St. Bernard High's 'go to guy' gets seven years in prison

Salvatore R. Licitra Jr., who for years served as the“go to guy” at St. Bernard High School, will be going to prison for seven years for embezzling more than $841,000 from the school.

He will be on probation for five years following his release, and during that time will be required to make restitution payments.

Licitra, 43, of Niantic, pleaded nolo contendere to first-degree larceny Wednesday following months of discussions between his attorney, the New London state's attorney's office and a Superior Court judge.

He will not be sentenced until Aug. 28 because he has medical issues to take care of before he is incarcerated, according to defense attorney Dado Coric.

The nolo contendere plea indicates that Licitra does not contest the charge. The plea is often used in embezzlement cases, where a civil lawsuit could follow, because it can't be used as an admission of guilt. In Licitra's case, he has been notified that he will be sued by representatives of the St. Bernard School.

While working at the Catholic high school in Uncasville, he had diverted checks into a“Sunshine Camp” account that he had opened in 2002, without the knowledge of his superiors, at the Bank of America. Licitra contends he used the funds to benefit the school, including maintenance expenses, cash payments to bus drivers and the purchase of new computers and other equipment.

Judge Susan B. Handy said that at sentencing she would order Licitra to repay the full $841,000 with the understanding that he probably will be unable to pay it unless he comes into a“windfall,” such as winning the lottery or receiving an inheritance. The payment schedule will be based on whatever officials decide Licitra can afford. He will only be required to make the payments during his five years of probation, which is the maximum length of time allowed under the law.

Licitra has been free on $150,000 bond while his case was pending and has been working at Advanced Gas Sales and Service in Salem. The company had supplied a letter to the court indicating it was aware of the larceny charge.

Licitra has come to court about a dozen times since he was arrested in July 2007, sitting quietly until his case was called. Coric, his attorney, called the case“very peculiar.” He said there is nothing in his client's personal finances to indicate he profited from using school funds. Licitra is“mortgaged to the hilt” and regularly bounced checks in his personal account, Coric said. There is no indication that Licitria lived a lavish lifestyle or lost big at the local casinos, Coric said.

Licitra had been hired as a bus driver at St. Bernard's in the late 1990s and was not subjected to a full background check. According to court records, Licitra has been convicted of larceny offenses on four occasions, including one conviction in 1990 for which he was sentenced to four years in prison. School officials became aware of his record, but by then he had become a valuable employee who ran the school's busing operation, fixed computer problems and served as an all-around“go to guy.”

Victim advocate John Adriano said that school officials were aware that Licitra might be entering a plea. He said they would be interviewed as part of a pre-sentencing investigation.

A spokesman for the Norwich Diocese did not return a phone call Tuesday afternoon.

Judge Handy told Licitra that if he does not show up at sentencing, she could sentence him to 20 years in prison in his absence and impose additional fees.

Licitra said he understood. He spoke with his attorney for a few minutes, then left the courthouse.

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