BY JULIE MANGANIS
---- — PEABODY — An assistant clerk magistrate for the Ipswich District Court will resign from her job and spend a year on probation after admitting she lied to police investigating assaults on two cab drivers and a developmentally disabled man in Newburyport two years ago.
Her former friend, a now-former court officer from Methuen, pleaded guilty to the same offense and will serve two years of probation, with a condition that he perform 150 hours of community service, a Peabody District Court judge decided yesterday, calling both cases “particularly egregious” given the defendants’ roles as officers of the court.
Assistant clerk Alison Story Desmond, 56, of 61 Storey Ave., Newburyport, admitted that prosecutors would have been able to prove that when Newburyport police Inspector Michael Sugrue questioned her about the identities of three men, including David Vitale and his nephew, who had left her home in a cab, she claimed that she did not know them.
Her case was continued without a finding for a year; if she stays out of further trouble, it will be dismissed. Desmond, who has been on unpaid leave from her $85,000-a-year job, will now be required to resign.
Vitale, 54, of 51 Anderson Lane, Methuen, had worked as a court officer with Desmond at the Newburyport courthouse on Parker Street before being transferred to Lowell District Court. But when questioned by police on the night of the assaults, he claimed he had never been to Newburyport before, and did not know the woman whose apartment he’d just left.
Vitale was suspended from his job several months after the incident and resigned earlier this year.
Both were apparently trying to protect Vitale’s nephew, Ryan Nimblett, who also goes by the name Ryan Malgeri, and another young man, Robert Barron.
The four, investigators later learned, had gone to a gambling night at the Elks Club in Newburyport, then to Desmond’s condo on the evening of Sept. 16 into Sept. 17, 2011. There, Vitale and the two younger men called a cab, prosecutor Christina Pujals Ronan told Judge Stacey Fortes-White.
Nimblett and Barron began harassing the cab driver, who ordered them out of the vehicle on Low Street. They allegedly punched the driver and grabbed his radio so he couldn’t call for help.
A second cab driver in the area stopped to help and was also set upon, said Ronan. The two younger men allegedly punched the second driver as well, then grabbed his keys and ran when they heard sirens.
Vitale flashed his court officer badge at the police officers, Ronan told the judge, and said he didn’t know who the younger men were, claiming that he’d never been to Newburyport and had just met the men, whom he claimed were named “Mel” and “Bob,” at the Elks Club. He later submitted a written statement stating the same.
Meanwhile, as Nimblett and Barron fled, police received more calls, including one reporting that a young grocery store worker with some developmental issues was robbed of his iPod and then thrown through a car’s rear window by two men fitting their description, Ronan said.
Police from several area communities searched the area near Interstate 95 but did not find the pair. Barron was later arrested and earlier this year pleaded guilty to assault charges; Nimblett, who has ties to Maine, remains wanted on a warrant, according to court records.
Several days later, on Sept. 20, police identified Desmond through the sign-in sheet at the Elks and went to speak with her. She initially denied knowing any of the men or their names. When confronted with the information about the sign-in sheet at the club, she then told the officers that she had met them outside the club.
A day later, during further questioning at the Newburyport District Court, Desmond denied making the statements to the officers, gave them Vitale’s name and then said the younger men were named “Mel” and “Bob.”
Asked by the judge if the allegations were true, Desmond said, “I will admit that they’re essentially true.”
Vitale, asked the same question, offered a similar answer, only to be confronted by Fortes-White. “You’re pleading guilty, sir. You’re in a different position.” Vitale then admitted that the allegations were true.
Ronan said Vitale’s actions hindered police as they were searching for the culprits in three assaults, all the while knowing that it was his own nephew and a friend.
“Mr. Vitale and Ms. Desmond were both officers of the court, tasked with assisting the judicial process,” Ronan told the judge.
Desmond’s attorney, John Andrews, said his client was “humiliated” by “an admittedly serious lapse in judgment,” and could imagine no greater punishment than for her to lose the job she had worked hard to attain.
Anthony Rossi, who represented Vitale, told the judge his client tried to break up the fight, then suffered a lapse in judgment by lying to the police. But Rossi blamed “significant mental health issues,” identified by Vitale as anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, for the behavior. Part of his probation will involve mental health treatment as well as an alcohol abuse evaluation.
Rossi also urged the judge to reduce or eliminate the community service requirement and the fees Vitale will have to pay, contending that the former officer is now in poor health and financially destitute, receiving just $510 a month in public assistance. Fortes-White said she would consider those requests if Rossi provides documentation of those claims.
While both will have resigned from their jobs as a result of the case, it remains unclear whether they will also lose their pensions.