By Dave Rogers Staff Writer
---- — SALEM — The one-time treasurer of the Pentucket Youth Football League, whose trial for allegedly stealing $80,000 from the organization was expected to begin last Wednesday, remains out of the country, prompting Essex County prosecutors to issue a default warrant against the former Groveland resident.
After 55-year-old James Potenza of Wakefield failed to appear for his final pretrial hearing late last month, his attorney told the court he had taken a new job in the United Arab Emirates, a Middle Eastern country without an extradition treaty with the U.S.
Prosecutors gave Potenza seven days to return to the U.S. before they would issue a default warrant for his arrest.
Yesterday, Essex County District Attorney spokesman Steve O’Connell said it appeared Potenza was still out of the country and confirmed a default warrant was issued on Sept. 28.
“We remain committed to prosecuting this case,” O’Connell said.
Asked what steps his office could or would take to ensure Potenza stands trial, O’Connell declined to comment.
Prosecutors contend Potenza obtained an unauthorized debit card that allowed him to make cash withdrawals from the league’s account. He was indicted on a felony larceny charge last year.
Many of the withdrawals turned out to have been made on Cape Cod, where Potenza owned a summer home. Potenza initially claimed that he’d made withdrawals to pay game officials and denied using the card for personal expenses. He also claimed that his family members may have inadvertently used the card.
But as Potenza was making those withdrawals, as far back as 2006 or 2007, the youth sports league, which serves youths in Groveland, West Newbury and Merrimac, was struggling financially, other officials told a judge during a set of unusual public “lobby conferences” last year and earlier this year. As a result, children played in old, worn uniforms and used substandard equipment.
Prosecutors said it appears Potenza left the country just as the trial was about to begin. In August, his former Groveland home was sold, eliminating one of his ties to the area as well as providing him with a possible source of funds, they said.
While prosecutors were seeking a jail term for Potenza, he did not want to serve time, instead offering to pay restitution if he received probation. After those negotiations broke down, the case was scheduled for trial.
According to Potenza’s LinkedIn online profile, he has worked at Adveti STS, an engineering school in the UAE, since August.
Salem News reporter Julie Manganis contributed to this report.