BY JULIE MANGANIS
---- — SALEM — The one-time treasurer of a youth football league, facing trial next month on charges he stole $80,000 from the organization as children played in old, worn uniforms and equipment, has taken a new job — in a Middle Eastern country that has no extradition treaty with the United States.
James Potenza, 55, the former treasurer of the Pentucket Youth Football League, is supposed to stand trial starting Oct. 10 on felony larceny charges. But he failed to appear for his final pre-trial conference on Tuesday, leading prosecutors to seek a warrant.
During a hearing yesterday in Salem Superior Court, his attorney, Michael Murphy, told a judge that Potenza is in Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates, performing what he described as “contract work.”
Murphy said Potenza “had trouble finding work” in the United States and was forced to take the job there, as he tries to earn money to pay restitution he intends to offer in the case.
But prosecutor Greg Friedholm said he was concerned that Potenza hadn’t appeared in court in months, and was now out of the country on the eve of trial. He asked Judge Garry Inge to issue a default warrant in the case.
Friedholm also said that Potenza’s former home in Groveland (which he’d put in his mother’s name because, he told officials, he had bad credit) had been sold on Aug. 28, eliminating one of his ties to the area as well as providing him with a possible source of funds.
Potenza had been living in Wakefield after he and his wife separated, while the case was pending.
Potenza was indicted last year on charges that he had obtained an unauthorized debit card that allowed him to make cash withdrawals from the league’s account.
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 it 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.
A judge had asked to hear from league officials about the impact the thefts had on the organization, and those officials testified in open court about the impact, including the frustration they felt about being unable to purchase 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.
After those negotiations broke down, the case was scheduled for trial.
The United Arab Emirates does not appear on a State Department list of nations that have extradition treaties with the United States.
According to Potenza’s LinkedIn online profile, he has worked at Adveti STS, an engineering school in the UAE, since last month.
Inge issued the warrant requested by the prosecutor yesterday, but gave Potenza one week to show up at court before the warrant is entered in a law enforcement database.
Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, via email at email@example.com or on Twitter @SNJulieManganis.