EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

January 9, 2013

Lawyer: Convicted treasurer didn't mean to steal

By Doug Ireland
direland@eagletribune.com

---- — BRENTWOOD — Alan Colby was a popular member of the Plaistow Fish and Game Club who did whatever he could to help, whether it was volunteering or having the parking lot plowed.

But the organization’s former treasurer also helped himself to about $200,000 of the club’s money.

Colby, 52, of Plaistow was convicted yesterday in Rockingham Superior Court on six felony theft charges for embezzling money over a two-year period.

The eight-man, four-woman jury deliberated for an hour and 20 minutes before finding him guilty on all charges. He faces seven and half to 15 years in state prison on each charge when he is sentenced in the future by Judge Kenneth McHugh.

Colby, dressed in a dark suit jacket and black pants, showed no emotion as the jury foreman announced the verdict. He stared straight ahead throughout yesterday’s testimony and turned his head to avoid being photographed.

The two-day trial featured testimony from former club president John Poole and former Plaistow police Sgt. Patrick Caggiano, who is now with the Atkinson Police Department. Colby did not take the stand and refused to comment following his conviction.

Colby remains free until his sentencing, which has not been scheduled. He was indicted on charges of stealing $104,000 from the club after repaying nearly $100,000 more. Colby transferred money between the club’s accounts and his construction company’s account.

The trial, which started Monday, resumed yesterday morning, with Caggiano answering questions about a tape-recorded interview with Colby.

During the interview, Colby admitted to taking the money to help fund his struggling construction company, Senter Brothers. The money was taken between July 2008 and July 2010, according to indictments.

“I borrowed money without permission — that’s the bottom line,” Colby said. “I needed the money.”

Colby also said taking the money was as simple as clicking the mouse on his computer.

Public defender Anthony Naro told the jury Colby intended to pay all the money back, but became overwhelmed with debt. The recession and multiple burglaries at the Plaistow business put it in tough financial straits, Naro said.

Colby was a member of the club for 19 years.

Naro admitted his client made a “stupid” decision to steal from the organization he loved and helped whenever he could, lending the use of his construction equipment for projects or plowing snow.

“In bad economic times, people with struggling businesses will do stupid things,” Naro said. “It wasn’t what he wanted to have happen at all.”

Naro told jurors that to convict Colby, they must determine he acted with criminal intent, which wasn’t the case, he said.

“He loved these people,” Naro said of club members, “but he never meant to deprive them of that money.”

Assistant County Attorney Stephanie Johnson disagreed. She said Colby’s transfer of money to his own account was proof enough to convict him. Colby was charged with making 60 electronic transfers.

“We know he took the money, he took the money for his business,” Johnson said. “He absolutely had a purpose to deprive them of their money.”

Colby became the club’s treasurer in 2008. He resigned two years later after former club president John Poole confronted him when money was discovered missing from the club’s accounts. An audit revealed $104,000 disappeared.

When Colby was interviewed by a reporter shortly after his indictment in 2012, he denied any wrongdoing.

Members of the 200-member club have said they were surprised when the allegations arose against Colby.

Three of those members sat in the front row of the courtroom during yesterday’s testimony, but left before the verdict was announced. They declined to comment.

Poole testified Monday that the club was able to survive, despite the thefts. He was not in court yesterday.

In April, Poole said the two had known each other for years.

“He was a very good friend of mine,” Poole said at that time. “He was one of the most-liked people down there ...”