Former NECC coach cleared of gambling charges

Felony gambling charges against a former basketball coach at Northern Essex Community College have been dropped.

Darren Stratton, 45, of Haverhill had been placed on administrative leave by Northern Essex after he was indicted on illegal gambling charges by Attorney General Maura Healey's office in November 2015.

The state said recently it would not pursue the three charges against Stratton, according to the clerk at Suffolk Superior Court and Stratton's attorney.

"I'm thrilled that it's finally over. It was a difficult time for my family and myself," Stratton said. "I knew I was innocent from the charges ... but as far as Northern Essex's position, I understand the business world ... they thought it was going to be beneficial for me to step down, basically, from the program."

Stratton said he ultimately resigned from his coaching position at the community college, where he had started as the assistant basketball coach in the fall of 1997, according to the college’s sports website. He became the head coach in the middle of the 1998-1999 season and led the Knights to two state titles.

Stratton was charged in 2015 with registering bets, using a telephone to register bets and conspiracy to register bets. He was among 33 defendants who were indicted in an alleged multimillion-dollar sports betting scheme. The Attorney General's Office said they operated an extensive sports gambling enterprise which used an offshore sports betting website to track bets.

The 122-count indictment resulted from an investigation by the attorney general’s office and the state police. Various federal, state, and local authorities, including the FBI and IRS, assisted.

"They just lumped him in for the wrong reason," said William Sullivan, Stratton's attorney. "He never should have been charged, and it just took us a long time to convince the attorney general's office."

Sullivan said that "most" of the defendants charged with Stratton have since pleaded guilty. He said he did not know of another defendant whose case had been dismissed.

"They just misinterpreted some of the evidence and that's how they got it through the grand jury," Sullivan said.

Since leaving Northern Essex, Stratton said he has had a strong support system of former players and fellow coaches.

"They were coming to my home. They were calling me," Stratton said. "(The) outpouring of support from my players and coaches I've coached with, coaches I've coached against, was incredible."

Stratton avoided coaching for the first year and a half after the indictment, he said, because he didn't want to put any of his players in a compromising position with the investigation. More recently, he has begun dabbling in basketball again, assisting with an AAU league in Maine that his son plays for. Stratton also runs the Merrimack Valley Eagles basketball program out of Northern Essex with the college's head basketball coach, Joe Tardif.

Stratton said he still has a "very good relationship" with Northern Essex.

"The only regret I had at Northern Essex was I wish I was able to tell the team ... 'Listen, you're in good hands," Stratton said. "'Things happen for a reason and the truth will eventually resolve itself,' which it actually did."

Now that his case has been resolved, Stratton said he "might get back into coaching."

"I truly missed it," he said.

— Kiera Blessing

 

Banks provide support for small businesses

Trying to launch or expand a small businesses can be a challenge, especially when you can't get a loan from a bank for reasons such as a lack of collateral or a proven track record.

And even if you obtain funding, you might not have the business acumen needed to succeed.

To help Haverhill entrepreneurs get the money they need, along with expert technical support, four areas banks have come together to launch the Haverhill Partnership Venture Fund.

The goal of this pilot program is to provide a local source of business loans for new or growing Haverhill-based businesses that are not yet able to access conventional bank financing.

The Haverhill Partnership Venture Fund is a collaboration between Mill Cities Community Investments and four other local financial institutions: Align Credit Union, Enterprise Bank, Haverhill Bank and Pentucket Bank. Each of the banks has seeded the fund with $125,000 in capital — for a total of $500,000 — that will be made available to qualifying businesses.

Mill Cities is serving as the lender.

Chuck Walker, president of Pentucket Bank, said that under normal circumstances, banks tend to loan to existing businesses that demonstrate an ability to pay back a loan.

"Banks look for a borrower to provide equity or collateral," he said.

Walker said the loans being made available through this fund can be considered more risky than a normal business loan, which is why the participating banks are sharing the risk.

"It's more than funding, as it provides technical assistance to ensure the likelihood of success," he said. "The technical assistance is a condition of the loan as we really want these businesses to maximize their opportunity to be successful."

The fund was introduced recently during a ribbon cutting for "Welcome to Floristry," a new business at 600 Broadway that is one of the first in Haverhill to obtain a loan through the fund.

Owners Tammy Rogers and Tom Burgess said that in addition to a loan, the assistance they received from Frank Carvalho, executive director of Mill Cities, was invaluable to getting their business off the ground.

"Although I didn't need a lot of capital, I had been denied by a bank," Rogers said. "Frank sat down with me and taught me everything I needed to know about starting and running a business. He taught me how to be a businesswoman."

Rogers said she has skills, having worked in the florist industry for more than 30 years, but that she lacked the financial savvy needed to run her own shop. She said she learned those skills with the help of Carvalho.

Her background includes doing work for television and movies, including working as the florist for the HBO miniseries, "Olive Kitteridge," and for the TLC reality TV series, "Four Weddings."

"I did the finale," Rogers said of the Four Weddings program.

City Councilor Joseph Bevilacqua, who attended the ribbon cutting, said the Haverhill Partnership Venture Fund will help businesses succeed.

"This is exactly what's needed to assist small startups get established in Haverhill," Bevilacqua said.

Mayor James Fiorentini, who also attended the ribbon cutting, said the top request he gets from entrepreneurs looking to launch a business in Haverhill is how to get funding.

"Many of them are not eligible for a typical loan," he said. "With help from this fund, entrepreneurs like Tammy can get a business going and bring jobs to our city."

Carvalho said that as a lender, his organization also works with owners on their business plan and helps them understand the impact of their financial decisions.

State Rep. Andy Vargas, who also attended the ribbon cutting, called the fund a "tremendous opportunity for small business growth and entrepreneur growth in the city of Haverhill."

"Access to technical assistance and access to capital are the two pillars to launching any business," Vargas said.

Modeled on the success of a similar fund led by Mill Cities Community Investments in neighboring Lawrence, the Haverhill Partnership Venture Fund is the result of initial conversations about Haverhill small business needs between MCCI, Pentucket Bank, Haverhill Bank and MassDevelopment’s Transformative Development Initiative Fellow, and follows on technical assistance completed by MassDevelopment identifying a local small business loan fund as a need.

Align Credit Union and Enterprise Bank are also part of the program.

"The fund is a common-sense approach and by sharing the risk it can benefit small and emerging businesses in Haverhill," said Ray Wrobel, vice president of commercial lending for Align Credit Union.

The five financial institutions aim to lend the pilot funds in year one and recapitalize (renewing the revolving fund as money is paid back), hopefully attracting other local financial and community organizations, as well as the city itself, to participate, Walker said.

For more information about the venture fund, contact Frank Carvalho at frank.carvalho@mvcdfi.org or call 978-258-2772, ext. 13.

— Mike LaBella

 

 

Marathoners run, walk for worthy causes

From supporting military families to finding a cure for a genetic disease, Haverhill residents are training to run the 122nd Boston Marathon for charities that are near to their hearts.

And for those looking to take part in something less physically demanding, while raising money for a good cause, how about a 1.6 mile walk?

On Patriots Day, Brady Finney will run in the Boston Marathon to raise money for the Cystic Fibrosis Center at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Elijah Campiglio is running the marathon too, only for a charity that supports members of the military and their families. Haverhill native Ramon Garcia, who lives in Boston, will be running the marathon to support the David Ortiz Children's Fund.

Melissa Reid will support the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation by participating in a "Great Strides" walk on May 6 in downtown Haverhill.

Finney, 47, will run with the Mass. General Cystic Fibrosis Marathon Team, which participates in the Boston Marathon to fight cystic fibrosis and support the CF program at Mass. General Hospital for Children. This will be his fifth Boston Marathon, but his first time running to support cystic fibrosis research.

He said the money he raises will help pay for the latest research that big pharmacy companies won't invest in.

"In 2010 I met a Haverhill woman who had been battling CF her whole life. In the seven years I've known her family, I've heard how she has fought this disease, been in and out of the hospital, received a lung transplant, and not once have I heard anything but positive energy about how tough she is."

Finney, who works as a corporate evaluation analyst, said the woman doesn't want him to help her, and doesn't want him to raise money for her.

"She wants to help others ... she fought for a number to the Boston Marathon so we could raise money to help others," he said about obtaining a race number for this big annual event.

To help Finney reach his $5,500 fundraising goal, visit https://because.massgeneral.org/fundraiser/1251497.

Marine Lance Cpl. Elijah Campiglio, 21, of Haverhill, a 2015 graduate of Whittier Regional High School, is running in the 2018 Boston Marathon for a veterans charity called Military Friends Foundation. It will be his first marathon.

Campiglio joined the Marine reserves about a year ago. When he was stationed in Missouri during his training, he got the idea to run the Boston Marathon and searched for a charity to represent.

"I found out about Military Friends, and my mother helped me connect with the group," he said.

So far, he's solicited donations from businesses in Haverhill, North Andover, Methuen and Newburyport as well as friends and family in hopes of reaching his required $8,000 fundraising goal.

"I also have a Crowd Rise web page," he said.

A student at Norwich University Corps of Cadets, Campiglio is taking time off for training.

"The longest I've run is 21 1/2 miles, but over the last few years I've done two serious races, both 30K (18.6 miles) weighted runs with 37 pounds on my back in Vermont's Green Mountains," he said. "I'm currently training three to four days a week in preparation for the Boston Marathon."

To donate, visit www.crowdrise.com/search/all/campiglio.

Haverhill native and fitness enthusiast Ramon Garcia, a Boston resident, is gearing up to complete his third Boston Marathon with the David Ortiz Children’s Fund charity team.

The nonprofit fund created by the former Boston Red Sox slugger provides lifesaving heart surgeries and pediatric care for children in New England and the Dominican Republic.

Owner of Elevate Fitness, Garcia has been an athlete his entire life and now is making the Boston Marathon part of his regular fitness journey while inspiring others to take on the 26.2-mile challenge.

If you don't want to run 26.2 miles, how about walking 1.6 miles for a worthy cause? A Great Strides Walk for Cystic Fibrosis will be held May 6 starting and ending at the Lasting Room on Washington Street.

Melissa Reid, a teacher at Consentino School, will be walking with her team, "Emily's Hope," which she named in honor of her daughter, Emily, who is now an eighth-grader at the Hunking School and is battling cystic fibrosis. Emily is on the team as well.

Registration is at 10 a.m. and the walk begins at 11 a.m. All participants will be treated to a complimentary lunch after the walk. Raffles will be held as well.

You can also register in advance or donate to the walk by doing a Google search for "Great Strides." Click on "Find a Walk Team" and enter zip code 01835, which will bring you to the Haverhill 2018 walk. Several walking teams will participate, including Emily's Hope.

— Mike LaBella

 

State has sharp rise in number of illegal guns seized

Police in Massachusetts took nearly 1,400 illegal guns off the streets in 2016, and many of the weapons came from out of state, according to newly released data from the state Department of Public Safety.

At least 1,391 illegal guns were seized by state and local police as part of arrests and criminal investigations that year, a 67 percent increase from the prior year, according to the data.

Most weapons were handguns — such as 9 mm semi-automatic pistols and .38 caliber revolvers — but police also seized at least 22 assault rifles.

Law enforcement officials said the data shows that despite tough gun-control laws, illegal weapons are still flowing into the state.

"It gives us a more accurate measurement of how big the problem is in Massachusetts," said Mark Leahy, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of Police Chiefs. "And we know it's a significant problem."

Boston police seized the largest number of firearms in 2016, or 667, while another 496 were confiscated by State Police, according to the report.

In the north of Boston region, Lynn police seized 49 firearms; Lawrence 18; Haverhill 13; Methuen 9; Salisbury 5; and Salem 2.

Many of the guns were recovered during police investigations, according to the state report. At least 79 were seized as part narcotics cases, while other 55 were confiscated as part of arrests on aggravated assault charges.

Only nine weapons had been involved in murders.

The numbers don't include confiscated weapons that were used in suicides or taken as part of gun buy-back programs or court proceedings.

Only 3 percent of the guns were seized from individuals involved in gang activity, according to the state data.

Police agencies are required to submit annual data on seizures of guns used in crimes, as part of a 2014 gun control law signed by former Gov. Deval Patrick.

State officials point out in a report on the latest data that 2015 was the first year that police were required to report the data, which resulted in discrepancies. Some agencies weren't aware that they were required to report. In other cases, the state data duplicates federal statistics on gun seizures.

Many of the guns seized in Massachusetts two years ago were traced to states with less stringent gun control laws, including New Hampshire and Maine, according to the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which traces guns for state and local law enforcement.

The ATF said of 1,951 seized guns reported to the agency by state and local police in Massachusetts, only 444 were originally purchased in the state.

Other guns seized by state and local police were traced to Florida, Georgia and several other southern states, the federal agency said.

"Our gun laws make it harder for kids, criminals and the dangerously mentally ill to access firearms, and reduce preventable gun injuries and death," said John Rosenthal, executive director of the nonprofit group Stop Handgun Violence. "But we know most illegal guns are coming from other states."

— Christian M. Wade

 

 

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