Richard Connor accused of 'misusing' half-million dollars during tenure at Press Herald

Posted Wednesday, May 1, 2013 in Investigation

Richard Connor accused of 'misusing' half-million dollars during tenure at Press Herald

by Gina Hamilton

PORTLAND — Maine Today Media, the parent company of the Portland Press Herald and several other newspapers, accused former CEO Richard Connor of "misusing" half a million dollars for personal benefit during his tenure at the Press Herald.

Connor ran the media organization from 2009 until being forced out by its board in 2011, after taking advertisers on a junket to Italy. During a time when reporters, editors, photographers, and other employees were being let go, forced to take salary cuts, and working with substandard equipment, Connor gave himself unauthorized salary increases, used corporate credit cards to pay for vacations, purchased a vehicle for his son on the company dime, and paid his credit-card bills with company vouchers.

In a letter to company employees a week ago, new CEO Lisa DeSisto said that Maine Today Media's insurance company had paid the company $537,988.68, minus a $50,000 deductible, under the employee theft provision of the policy. She did not rule out the possibility of legal action, but chose to recoup the funds from the insurance policy as a more likely way of obtaining relief.

In an interview last week, Connor did not deny that he had spent the funds, but disputed that they were "unauthorized." He said that he had tried to resolve financial details with Maine Today before his departure, but Maine Today Media did not "cooperate."

His lawyer, Peter Bennett, said that he and Connor were considering legal action because the charges "unfairly destroyed Connor's reputation."

In her letter to staff, obtained by the New Maine Times, DeSisto outlined the expenses:

$287,224.78 in unauthorized salary increases and bonuses.

$90,381.32 in unauthorized personal expenses charged to company credit cards.

$70,352.49 in unauthorized payment of personal American Express card bills with company funds.

$36,089.74 in unauthorized compensation for and use of company automobiles, including the purchase of a new Chevrolet Suburban for his son three days after Connor started at Maine Today Media.

$22,940.35 in unauthorized handwritten checks drafted by or at the direction of Connor, for items including home landscaping, personal dental work and a $6,000 Camden vacation rental.

$16,000 in unauthorized use of company funds to pay for another Camden vacation rental.

$10,000 in an unauthorized wire transfer to Richard Connor.

$5,000 in claim expenses.

She said that the charges were able to be concealed for so long because Connor kept replacing financial personnel. It was not until the board put in a trusted accounting person that the magnitude of the misuse came to light.

Connor now works for New Hampshire-based Foster's Daily Democrat, in a part-time "advisory: role. He was hired by Foster's as CEO.

Connor has faced similar charges before. The Times-Leader in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., has filed a $250,000 federal suit against Connor, claiming that he did not reimburse the paper for personal transactions with a company credit card. 

Connor will likely face some sort of legal action from Travelers Insurance, the company that paid out the money under the employee theft policy. 

In the interests of full disclosure, the author worked for Richard Connor during her tenure as editor of the Coastal Journal.

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