jennifer D’Eon. “Selectman Mitchell needs to take time to defend himself from these charges. Either Mark has to resign on his own or the citizens need to recall him.”

Selectmen do not have access to the town’s money, said D’Eon, who stressed how important it is for people to know that Mitchell is accused of stealing funds from his former employer, not the town. 

The Boston Center for Adult Education provides educational opportunities for adults who foster personal and professional development, enhance a sense of community and encourage social responsibility. 

Mitchell, the company’s former controller, was hired by his co-defendant, former executive director Susan Brown, in 2011. His alleged thefts from the nonprofit began the same year. Both Mitchell and Brown were placed on administrative leave on Sept. 18, 2018 and fired on Oct. 5, 2018. 

A third defendant identified as Brown’s partner, Karen Kalfian, is also facing charges of receiving stolen property by scheme. Brown and Kalfian live in Marblehead.

According to a complaint filed in Suffolk Civil Court by the organization, the Board of Directors discovered “serious misappropriations of funds from its bank account, which at all relevant times were controlled by Ms. Brown and Mr. Mitchell.”

This included cashed checks that Mitchell and Brown allegedly wrote to themselves and Kalfian. Mitchell allegedly forged Brown’s signature to deposit the money into his own account. He allegedly embezzled more than $970,000 through this scheme. 

Beginning in 2009, the same year Brown was appointed executive director, payments of at least $67,000 per year were made to Kalfian. Brown allegedly created invoices on behalf of Kalfian stating she performed various general marketing services for the company. 

Mitchell is also accused of making payments from the nonprofit to an elite youth baseball league he owns and operates, Saugus Wings. 

Additionally, he allegedly used his employer’s account to make unauthorized payments for team and personal expenses totaling $242,749. This included his participation in golf tournaments and sending youth baseball players to out-of-state baseball camps. 

In an attempt to cover up the thefts, Mitchell and Brown allegedly falsified the nonprofit’s records. They are accused of producing false reports to be filed with the IRS in an effort to renew the nonprofit’s tax exempt status that they had allowed to lapse. 

The pair allegedly presented the organization’s Board of Directors with a forged letter purportedly from the IRS stating that the nonprofit’s status had been reinstated. 

He is charged with making false entries in corporate books, publishing false or exaggerated statements, common law forgery, common law uttering, three counts of forgery, three counts of uttering, and four counts of larceny by scheme. 

Mitchell, who was first elected in a special election to recall the Saugus Board of Selectmen in 2015, is also facing charges in connection to the alleged misuse of campaign funds, including improper campaign expenditures, making a cash campaign expenditure over $50, mixing political committee and personal funds, and a fifth count of larceny by scheme. He allegedly withdrew more than the $50 maximum set by law at locations in Boston, which gives Suffolk prosecutors jurisdiction over the offenses. 

“Mark should resign,” said Selectman Scott Brazis. “I made a statement a couple of years ago when a former school committee member was charged with a crime that that person should resign because the board the person served on was being subjected to ridicule and dispute. My feelings are the same with this situation.”

But there’s nothing that prevents Mitchell from staying on the board, even if he is convicted, said Town Counsel John Vasapolli.

“The only way he could be removed is to not be reelected,” said Vasapolli. “The voters put him in there and only the voters can take him out.”

Additionally, a recall cannot be held within 120 days of a regular election, he said. Terms for all five selectmen expire in November. 

Debra Panetta, chairwoman of the board, said she has no personal knowledge of the allegations, other than what she has read in the newspapers and seen on television. It is not up to the board to decide whether or not Mitchell should resign, she said. 

“Although these are serious allegations, this matter does not have anything to do with his official actions as a member of the Saugus Board of Selectmen,” said Panetta. “Many people have asked me if he is stepping down. This is his personal decision to make. He was elected by the voters, and the remaining Board members have no authority to make him step down. At this point, I believe Selectman Mitchell needs to make known what his intentions are.”

Although the allegations are very serious and concerning, Selectman Jeff Cicolini said he agreed that the judicial system was built on the premise of a person being innocent until proven guilty. 

That being said, I hope that as Mark weighs his options and considers stepping down,” said Cicolini. “He will realize it is the right thing to do to avoid being a distraction for all the good that is going on in Saugus.”

 Brazis argued that elected officials need to be held to a higher standard. 

“If you are not trusted then your integrity comes into question,” said Brazis. “The community you serve should always trust that you are doing the right thing for the community and not questioning your decision making or the fellow board members you serve with.”

Mitchell did not return calls seeking comment.

 

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