, Newburyport, MA

September 16, 2013

Accused embezzler remains in Middle East

DA's office working with State Department to get Potenza back

By Jill Harmacinski and Julie Manganis
Staff writers

---- — Accused embezzler James Potenza is living 7,000 miles away in the United Arab Emirates, where he writes on Facebook about sunny weather, the beach and posts pictures of himself.

While he’s apparently living the good life in the Middle East, a default warrant for Potenza’s arrest — after he allegedly stole $80,000 from a local youth football league — is now a year old.

Local prosecutors are working with the U.S. State Department to get Potenza back so he can face trial for the theft, a spokesperson for District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett said. The United States does not have an extradition treaty with the U.A.E.

Potenza, 56, was scheduled to go to trial in October 2012 for felony larceny charges leveled after he allegedly stole $80,000 from the Pentucket Youth Football League, which serves kids in West Newbury, Merrimac and Groveland.

Potenza, the league’s former treasurer, is accused of obtaining an unauthorized debit card that allowed him to make cash withdrawals from the league account.

After Potenza failed to show up for a final pre-trial conference in September 2012, prosecutors got a warrant for his arrest.

At that time, his defense attorney said Potenza was working in Abu Dhabi, in the U.A.E., performing “contract work” because he couldn’t find a job in the United States. Potenza was trying to earn money to pay restitution he intends to offer in the case, attorney Michael Murphy of Newton said then.

Potenza previously posted on LinkedIn, a professional social media site, that he worked for Adveti STS, an engineering school in the U.A.E., since August 2012. A current LinkedIn account could not be located for Potenza.

However, while overseas, Potenza has maintained an active Facebook page, posting pictures of himself and writing about life there.

“7,000 miles away, in the U.A.E. It really is a great experience,” Potenza posted on Nov. 8, 2012. “Just got back from the beach, 84 degrees,” he posted the following day.

On Aug. 5, in response from a query from a Facebook friend as to his whereabouts, Potenza wrote “the Middle East.”

On Aug. 2, he posted a picture of himself sitting on a military tank parked in the sun. In various Facebook posts, Potenza also indicates he’s staying in touch with family and friends.

It’s unclear if prosecutors are monitoring Potenza’s Facebook page. Blodgett’s spokeswoman, Carrie Kimball-Monahan, declined to comment on that, but did say the office knows where Potenza is.

Also, it’s unclear if Potenza stays in touch with his defense attorney. Murphy could not be reached for comment for this article.

Previously, prosecutor Greg Friedholm said Potenza had sold a home he owned in Groveland on Aug. 28, 2012 — a sale that eliminated one of his ties to the area and provided him with a possible source of funds. Potenza had also lived in Wakefield while the case was pending.

Using the League’s unauthorized debit card, Potenza allegedly made withdrawals on Cape Cod, where he owned a summer home.

He initially claimed he made the withdrawals to pay game officials and denied using the money for personal use. He also claimed family members may have also used the card.

But as Potenza was making withdrawals, back to 2006 and 2007, the youth football league was struggling. League officials previously told a judge they had trouble purchasing new equipment and jerseys for the kids.

Prosecutors were seeking a jail term for Potenza, who did not want to serve time, instead offering to pay restitution if he received probation. But after those negotiations broke down, the case was scheduled for trial in October 2012.