By Andy Metzger
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
Federal authorities arrested a Dartmouth selectman and farmer Wednesday on charges that he embezzled funds from the South Coast Regional Transit Authority during several years when he had the contract to supply public transit to the region.
John George Jr., 68, was charged with embezzling funds from the partially federally funded transportation agency, allegedly directing SRTA employees to work on his farm on the SRTA clock and fill up company vehicles for farm use at the transit agency's pump.
George strenuously denied the allegations in comments to the Standard Times of New Bedford, calling the charges "not true" and describing them as "bull
-" while saying he would remain on the Board of Selectmen. Board members told the newspaper they were "shocked" to hear the allegations.
Officials from New Bedford and Fall River, which are both served by SRTA buses, have for decades clamored for the state to invest in a rail link between the cities and Boston, arguing they are poorly served by public transit compared to other areas of the state.
George's company Union Street Bus Company had the SRTA contract from at least 1995 until 2011, and it was paid about $1 million per year, according to the indictment. First Transit of Cincinnati, an Ohio company, won the contract in 2011, according to the Standard Times.
The indictment claims George directed certain USBC employees to attend a $100-per-person political fundraiser in 2010 to help him "garner political support" to keep the SRTA contract.
A person identified as "the 'Associate'" in the indictment was allegedly a friend of George's who served as Dartmouth's representative to the SRTA Advisory Board from about 1995 to 2005, and was the SRTA administrator from about 2008 to 2010.
Workers on the SRTA clock allegedly drove tractors for the John George Farms, managed a produce stand and used SRTA equipment to maintain farm vehicles. A person identified as "Worker 1" allegedly lived with George, pulled in $93,000 and a company car from USBC and managed farmers and the farm stand from March to October.
John George is a former state representative. His farm recently opened an ice cream stand in Dartmouth.
According to the indictment signed by federal prosecutor Dustin Chao, when George was faced with the termination of his SRTA contract in 2011 he inflated his salary from $75,000 to $275,000 to boost his SRTA pension.
George was the only listed corporate officer in USBC's last annual report listed on the secretary of state's corporations database, which was filed in 2011.
According to the indictment, USBC paid George through a holding company called Trans-Ag Management, where he is also listed as the only corporate officer. The indictment says more than $10,000 in federal dollars was provided to USBC through SRTA. State taxpayers provide significant subsidies to all the Bay State's regional transit authorities.
The U.S. Attorney's Office said George could face a maximum of 10 years in prison, three years of supervised release, and a $250,000 fine on the embezzlement charge, and up to five years in prison, three years of supervised release and a $250,000 fine on the charge of conspiring to defraud the federal government.
Federal prosecutors are also seeking a forfeiture of property and proceeds George received from the alleged scheme. The charges were announced by Chao, U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz and Theodore Doherty, special agent in charge of the Department of Transportation Office of the Inspector General in Boston. Ortiz aides said George appeared in court Wednesday and was released on $50,000 unsecured bond.