Branford Man Pleads Guilty to Defrauding Non-Profit Employer and Individuals
John H. Durham, United States Attorney for the District of Connecticut, and Brian C. Turner, Special Agent in Charge of the New Haven Division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, announced that MICHAEL VERZELLA, 41, of Branford, pleaded guilty today before U.S. District Judge Kari A. Dooley in Bridgeport to a fraud offense related to his theft of at least $240,000 from his non-profit employer and numerous individuals serviced by his employer.
According to court documents and statements made in court, Verzella was employed as the Supervisor of Recreation and Operations at Chapel Haven Schleifer Center (“Chapel Haven”), a private, non-profit entity that provides services and residential housing to individuals with developmental and social disabilities. As an employee of Chapel Haven, Verzella possessed a Chapel Haven credit card that was supposed to be used to pay for expenses related to Chapel Haven, including the purchasing of tickets to off-site events that students and community members of Chapel Haven could attend. These events included trips to dances, bingo nights, plays, shopping malls, and sporting events.
In pleading guilty, Verzella admitted that, between January 2012 and February 2018, he used his Chapel Haven credit card to purchase tickets for sporting and entertainment events that he attended with friends and family. He then submitted fraudulent purchase orders for these expenses to the Chapel Haven business office, representing them to be for recreational events for the students and community members of Chapel Haven. He also used the credit card to purchase gift cards for his personal use. Through this scheme, Verzella defrauded Chapel Haven of approximately $175,872.
In addition, Verzella directed Chapel Haven employees he supervised to collect cash from Chapel Haven students and community members to attend in-house events at Chapel Haven, even though the fees for attending such events were already included in the tuition for students and billed by invoice to community members. Verzella kept at least $68,000 in collected cash for himself.
Verzella has agreed to pay total restitution of $450,062.08, which includes expenses Chapel Haven incurred while investigating his criminal conduct.
Verzella pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud, an offense that carries a maximum term of imprisonment of 20 years. Judge Dooley scheduled sentencing for May 22, 2020.
Verzella was arrested on a criminal complaint on December 20, 2018. He is released on a $100,000 bond pending sentencing.
This matter is being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the New Haven Police Department. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Sarah P. Karwan and Maria del Pilar Gonzalez.