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Former Saugus selectman, Boston nonprofit comptroller sentenced to 18 months for stealing $1.3 million

A former Saugus selectman has been sentenced to a year and a half in jail for stealing $1.3 million from the Boston Center for Adult Education, hastening the demise of the decades-old Bay Village nonprofit by writing checks to himself and his baseball team out of its coffers, according to the Suffolk district attorney’s office.

Mark D. Mitchell, 53, pleaded guilty Thursday to 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, District Attorney Kevin Hayden’s office said in a statement Sunday.

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Judge Michael Doolin sentenced Mitchell to 18 months in the Suffolk County House of Correction followed by three years’ probation, according to the district attorney’s office. Doolin also ordered him to pay restitution in an amount to be determined at a Nov. 9 hearing.

While Mitchell was the organization’s comptroller between 2011 and 2018, Hayden’s office has said in court filings, Mitchell wrote $896,537 in checks to himself out of the organization’s funds. He also cut $82,510 in checks to the AAU baseball team Saugus Wings that he owned and operated, and directed $242,749 “to various unauthorized third-party organizations for his personal benefit and the benefit of his AAU teams.”

Authorities also have said he wrote $73,540 in checks to a BCAE instructor, forged her signature, then deposited the funds into his own account.

Mitchell’s codefendants, former BCAE executive director Susan Brown and former marketing employee Karen Kalfian, both continue to plead not guilty and are scheduled to stand trial starting Oct. 10, according to court records. Brown is accused of authorizing $565,000 in checks to Kalfian between 2009 and 2018.

Prosecutors have claimed Mitchell and Brown repeatedly lied to the nonprofit’s board, keeping the members in the dark even as it lost its tax-exempt status.

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In a sentencing memorandum in May, Mitchell’s lawyer had sought a suspended jail sentence, meaning 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. The lawyer, Carmine Lepore, wrote that Mitchell had no prior record and was suffering from heart issues.

“The facts of this case are not consistent with the type of individual that Mr. Mitchell is, and has been his entire life,” Lepore, who could not immediately be reached for comment on Sunday, wrote in his sentencing memorandum, in which he said Mitchell would take responsibility for the crimes.

Mitchell submitted 17 letters of support, including one from Saugus Town Manager Scott Crabtree.

Hayden’s office had sought three to four years of incarceration, per a June court filing that alleges Mitchell had stolen money from two previous companies he had done bookkeeping work for, though no charges were filed in either case. Prosecutors alleged the BCAE case was part of a pattern of behavior by contending that Mitchell also had “defrauded the public” by “mismanaging” around $16,535 from his political campaign account.

“Through the defendant’s repeated abuse of his position of trust as the controller of the BCAE he did everything he could to embezzle funds and then cover up his actions by repeatedly lying to the BCAE Board members,” Hayden’s office wrote. “The defendant’s actions were not an isolated lapse of judgment, but rather they occurred with respect to BCAE from October 2011 to September 2018, and in connection with his campaign from 2015 through 2019, a substantial period of time.”

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Hayden’s office said Mitchell’s actions “caused the non-profit organization that has been in operation since 1933 to close” and transfer the remainder of its assets to Jewish Vocational Services.

Founded in 1933, BCAE had offered non-degree classes to people looking to expand their knowledge of languages, cooking, computers, or the arts. A year after Mitchell and his codefendants were indicted in July 2019, Jewish Vocational Services wrote in a press release that it and BCAE were “joining together,” adding that the center “will no longer be offering its familiar adult education classes.”

“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,” Hayden said in the statement. “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.”


Sean Cotter can be reached at sean.cotter@globe.com. Follow him @cotterreporter.