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State adds charge as Catala applies for program in identity theft case

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Longtime New London Board of Education member Jason Catala, who lost his bid for re-election last week after being charged last month with identity theft, was charged with the additional crime of witness tampering when he appeared Tuesday in New London Superior Court.

Catala, 45, of 476 Ocean Ave., applied for accelerated rehabilitation, a diversionary program that is available to first-time offenders accused of certain crimes if the judge — Hunchu Kwak in this case — determines the crimes are not too serious and that Catala probably will not commit more crimes in the future. Court officials will seek input from the alleged victim, Catala's niece, as they are evaluating his application. If the court grants the program, the charge will be removed from his record.

His next court date is Dec. 11. He had initially retained attorney Daryl Justin Finizio, who is recovering from an illness. Catala is now represented by attorney David P. Gaccione.

Waterford police allege Catala used his niece's personal information to open 16 credit card accounts and accrue $8,000 in debt. He was charged Oct. 18 with second-degree identity theft, a felony, and illegal use of a credit card, a misdemeanor. Prosecutor Raphael Bustamante said on Tuesday that the state has added a charge of witness tampering, a felony, based on information in the warrant from Waterford police.

While police were investigating the niece's complaint in September, the warrant affidavit indicates that Catala sent her a text that said, "please ... if the police call ... tell them u gave permission ... I'll get arrested if u don't." The niece said her father also texted and called her to say that she should tell police that Catala had permission to open the accounts and is working to pay them off, according to the affidavit.

Police said Catala used his niece's personal information to open accounts with various stores and banks between November 2017 and June 2018. The highest balance, of $3,153, is a Bank of America card. Three of the accounts had zero balances, and the other balances ranged from $22 to $1,058.

In a Sept. 18 interview at the police department, Catala initially denied the niece's claim that he had stolen her identity and said he had permission to open the cards. Police told him they had spoken to the niece, who said she had not given Catala permission. He admitted he only had permission to open a few accounts, and estimated he had opened 16 to 20 accounts without the victim's permission.

Catala initially denied the allegations, according to police, but eventually admitted to going online and applying for credit cards using the personal information he had obtained by doing his niece's taxes. He said he had a problem with credit and using credit cards.

A vocal critic of Board of Education financial practices and other policies, Catala, a Republican-turned-Democrat who had previously garnered strong support at the polls, lost in last week's election. City Democrats had withdrawn their support of Catala just before the election, but he remained in the race. He said on election night that he had enjoyed his seven terms on the school board and would be running again.


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