For Immediate Release - August 11, 2011

Former General Manager of Regional Transit Authority Pleads Guilty, Sentenced to Serve More Than One Year in Jail for Stealing Tens of Thousands of Dollars From Vault

SALEM - The former general manager of the Merrimack Valley Regional Transit Authority (MVRTA) has been sentenced to serve more than one year in jail after pleading guilty to stealing tens of thousands of dollars in bus fares from the authority's money room, Attorney General Martha Coakley's Office announced today.

Today, John Whittaker, age 48, of Methuen pleaded guilty in Essex Superior Court to charges of Larceny over $250 (2 counts). After the plea was entered, Superior Court Judge Howard Whitehead sentenced Whittaker to serve 18 months in the House of Corrections, followed by five years of probation. A restitution hearing to determine the amount of money Whittaker will be required to pay the MVRTA will be held at a later date. Prosecutors allege that Whittaker stole more than $120,000 over a two and a half year period.

"Those who steal taxpayer money must be held accountable," said AG Coakley. "We are pleased the court agreed that these violations of the public trust should be punished accordingly. Our office will continue to aggressively investigate and prosecute cases of public corruption."

Massachusetts State Police assigned to the Attorney General's Office began an investigation of Whittaker's activities after learning that a significant amount of money from bus fares the authority had collected was missing from weekly deposits over a period of several years. Whitaker was hired by the MVRTA in February 2007 as the general manager for their Haverhill location. The MVRTA operates several bus lines out of their headquarters in Haverhill. Bus operators collect fares using on-board collection systems that are emptied at the MVRTA offices at the end of each day into a vault in the money room. The bus fare is then counted and compared to the on-board collection system readouts and subsequently deposited. Authorities conducted video surveillance of the area and during the time period in question Whittaker stole a significant amount of money from the vault in the authority's money room and used it for his own personal use.

Whittaker was arrested at his place of employment and arraigned in Haverhill District Court on June 15, 2010 at which time he entered a plea of not guilty and was ordered held on $5,000 cash bail.

An Essex County Grand Jury returned indictments against Whittaker on September 29, 2010. On October 27, 2010, Whittaker was arraigned in Essex Superior Court at which time he entered a plea of not guilty and was released on the $5,000 cash bail previously posted in Haverhill District Court. Today, Whittaker pled guilty to all charges and was sentenced.

The case was prosecuted by Assistant Attorneys General Marina Moriarty, of AG Coakley's Public Integrity Division, with assistance from Assistant Attorney General Christopher Kelly. It was investigated by financial investigator Marc Pulli and Massachusetts State Police assigned to the Attorney General's Office. In February 2011, AG Coakley announced the formation of the Public Integrity Division - the first division in the office focused exclusively on cases of public corruption and fraud.