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Licitra, 42, was charged early this month with embezzling nearly $850,000 from St. Bernard, triggering shock and outrage among alumni and parents — and some initial expressions of surprise from school administrators who said they were unaware that their assistant in the accounts-payable department had previously spent time in jail for larceny.
But after Licitra's privilege to operate school buses was suspended by the state Department of Motor Vehicles in 2000 — part of a crackdown on convicted felons driving buses — a number of Licitra's former co-workers and associates rallied to his defense, drafting letters commending his character that helped Licitra get his bus-driving privileges back.
Among them was the then-principal of St. Bernard High School, Richard G. Arms Jr., whose two-page letter said Licitra was “indispensable” to the school.
“Sal is a man of admirable character,” Arms wrote. “He is inordinately generous of his time, his talents and his enthusiasm. I am very fond of him. He gives about 200% of himself to his work at Saint Bernard.”
Other appeals came from Licitra's former co-workers at the Arrow Line/Coach U.S.A. bus company in Waterford, where he had previously worked as a dispatcher, and from James Stavola, then the Victim Advocate at Superior Court in Bristol.
“I am aware of Mr. Licitra's arrest record,” wrote Donna Kitlinski, general manager at Arrow Line until her retirement. “I never found him to be dishonest.”
Kitlinski, reached by phone last week, said she had little contact with Licitra, and had seen him only once, at a funeral Mass, since then.
But as a devout Catholic — her husband, Ronald, is a deacon at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Quaker Hill — Kitlinski is one of those devastated by the news of Licitra's alleged embezzlement.
“I would never have thought that he would have done such a thing, so I was very sorry to have seen this,” she said.
She also said she didn't remember ever knowing the substance of Licitra's arrest record — multiple convictions and prison sentences for larceny.
Arms' letter, meanwhile, seems to illustrate how Licitra was able to rise to a position of responsibility over some aspects of St. Bernard's finances.
While hired as a driver and later director of the school's busing operations, Licitra was also the “on-the-spot technical wizard,” Arms wrote, helping out with computer glitches and other repairs.
“If Sal weren't here to do this Saint Bernard would be in deep technical trouble,” the principal wrote.
And Licitra's services were also well-received in the school's finance office, where he worked as a “business department assistant,” doing data entry for accounts receivable, checking invoices and helping the school business manager “in countless ways.”
“He is indispensable for his intelligence, his quick grasp of problems and for his persistence in finding sound, creative solutions to difficult problems,” Arms wrote.
A little less than two years later, Licitra used the school's federal taxpayer identification number to open a bank account on its behalf, but registered at his home address. He and his attorney have claimed he used most of the funds deposited there to pay for school goods and services, but police have charged him with first-degree larceny.
A spokesman for the Diocese of Norwich said last week that even if Licitra's prior arrests were known, the extent and implications of his past — and any doubts about whether he was suited to work with the school's finances — may not have been obvious.
“If I hear anything about Sal, I hear people saying something like, 'Well, we had some knowledge' or 'He sometimes didn't seem like the most trustworthy person,' ” said Strammiello, who did not work for the diocese during Licitra's tenure at St. Bernard. “It's so much innuendo. It's not as if this man walked around with his record on his back.”
A message seeking comment from Arms, who no longer works at St. Bernard, was not returned.
Meanwhile, Licitra will need to return to the DMV if he hopes to drive a school bus again. His endorsement to operate a bus or commercial vehicle was suspended again Thursday, under a new law permitting the agency to terminate the privilege for those accused of serious crimes. Article UID=6887a076-367e-4cd6-a24a-976e47887dbc