HAVERHILL — Most who know Haverhill businessman Thomas Minichiello Jr. — either through politics, community service or friendship — weren't interested in talking publicly about criminal charges Minichiello faces for allegedly beating and attempting to rape a 27-year-old woman last weekend in a Marlborough hotel.

Those who did said they were shocked by the allegations and sordid details laid out in police and court documents. They said they hope people remember all the good work Minichiello has done for the community over the years as they are making judgments about him.

"This is a tough day," said Sam Ambra, owner of Simply Elegant Catering and a former chairman of the Greater Haverhill Chamber of Commerce board of directors, an organization where Minichiello has volunteered much of his time over the past 20 or so years.

"Tom has done a lot for the community and he's been a friend of mine for 20 years," Ambra said. "He's helped too many charities to mention. He's been a friend to the Exchange Club and the chamber and I just hope people don't forget everything he's done for this city.

"The whole thing is a shock to the system. I think everyone feels that way. I'm flabbergasted," Ambra said.

Minichiello, 55, of Groveland was arrested Sunday and held without bail until he was released on personal recognizance Thursday after a hearing in Marlborough District Court. His next court date is May 15.

The alleged victim told police Minichiello lured her to the Courtyard Marriott in Marlborough with the promise of a job with a fitness company Minichiello owns called The Danon Co. Court papers show the alleged victim and defendant met on the Internet and arranged the meeting over the phone.

Police said Minichiello touched the woman inappropriately several times and beat and dragged her back to his hotel room after she tried to flee. The second time she fled the room, the woman escaped, running naked to the front desk for help.

"Shocked is the word that comes to mind," Jeffrey Linehan, president of a Haverhill commercial printing business and another former board chairman for the Greater Haverhill Chamber of Commerce, said of the allegations against his longtime friend.

"I talked to him Wednesday and told him to let me know if there is anything I can do," Linehan said. "He's a private person, but he's always been willing to donate his time and money to almost any charity."

Minichiello is charged with two counts of indecent assault and battery on a person 14 or older, assault with intent to rape, intimidating a witness, and assault and battery.

Minichiello's attorney, Scott Gleason of Haverhill, has said the alleged victim's story is untrue and that the true version of what happened in the Marlborough hotel will eventually become public. He did not return calls for comment yesterday.

Minichiello is the owner of Minichiello Insurance Agency in Bradford, a former chairman of the board of the Greater Haverhill Chamber of Commerce, a current member of the Groveland Finance Board, and a longtime observer of Haverhill politics. He also is a former resident of Hampstead, N.H.

Groveland Town Clerk Anne Brodie said Minichiello's status as a member of the town's Finance Board, which is an appointed position, has not changed.

Chamber of Commerce President James Jajuga did not return phone messages left at his office yesterday.

Rick Barry Jr., who manages funeral homes in Haverhill and Bradford and has worked with Minichiello on many charity and fundraising events over the years, said the matter was not something he cared to talk about.

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