AUGUSTA — Trustees of a Fairfield union’s trust fund say that an administrator who died in a car accident earlier this year had stolen more than $260,000 to cover up a theft from an Augusta union’s trust fund.

The embezzlement claims are in a civil lawsuit filed Monday in Kennebec County Superior Court.

The administrator named in the suit, Donald Sarette, 54, owner and operator of Sarette & Associates, of Manchester, N.H., died Jan. 24 in a single-car, high speed crash on Route 101 in Candia, N.H.

New Hampshire State Police investigating the crash said the roads were wet, though not icy at the time, and were continuing to seek a cause. Sarette’s car slammed into a bridge abutment, according to reports published that month.

Peter DeTroy, one of the attorneys filing the lawsuit on behalf of the Fairfield-based International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1253 Health & Welfare Trust Fund trustees, said he had talked with Sarette in early January and had planned to meet with him to see how Sarette proposed to repay the embezzled money.

“Probably unbeknownst to any of his clients, in the fall he started embezzling money from us,” DeTroy said Tuesday. “He was someone the fund had used for almost 10 years. He was respected, well-liked and seemed to be doing a good job.”

The trustees of the Local 1253 fund — Jeffrey Rose, Charles Fraser, Thomas Staples, Thomas Driscoll, Lance Leavitt and Glenn Kingsbury — are suing the Augusta-based United Association Local 716 Health & Welfare Trust Fund seeking the return of $260,454.

The complaint alleges that Sarette “improperly diverted funds” in a series of seven checks totaling $272,305 from Local 1253’s trust fund. The withdrawals occurred between Oct. 15 and Jan. 6.

The lawsuit claims 10 deposits in the same time period totaling $260,454 were made to the UA Local 716 trust fund by Sarette. The money was allegedly repayment to Local 716 for “Sarette’s improper actions in taking unauthorized withdrawals or payments from the UA Local 716 Trust Fund.”

DeTroy said Local 1253 trustees became aware of problems in early January and heard that Local 716 officials were thinking of discharging Sarette because of administrative mistakes.

DeTroy said Local 1253 trustees investigated and realized that money was missing and confronted Sarette.

“He got himself into deep financial problems and, in fact, confessed that to us,” DeTroy said.

He said Sarette talked about paying back the money and DeTroy was to meet with him to hear about that plan.

“He very tragically died several weeks later,” DeTroy said. “It was a horrific thing.”

John Napolitano, business manager/financial secretary-treasurer for the Augusta-based United Association Local 716 Heath & Welfare Trust Fund, did not return a message left Tuesday. A website for Sarette & Associates describes the firm, which also had an office in Augusta, as a third-party administrator for union and employee benefit plans throughout New England and Florida. It also notes that the firm has ceased operations “due to the tragic passing” of Sarette, and plan participants with questions are directed elsewhere.

DeTroy said Sarette’s estate had little money, so the Local 1253 trustees sued the Local 716 trust fund. He said the trustees are exercising their responsibilities under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act.

“We’re trying to recover the monies you can easily trace,” DeTroy said. He said that none of Sarette’s actions put any claims at risk and that all claims to the health and welfare trust fund of Local 1253 are being paid.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

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