ORLEANS— Jeremy Gingras, the former Harwich Chamber of Commerce executive director who was fired for stealing thousands of dollars from the chamber and its charitable foundation, will avoid a trial on embezzlement charges as part of a plea deal accepted Friday in Orleans District Court.
Through his attorney, Gingras pleaded guilty to two reduced charges of larceny under $250 and agreed to repay the Harwich Chamber of Commerce $30,000. He will also serve two years’ probation. Gingras was originally charged with two counts of felony larceny, and pleaded not guilty at his arraignment in late April.
Attorney Matt Kelley told the court that Gingras was an upstanding citizen with no criminal history prior to these charges.
“My client is a lifelong resident of Harwich,” he said. A graduate of Suffolk University and a former employee of the Cape Cod Five Cents Savings Bank, Gingras was hired by the chamber of commerce in 2011. Investigators say there were signs of financial irregularities as early as 2015, when the chamber was notified that it was late making its mortgage payments.
The following spring, there were complaints from other creditors, including the Monomoy Regional School District, which claimed it was owed money for past chamber of commerce events. The chamber had also failed to pay for police details for its annual 5K road race. Chamber board members questioned Gingras about the finances for the chamber and its charitable arm, and he always provided satisfactory answers.
When the board sought to transfer the chamber’s accounts from TD Bank to Cape Cod Five under new accounts with access for key officials, Gingras repeatedly avoided doing so, chamber officials told investigators. The funds were eventually moved, but when it appeared that the full balance had not been transferred, the board fired Gingras without giving a public explanation.
Kelley said Gingras’ personal finances became stressed when his wife became under-employed, and he began stealing from the chamber in small increments by ATM withdrawal. The withdrawals became more regular and in larger amounts over time.
“He always intended to pay it back,” Kelley said.
Gingras has had his home foreclosed upon, has had trouble finding work, and has suffered public humiliation because of his actions, counsel said.
“This has been completely devastating for Mr. Gingras,” Kelley told the court Friday. His client was going on his 11th job interview later in the day “to try to get his life back together,” Kelley said.
While he has repaid $30,000 to the chamber, according to a conservative estimate from a forensic accountant during the initial investigation, Gingras received at least $37,712.73 from the scheme.
Kelley said there was some dispute about the actual amount his client had received illicitly.
“Jeremy contends that some of the financial loss that was attributed were actually legitimate expenses of the Chamber that he paid in his professional capacity,” Kelley wrote in an email to The Chronicle. “The $30,000 was a negotiated settlement that both sides felt appropriate based on the evidence presented.”
During Friday’s hearing in Orleans District Court, Assistant Cape and Islands District Attorney Katie Sugermeyer said she has been in communication with the Harwich Police Department and representatives of the chamber, who favor the plea arrangement for Gingras.
“They are satisfied with the $30,000 he’s presented,” she said.
Judge Robert A. Welsh explained to Gingras the legal rights he would waive by accepting the plea arrangement, and Gingras consented to do so. The two reduced larceny counts each carry a potential sentence of one year in the county house of correction. If Gingras is found in violation of his probation in the next two years, he will be required to serve that time, Welsh said.
Welsh noted that Gingras’ offense was serious, but that by repaying the money, he has made the chamber whole again.
“All in all, I think this is a just disposition,” Welsh said.
Outside the court, Gingras had no comment.
The case was investigated by Harwich Police Det. Robert Brackett.