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September 19, 2013

Youth football league out $80K, accused thief 7,000 miles away

SALEM, Mass. — Fugitive James Potenza, by his own admission,  lives 7,000 miles from the county courthouse in this Boston suburb, enjoying the beaches and sunny skies of the Persian Gulf.

Potenza, 54, skipped out on a court date here one year ago on charges he embezzled $80,000 from a youth football league while serving as its trusted treasurer, withdrawing the money through an unauthorized debit card.

Authorities issued a warrant for his arrest, but his immediate whereabouts were a mystery -- until he began posting greetings and photos on Facebook, including a picture of himself atop a military tank somwhere in the United Arab Emirates.

"7,000 miles away, in the U.A.E.," Potenza said in a Nov. 8, 2012, posting on Facebook. "Just got back from the beach, 84 degrees."

Six weeks ago, in a reponse to a friend's inquiry on Facebook, he wrote that he was in "the Middle East" but didn't say where.

Michael Murphy, Potenza's attorney in the embezzlement case, said his client had been working as a contractor  in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the Emirates, earning money to pay restitution to the youth football league police said he fleeced.

An old listing for Potenza on LinkedIn, a social network for professionals, said he had worked for Adverti STS, an engineering school in the Emirates, since August of 2012. There is no current posting for Potenza on LinkedIn.

Prosecutors said Potenza sold a home he owned in Massachusetts before he fled the country, and that he's possibly living off the proceeds. They said they are working with the U.S. State Department to find him and return him to face trial on the embezzlement charges.

Initially, Potenza claimed he withdrew the money from the youth league's account to pay game officials. But, prosecutors said,  when negotiations broke off for his making restitution and serving probation in lieu of prison time, he took off for parts then unknown.

---

Details for this story were provided by The Eagle-Tribune of North Andover, Mass., and the Salem, Mass., News.

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