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Former Land Trust Chief Arrested

by Paul Bass | Mar 20, 2014 2:23 pm

(37) Comments | Commenting has been closed | E-mail the Author

Posted to: Environment

The accountants noticed some unaccounted-for ATM withdrawals as well as purchases from Walmart and a camera shop. The amounts were small. They added up.

In the end, the New Haven Land Trust discovered around $21,000 “unreported” and “unaccounted for.” The board called the state attorney general as well as the police, who started an investigation.

That investigation ended Thursday morning, when cops arrested the land trust’s 38-year-old former executive director on larceny charges. He had paid back around $5,000 of the $21,000 stolen, police said. (The former executive director could not be reached for comment.) He posted a $15,000 bond and was released from the 1 Union Ave. lock-up around 1:30 p.m., police said.

The arrest was one of 20 carried out in raids beginning at 5 a.m. Local detectives joined with state parole and probation officials, state police, and federal marshals to try to serve 40 warrants for serious offenses, many of them involving sex offenders but others for unrelated crimes including the alleged land trust embezzlement. They ended up tracking down 26 of the alleged offenders, 15 of them from New Haven.

Thomas MacMillan Photo Justin Elicker, who took over as the land trust’s new executive director last month, said the organization is moving on from the episode.

“Everyone I have spoken with at the Land Trust is excited about the direction in which we’re headed. We have exciting projects in the pipeline. I can’t underscore the amount of energy and growth the organization is going to be experiencing in the coming months and years,” Elicker said.

The 32-year-old trust manages 80 acres of public space, supports close to 50 community gardens in neighborhoods across town, and conducts environmental education programs. The organization has about a $125,000 a nnual budget.

The land trust first got wind of a problem in mid-January 2013, according to board chair J. R. Logan.

That’s when Logan first got a call from Lye & Lye, the accounting firm preparing the organization’s annual tax returns and financial review.

“They called and said, ‘We haven’t got reports’ for some expenses,” Logan recalled. “I had thought all that information was sent to them.

“I knew something was amiss.”

He spoke with the executive director, then placed him on unpaid leave while the board investigated further. By the end of the month, it did discover a host of small purchases and ATM withdrawals that hadn’t been reported, documented, and recorded, as required, in the agency’s Quickbooks accounting program. Logan described the purchases as “mostly small stuff” that in the end “added up.”

Upon making this discovery, the board fired the executive director, then contacted the authorities. It also sent a letter to supporters to inform them of the alleged theft.

Fortunately, the organization’s insurance covered the losses except for a deductible of around $1,000, according to Logan.

The board hired Catherine Bradshaw to run the land trust on an interim basis until hiring Elicker, a former mayoral candidate, in February to take the job permanently.

Meanwhile, in an unrelated raid, the state police arrested two men in a house undergoing construction at 9 N. Bank St. in the East Rock neighborhood. They reported confiscating 74.6 grams of meth, 250 bags of heroin, 2.2 grams of marijuana, 27.5 ounces of liquid GHB, seven hydrocodone pills, seven Clonazepam pills, 11 Vicodin pills, drug factory paraphernalia and $2,828 in cash. They also reported finding a book on how to build hidden spaces in homes—and they found some of those spaces. The house has been a subject of controversy for years in the neighborhood; click here, here, and here for prior stories about that.

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posted by: HewNaven on March 20, 2014  2:47pm

Logan is an incredible asset to the Land Trust, and he works for free! He deserves more credit.

posted by: Anderson Scooper on March 20, 2014  3:11pm

Curious as to why the NHI omits the name of the alleged embezzler. Last I checked stealing thousands and thousands of dollars is more than a misdemeanor, and still a fairly serious crime. (Even if it’s a rich non-profit that’s being stolen from.)

[Editor: Our policy in general is not to name arrestees unless 1) They’ve been convicted; or 2) We’ve gotten their side of the story; or 3) They’re elected officials or other very prominent public figures; or 4) They are fugitives and pose a threat to public safety in the view of the police.]

posted by: zurch on March 20, 2014  3:44pm

who said the land trust was wealthy?

posted by: Bill Saunders on March 20, 2014  3:59pm

This is a Class C Felony, and an abuse of the Public Trust.  That it took over a year for this to come to ‘an arrest’ shows some sort of complicity in ‘covering up’ this issue with the executive board.

.

posted by: Wooster Squared on March 20, 2014  4:18pm

I applaud the efforts of the Land Trust to right the wrongs committed by the previous director. How an organization handles challenges like these is an indication of their true character and the Land Trust seems to be working hard to makes things right. Given his reputation for honestly and integrity, Justin Elicker is the perfect choice to restore trust and confidence in the Land Trust.

As for not naming the previous director, wasn’t this person fairly active in local politics, running for positions within the DTC? I would think that makes someone a public figure.

posted by: cp06 on March 20, 2014  4:21pm

who is the former land trust chief?

posted by: Bill Saunders on March 20, 2014  4:34pm

Wooster Squared:

Personally, I think heading up a quasi-agency like the NHLT would fall into the purview of public.

Interesting to note that the former executive figure was featured on this page of NH Wanted earlier in the day, but now, the mugshot and crime descriptions are
gone…....

http://www.cityofnewhaven.com/police/Wanted/

The Magic of White Collar Crime….....

posted by: ohnonotagain on March 20, 2014  5:02pm

What a shame. He is very likeable and a funny kind of fella. I would have never dreamt he would do such a thing. He has hurt himself tremendously and your name can never be fully recovered when you do something like this.

posted by: Champ358 on March 20, 2014  5:24pm

I have been working with Mr Logan for the better part of a year on a project on one of the Land Trust properties. He has been very thorough in seeking information to protect his organization and very helpful in seeking to move the project forward. Between him, Bradshaw and Elicker, I am confident that they will move past this regrettable episode and continue the NHLT’s body of good work. I have worked with several members of their Board of Directors and have found them to be sincere and effective in moving the mission of the organization. This is not the first, nor will it be the last, organization to be victimized by staff.

posted by: HewNaven on March 20, 2014  5:48pm

Anderson Scooper,

A “rich non-profit” ?? Try to do some basic research before posting an inflammatory comment like that. You look foolish.

My brief experience working with the Land Trust showed me a non-profit with little money but lots of volunteers. In fact, the ED was the only paid position, and that’s now part-time with Elicker. So which non-profit are you talking about?

And, everyone knows, if you want to be a gawker read the Register. They publish names, addresses, and photos!

posted by: Babz Rawls Ivy on March 20, 2014  8:02pm

We are not out worst moments… Norm Pattis said this to me as I stood awaiting my sentence in Federal Court almost 8 years ago.

I would say to the person that is under fire right now, to hang in. No one can give you redemption… only you can do that work. If you hang in there brighter days are ahead.  Right now the world has a need to skin you alive.  Trust was betrayed.  Lies told. People were hurt by your actions.

Peace is not an outward pursuit, you can’t find it anywhere… you must go within and take solace that what you’ve done is not the sum total of your life.  Stand in the grace that God provides on the just and unjust alike…  Hang in. I’ve been down this road and it is long and hard and mean.  But those that love you will continue to do so.  Your gifts to this world cannot be taken away with poor judgement of this action.

Hang in.  There is nothing like adversity to strengthen you and to let you know who’s for you truly. What is ahead of you will define what you are truly called to do. Tune out the world.  Take your lickings and keep it moving.

You are not your worst moments.  I swear it.
And whatever you do, don’t come over to NHI to read what is posted!

posted by: Bruce Crowder on March 20, 2014  8:22pm

It does seem strange that his name was omitted - maybe NHI was waiting to get his side of the story. I have to admit I was pretty surprised. I Nevertheless, I am a strong believer in innocent until proven guilty.

posted by: zurch on March 20, 2014  8:59pm

Bill Saunders wrote: “That it took over a year for this to come to ‘an arrest’ shows some sort of complicity in ‘covering up’ this issue with the executive board.”

False. That it took over a year for this to come to ‘an arrest’ shows that it takes time for things like this to come to ‘an arrest.’ That’s all there is to that. The system moves slowly. But if you want to believe there was a cover-up, that makes for an empty story with lots of great drama, so have fun.

posted by: Bill Saunders on March 21, 2014  2:24am

Zurch,

Since you seem to be on the inside on this one, I give you the benefit of the doubt..But you must admit, the presented timeline is intentionally vague.

The Register had no problem publishing names and photos.  I have much more to say about that, than Paul’s omission of a known name.

Can anyone tell me a reason why ‘he’ wouldn’t have just been arrested, instead of being culled into this ‘sweep’ of sex offenders.

Now that is offensive…......

http://www.nhregister.com/general-news/20140320/former-new-haven-land-trust-leader-charged-with-theft-from-the-organization

posted by: Razzie on March 21, 2014  4:01am

I feel compelled to point out that the NHI coverage on the person involved in the Land Trust situation differs quite substantially from that given to the former Treasurer of Gary Holder-Winfield’s campaign when she was accused of mishandling campaign funds.

http://www.newhavenindependent.org/index.php/archives/entry/holder-winfield_campaign_treasurer_arrested/

In that situation I see none of the 4 elements the Editor cites as justification for publishing the name of the accused individual after an arrest has been made. In fact, the NHI even went so far as to publish unflattering “perp walk” photos of the accused individual at her subsequent arraignment appearance. In that situation, she was no more a “public figure” than the person charged in the Land Trust matter ... and the amounts in question were substantially less.

I believe the NHI policy on post arrest stories is a fair one, but it needs to be evenly applied to all.

[Editor: Thanks for the comment! In that case we did have the side of the accused. We didn’t publish a perp walk photo; we were not present for her arrest.

[We clearly do make mistakes sometimes. I appreciate all the feedback on this case; basically almost nobody thinks we made the right call. It’s hard to be consistent; we try to be, and sometimes fall short. Gray areas are the toughest. In this case I was erring on the side of caution since it felt so grey. In the case this comment mentions, the accused was someone I personally know and respect and like a lot. I felt that political campaigns and the actions of campaigns and elected officials and candidates and their staffs fall clearly on the other side of the grey line, the side calling for naming names. The public purpose there I see is accountability of elected officials and their staffs, their handling of public money and the public trust.

[Yesterday we had a separate story about two men arrested on charges of committing a murder in 2006. We didn’t name them either. Some people think we’re wrong on that score too.

[This is a continuing discussion, and I appreciate very much how people add their passionate and smart input.

[Another commenter mentioned that the land trust director’s name was “in the media.” Other media outlets’ decisions do not drive ours.

[The handling of charity dollars is definitely an issue of public concern and demands accountability. That’s one reason I feel we may have erred in this case. On the other hand, the director is long gone, and the story did press the organization on how it dealt with the embezzlement at every step. I want the Independent to be a force for demanding accountability of people in public life. I don’t want it to serve to destroy people who dare to get involved in civic life. Some years back I took into account how posting someone’s name on the Internet before getting their side puts a one-sided version out there, easily searchable, for the rest of that person’s life. (In a way that posting a nickname or other details that lead insiders to know an identity does not.) And I’ve now covered enough stories about people falsely accused of crimes, especially African-Americans, that I prefer to hesitate to feed into that process of demonization. Sometimes it has to be done, especially when a public figure decides to not to give her or his side. It doesn’t have to be done for the purpose of selling papers, cranking up the number of hits, or simply satisfying the thirst for revenge by a person’s detractors. Again, that said, I’ve often failed to live up to those goals and have made mistakes.

[To be continued.]

posted by: Bradley on March 21, 2014  5:16am

Paul, I respect and agree with the NHI’s policy of generally not naming arrestees. But in this case (1) you have effectively named him by referring to him as a 38-year former e.d., rather than “a former land trust staffer” or something similarly nonspecific and (2) his name has been reported in the media.

As part of the trust’s “moving on” I hope that J.R. and Justin (both friends of mine) are amenable to accelerated rehabilitation for the arrestee (also a friend), assuming the allegations are true.

posted by: Statesman on March 21, 2014  5:58am

Right on Babz Rawls!!!!!

posted by: HewNaven on March 21, 2014  6:07am

Last I checked stealing thousands and thousands of dollars is more than a misdemeanor, and still a fairly serious crime. (Even if it’s a rich non-profit that’s being stolen from.)

ANDERSON SCOOPER,

Who told you the Land Trust is a “rich non-profit”?

posted by: grounded on March 21, 2014  8:25am

It is hard, given the content of the article and some of these comments, not to feel like white collar criminals are treated as if their crimes are not a big deal.  And that’s partly because often times the folks committing white collar crimes are friends with those in power, whether those powerful friends are newspaper editors, politicians, or, the very people victimized in the commission of the (alleged) crime.  All three are true here.  That’s what irked me here in the omission of the alleged perpetrator’s name.  But Google searches are forever and while newspapers have no constitutional duty to withhold judgement re an accused person’s guilt, I respect Paul’s policy to err on the side of withholding the name for now so long as that policy is exercised consistently, across racial, income and social boundaries.  Not just, “try our best” consistently, but utterly and absolutely consistently.

posted by: Dwightstreeter on March 21, 2014  8:28am

Non-profits, whether large or small, regularly make the headlines for internal theft for a reason. Boards are often lazy and join to pump up a resume or make social connections. Most board members are loathe to bring up anything controversial, like how often are the books audited and by whom.

I know of one non-profit where the Executive Director kept the books on her lap top. When she resigned amidst an uprising in the membership that challenged the Board, she took the lap top with her.

There was no civil or criminal action, just the depletion of a million dollar endowment.

Every non-profit should earn our donations and prove its ongoing diligence in managing its affairs.

The loss here could have been much greater. This is actually a kind of success story that it wasn’t larger.

As for naming the accused, his/her exoneration seldom (ever?) merits the attention of the accusation.

posted by: Anderson Scooper on March 21, 2014  8:44am

@Hew—Please take a deep breath and realize that I was being ironic. The Land Trust is not an entity that can easily swallow a $20,000 hit, and I’m surprised more people aren’t treating the ex-Director as the criminal that he or she clearly is.

posted by: SteveOnAnderson on March 21, 2014  9:01am

I appreciate Paul’s explicit consideration of reader feedback and effort to encourage more discussion around the issue of name disclosure. While I understand and sympathize with the opinion of the editor expressed in prior comments, I think names should be disclosed if the arrest is part of the public record. Reporting can (and perhaps should) point out what “sides” of a story they have access to, but reporting on the fact of an arrest is in no way biased in my opinion.

Perhaps the bigger issue is whether the fact of an arrest implies guilt, but that is an assumption made by readers (and our society more generally). Arrest is not the same as conviction, and reporting an arrest should not be equated with taking “sides” or a judgment of the innocence or guilt of an individual in any case.

Overall, I appreciate the attempt at consistency, but the criteria described above weaves a web that the editorial staff will inevitably get tangled up in. My understanding is that arrest records are public information, and reporting public information is not smearing someone’s name. Maybe a reminder needs to be placed in every article that arrest means accusation, not guilt, but trying to navigate whose names you disclose and whose you do not seems to try to solve the problem in the wrong way.

Again, I appreciate the NHI’s willingness to make this a discussion and reflect on these policies, rather than retreat into defensiveness like other organizations might do. Bravo.

posted by: robn on March 21, 2014  9:23am

I’m acquainted with involved parties and this saddens me. In my opinion, being a non-profit director (a significant if not wealthy nonprofit) makes that person a prominent enough public figure for identification in the media.
I have to agree/elaborate a bit on RAZZIE’s point about the appearance of a double standard (re GHW’s campaign). The NHI’s policy of publishing an accused name if they give their side of the story may be well intentioned but has the same effect as a honey pot trap…willingness of the accused to speak in their defense shouldn’t necessarily be an automatic “out”.

posted by: zurch on March 21, 2014  9:45am

So, I guess we agree that just because someone is an e.d. (or a supervisor) doesn’t mean they don’t need the same sort of supervision or vetting any other employee needs?

posted by: BenBerkowitz on March 21, 2014  9:51am

The Land Trust is one of New Haven’s greatest assets and I’m thrilled that JR and Justin are at the helm. My short time on the board there and my time photographing the garden’s and preserves definitely shaped my localview and worldview. Every New Havener should do a garden tour at some point. Side note: many of the early mapping ideas for SeeClickFix came from experience working with NHLT.

Though I like the accused ex-director very much and agree with Babz that this should not be primary characterization of the individual, I was equally surprised that the Indy did not print the name of the accused.

posted by: robn on March 21, 2014  10:39am

ZURCH,

Boards of Directors are like software, they’re subject to the GIGO rule (garbage in = garbage out). They scrutinize the information given to them by and Executive Director and provide oversight and guidance. If an ED willfully conceals something (and is good at it) the BOD won’t find it unless they jump into the day-to-day operations of the business (what and ED is supposed to do). In this case, something smelled wrong; the BOD didn’t jump to conclusions but took adequate time to correctly fact find; exactly what they’re supposed to do.

posted by: Threefifths on March 21, 2014  11:32am

posted by: BenBerkowitz on March 21, 2014 10:51am
Though I like the accused ex-director very much and agree with Babz that this should not be primary characterization of the individual, I was equally surprised that the Indy did not print the name of the accused.

Money and corruption are ruining the land, crooked politicians betray the working man, pocketing the profits and treating us like sheep, and we’re tired of hearing promises that we know they’ll never keep.
Ray Davies

posted by: robn on March 21, 2014  12:15pm

3/5,

“Paranoia, the destroyer.” Ray Davies

posted by: zurch on March 21, 2014  12:18pm

Thanks Bill, and Ben and Thank you Very Much Babz! That was beautiful. And Thank you anderson for the ironical clarification.

posted by: leibzelig on March 21, 2014  1:30pm

These opinions are fun reading, but there is a serious issue at play here, especially for those of us who care about a free press: self-censorship.
Back in the day when there was no FOI Commission in Connecticut, the state Society of Professional Journalists successfully lobbied the General Assembly to create one.
In the discussions, we talked about self-censorship and how those opposed to the FOI would use that as a cudgel to try to strip the law of its teeth.
This business of not naming people who are arrested unless they submit to an interview is bordering on self-censorship. There should be a criterion, a simple one, for putting the names of people who are arrested into newspapers and sites.
It used to be like this: charged with a misdemeanor: no; charged with a felony: yes.
You try (really try) to contact the arrested person or his or her lawyer, and, if unsuccessful, put the fact that you tried into the story.
The one thing you must do is to follow up on the story and if the person is either let go by the police or found not guilty by the court, you must report that as well.
The goal must be fairness, both to the person arrested and the general public in knowing who is being charged with serious crimes.

[Paul: Thanks for that view. I don’t consider it self-censorship, because I don’t feel pressured by government or anyone else to publish the information. Every editor must make a judgment on what information he or she feels right publishing. And the following-up is important, but I’m concerned about a person’s reputation being permanently destroyed by an article making him or her look guilty, even if later on a subsequent article happens to clear the name. The damage has been done. And I don’t know of any news organizations with the resources to follow up on every case—there are thousands a years.]

posted by: Threefifths on March 21, 2014  2:55pm

Look to all.Cut the B.S. out.We all know who the person is.If you want to know just go to the New Haven Register.

posted by: HewNaven on March 21, 2014  2:57pm

I, for one, really appreciate that NHI does not print names of those accused of crimes. Why do so many news readers desire to gawk at every accusation of a crime? It’s premature to judge the accused in our legal system. Wait for the trial!

posted by: HewNaven on March 21, 2014  3:01pm

Anderson,

Here’s a protip:

Sarcasm does not translate in text.

posted by: Claudia Herrera on March 21, 2014  3:13pm

Playing words games to deliver “mental” statements, in this case is “pointless”, many of us like him for the side he show to us end the story.

There no much nobody can say since we are NOT talking about a “young guy” at the age of 38 we all are petty much responsible for our actions and if he wants to give his version he will if not that’s ok too. This is all up to him now, how he will chose to be handle the damaged done to HIS reputation and creability. 

The Only question I will care is, Is he involve in any other public position? 

About the organization future I feel petty good since Justin is in charge now. I don’t at all JR. I just got a funny feeling that how “little staff” didn’t give any “red signs” while that was happening. The board of director are there for a reason.

At the end I still like him and recognized how much time he spend all over New Haven.

posted by: Carl Goldfield on March 21, 2014  5:01pm

I sympathize with the editorial policy but I’m not certain it was correctly applied in this case; especially given my understanding that the individual has begun making restitution (isn’t that an admission of guilt, if not legally, morally?). If he is convicted or pleads guilty “liking him” loses its relevance in my opinion. I began making small gifts to the Land Trust during the time the defalcation occurred and that money was stolen from me.  When I received the letter from J.R. Logan to donors revealing the missing funds I switched giving to URI. I obviously want my charitable contributions to be used for their intended purpose. That said I trust Justin and I think its safe to get back in the water.

posted by: Bill Saunders on March 23, 2014  1:54pm

I did not know that NHI was in the business of managing some else’s Public Image.  That is not very -non-profitty’ either…...

posted by: Claudia Herrera on March 23, 2014  6:26pm

Bill Saunders
I just read the NH Register link you posted. Huge difference of journalism. I hope the NHI help us with a follow up on this situation, since they (NHR) also mention another wrong causation.  Now it’s important to know is he still in any other public position in charge or access to money.
agreed with Carl Goldfield.

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