Senior director's attorney says Bristol had no evidence of 'double-dipping'

Maria Ursini’s attorney maintains her client's innocence, says Bristol humiliated a good person ·

The attorney for former Bristol Senior Center Director Maria Ursini shared a scathing review of how the Town of Bristol prosecuted, publicized and handled the case against the former director. Lisa Holley released a statement to the Benjamin Church Senior Center board of directors outlining the case against her client and the disposition of that case, and in a follow-up interview with the Phoenix, she strongly criticized the town’s actions.

“This case was totally devoid of any evidence of wrongdoing,” Ms. Holley said.

Last spring, Bristol Town Administrator Steven Contente launched a review of Mr. Ursini’s dual public roles. In addition to serving as the senior center director (a town-funded position), Ms. Ursini was receiving income from two federal grants to coordinate substance abuse prevention efforts in this region. The administrator accused Ms. Ursini of “double-dipping,” because he claimed she was earning two full-time incomes for separate roles on overlapping time.

“Grant funds are supposed to supplant salary, not supplement it,” Mr. Contente said. “How can you hold down two full-time jobs? It seems there are ethics violations there. It’s not the money; it’s the shiftiness.”

Ms. Ursini rebuffed the accusations, claiming she never handled substance abuse duties on senior center time.

A few months later, in August, the Bristol Police Department arrested Ms. Ursini and charged her with three crimes, including felony counts of embezzlement and obtaining money under false pretenses, as well as a misdemeanor charge of filing a false document with a public official.

The case was scheduled to go to trial in December, when the two sides met and reached an agreement. The town dropped both felony charges, the misdemeanor charge was filed for one year (meaning, if nothing else happens, the charge goes away in a year), and Ms. Ursini agreed to pay $698.43 in restitution, as well as $96.75 in court fees.

Most importantly, according to her attorney, Ms. Ursini entered a “not guilty” plea to the misdemeanor charge for filing a false document. Even that, Ms. Holley said, is dubious.

To this day, I don’t even know what the ‘false documents’ are. We were never shown anything,” Ms. Holley said.

Read Attorney Lisa Holley's complete statement to the Benjamin Church Senior Center board of directors here.

In her statement to the senior center board of directors, Ms. Holley claimed that she requested “discovery” in the case (documents, evidence, etc.) several times during the fall, but the town never shared any of its case. The only evidence they presented, Ms. Holley claims, came six days before the trial date, when the town presented a spreadsheet alleging to show instances when Ms. Ursini’s senior center time conflicted with substance abuse duties.

Ms. Holley cited several inconsistencies in the logs. Significantly, she claims the town made a broad assumption that her senior center duties fell into an 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Monday to Friday, schedule, but they did not.

“Six days prior to trial, we got a spreadsheet with dates that they alleged Maria had worked on the grant while she allegedly should have been dedicating all her time to the senior center,” Ms. Holley said. Yet Ms. Ursini was a salaried employee without any specific schedule.

Ms. Ursini was never assigned a set daily schedule,” Ms. Holley wrote to the board. “As such, she worked many days later than 3:30 p.m. and many weeks in excess of 40 hours. This spreadsheet did not take into account her ‘non-standard’ work schedule.”

Speaking by phone this week, Ms. Holley elaborated on that point: “Our defense is, and always has been, she’s a non-standard employee,” Ms. Holley said. “They never took into account her weekend trips with the seniors, bus trips, weekend hours … That was not compensated work.”

“Maria was doing prevention work, and she was doing work with the seniors. That was never disputed. The only dispute is, was she doing it at the same time,” Ms. Holley said.

The feds were ok with it

Ms. Holley added that the federal officials who awarded the substance abuse grants were aware of her dual roles and had no objections to the situation.

“The first thing we did, was to contact the federal funders, who reiterated that it was absolutely appropriate that she had two roles. Most of the grantees have primary jobs, and do the grant as a supplement to what they’re already doing. This is not atypical … it was totally acceptable to the federal funders,” Ms. Holley said.

Ursini maintains her innocence

Ms. Holley said throughout the case and the disposition, her client maintained her innocence. Ms. Ursini pleaded not guilty to the misdemeanor charge, but agreed to settle the case for two reasons, according to her attorney: to avoid a costly trial, and to spare further embarrassment to her and her family.

“She was a hardworking woman who had the best intentions, on all fronts. At the end of the day, Bristol loses out. She is a great woman and was very committed. This isn’t the way that you treat a loyal, hardworking servant,” Ms. Holley said.

Town’s press release ‘confounding’

Finally, Ms. Holley was upset to learn that the Bristol Police Department issued a two-and-a-half-page press release in mid-December, outlining the case against her client.

A two-and-a-half-page press release is two pages more than we got in discovery,” she said. “The fact that they released a two-and-a-half-page press release is more evidence that they just wanted to torture this woman … The fact that they even released a statement after this is confounding.”