Ask Nathalie L. Dias about John George Jr., a former selectman and state representative from Dartmouth, and she will talk about his kindness and generosity. So Dias was saddened this week when George, who had been sentenced earlier this year to six years in federal prison for embezzlement, was accused of attempting to hide $1 million in cash from the government in safe-deposit boxes.
"I know it doesn't seem like it, but he really is a good, good man," Dias, a former member of the Board of Selectmen, said Thursday. "He would give you the shirt off his back and work 10 days for you."
But others in the close-knit South Coast political world said they were not surprised that George, who ran a farm in Dartmouth and operated a major New Bedford bus company, allegedly stashed far more than the $28,000 in cash he had declared to the federal government in July.
"This was like waiting for the other shoe to drop," said Diane Gilbert, also a former Dartmouth selectman. "I've always suspected since he was indicted that the truth would come out. It is rather shocking to me, however, that he could have been so careless and so arrogant as to consider himself above the law."
A 69-year-old Democrat, George served in the Massachusetts House from 1989 to 1991 and was a selectman from 2013 until he resigned in April, following his conviction.
He was convicted of embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Southeastern Regional Transit Authority, a publicly subsidized agency that had a contract with his Union Street Bus Co. to operate buses in New Bedford, Fall River, and other municipalities.
He was also accused of inflating his final year's salary to $275,000 from $75,000 in a fraudulent attempt to boost his transit authority pension.
In July, George was ordered to pay $688,772 in restitution and to forfeit an additional $1.38 million to the United States. He told US District Judge Denise Casper, under oath, that his liquid assets consisted of about $160,000 in bank accounts and $28,000 in cash.
But deputies with the US Marshals Service obtained warrants to search safe-deposit boxes in New Bedford and Fairhaven, where they believed he was hiding money. They said they found boxes on Tuesday and Wednesday stuffed with $1 million in cash tied up in rolls of $100s, $50s, and other denominations.
The US attorney's office in Boston has not said whether George will face new charges. It was also unclear whether he could face additional sanctions from the judge. George's lawyer, William J. Cintolo, declined to comment Thursday.
Matt L. Barron, who was George's administrative assistant in the House, said he was heartbroken by the latest accusations against his former boss.
In a letter to the court earlier this year, Barron said that George had adhered to the "highest ethical standards of conduct as a public official" and that he had "never let a lobbyist buy him as much as a cup of coffee so as to remain totally impartial."
"It's like two different people," Barron said Thursday. "I'm still trying to absorb it."
Michael Gagne, a former town administrator, was also stunned.
"He did so much for the community here in Dartmouth, for the agriculture community," Gagne said. "I could tell you numerous instances of when he went and helped people in need, people who were down on their luck or needed a place to stay."
But Joseph Michaud, a former selectman, said he had suspected that George, as the owner of a bus company and a farm with a brisk cash business, may have been hiding a bigger stash than he disclosed.
"I can't say that I'm surprised, given John's history," Michaud said, "but it's another black eye for the town."