WORCESTER – District Attorney Joseph D. Early Jr. has spent tens of thousands of dollars from a law enforcement fund to buy sports uniforms, spread sand and grass seed on baseball diamonds and for other sports-related work at a Worcester elementary school in a wealthy neighborhood, a newspaper reported Sunday.
Money was given without a formal application process used by other district attorneys and some contractors were political donors to Early, the Telegram Gazette reported, citing documents it obtained under the state Public Records Law showed
Early said spending public money on youth sports is a proven crime-fighting tool that helps reduce juvenile delinquency. Supervised after-school activities are part of his efforts to cut crime, he said.
“It’s about giving kids opportunity. It’s about prevention, prevention, prevention,” Early told the newspaper. “I can’t think of a better use of these funds.”
Records show Early has given at least $206,000 to athletic teams over the last two years.
In at least two cases, the contractors performing the work were political contributors to Early’s campaigns.
Money seized from alleged drug dealers is split evenly between the police department that confiscated the money and the district attorney’s office that handled the civil forfeiture proceeding. State law requires that most of the money must be spent on investigations and law enforcement operations, but allows district attorneys leeway to spend up to 10 percent of their share on rehabilitation, drug education and other anti-drug or neighborhood crime watch programs that further law enforcement purposes.
Critics say giving money to teams and leagues, including some in middle class neighborhoods, is not an effective anti-drug strategy.
Pam Wilmot, executive director of Common Cause Massachusetts, a nonpartisan watchdog group, said the money belongs to the state and “needs to have protections attached.”
Carlton A. Watson, president of the Henry Lee Willis Community Center, said reducing substance abuse by funding youth sports would require a special effort to ensure that public money isn’t used to subsidize children who would get to play even without the money.
“If the kids benefiting are some of the same ones who are the most privileged already, I’d say it’s not accomplishing the goal,” he said.
The district attorney’s office received $380,870 in forfeited funds last year. Of that amount, Early spent at least $123,503, on sports equipment, leagues and athletic activities, according to accounting records.
His office spent $865 of its forfeited funds last year on drug rehabilitation, drug education and other anti-drug or neighborhood watch programs, according to an internal report.
Early spent $22,000 to repair basketball courts owned by the Main South Community Development Corp. and $10,000 to rebuild the basketball court at Flagg Street School, a West Side public elementary school.
The paving contracts, which were not put out for competitive bidding, went to Jolin Paving Excavating of Worcester. The company’s owner, John R. Jolin, has contributed $2,050 to Early’s political campaign account over the years he has been in office, according to state Office of Campaign and Political Finance records.
Early said he has never solicited a campaign contribution from a beneficiary of his forfeited funds spending.