New London school board member accused of using niece's identity to obtain credit cards

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New London — City Board of Education member Jason Catala, who was arrested Friday by Waterford police, is accused of using a niece's personal information to open 16 credit card accounts and accruing $8,000 in debt, according to a court document.

Confronted by police in September, Catala, a Democrat who is seeking an eighth term on the school board in November and has been critical of school finances, admitted to the investigators that he has a problem using credit and credit cards.

Upon learning the specifics of the allegations Monday, Martha Marx, chairwoman of the Democratic Town Committee, called on Catala to withdraw his candidacy for re-election next month.

But Catala said Monday night he won't be withdrawing from the race.

"I'm running a strong campaign, and will work hard like I have in all campaigns," he said in a text message.

Catala, 45, of 476 Ocean Ave., was arraigned Friday at the Geographical Area 10 courthouse on Broad Street on charges of second-degree identity theft, a felony, and illegal use of a credit card, a misdemeanor. He pleaded not guilty and was released on a written promise to appear. His next court date is Nov. 12, about a week after the election.

Catala, who says he works as a magnet school coach and educator for the New Haven Public Schools, is certified by the state as a coach and educator, according to public records. He has no prior criminal history.

"We will work through the criminal justice system to resolve this case," his attorney, former New London Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio, said Monday. "But GA10 cases take some time, and nothing is expected to change or develop in the case before my client's next court appearance, which is Nov. 12."

Finizio said he has advised Catala not to comment on the allegations, which Finizio said "do not have anything to do with his service on the Board of Education or his job."

Initially on Monday, Marx said the party's executive board had met Saturday and decided unanimously to wait for more information before taking any action.

"We live in a time where facts don't matter," said Marx earlier in the day. "But facts actually do matter. We have to wait for all the facts until we make a decision."

But after learning details of the allegations later Monday, Marx issued a statement, through Corresponding Secretary James Burke, calling on Catala to resign.

"Since this meeting, we have been provided with more details from Jason's arrest warrant," Marx said in the statement. "The new information that emerged today is troubling. I, as chairwoman of the New London Democratic Town Committee, have called on Jason Catala to withdraw his candidacy."

Marx said she spoke to Catala by phone but did not divulge the outcome of the conversation. She said the Democratic Town Committee is scheduled to meet on Tuesday evening.

According to the arrest warrant affidavit, the alleged victim went to police Sept. 13. She said she had recently opened an account with a credit monitoring service, Credit Karma, and realized there were 16 cards opened using her personal information and Catala's address.

She told police she had spoken with Catala, who admitted he had opened the accounts and intended to pay them off.

The niece said that when she told Catala he didn't have permission to open the accounts, he ignored her and called her greedy. She allowed police to access her credit account, which showed 13 open cards and three closed, all of which were registered to Catala's New London address.

The affidavit indicates the accounts with various banks and stores were opened 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.

Police called Catala on Sept. 17 and told him he was being investigated after a complaint of identity theft by a family member, according to the affidavit. Catala said he had opened a few cards under the victim's name with her permission, and agreed to go to the police department and provide a formal statement.

Later that day, the niece emailed police screenshots of text messages from Catala's phone number, including one 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.

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 stated he has a problem with credit and using credit cards," says the affidavit. "He admitted to going online and applying for credit cards using the victim's financial information which he obtained by doing her taxes since she was in high school."

Catala went on to say that he knew opening the accounts was wrong, but that he did so because he has provided for the victim in the past and thought it would be OK. He said he has been trying to pay off the balances and that after talking with police the day before, had paid off a few of the cards.

k.florin@theday.com

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