The longtime head of the state’s only homeless shelter with an almost entirely Spanish-speaking staff was sentenced Thursday to one year in the Suffolk County House of Correction after pleading guilty to charges he embezzled $1.5 million from the organization he founded 30 years ago, then lied under oath to cover up his self-dealing.
Prosecutors from Attorney General Maura Healey’s office had sought a state prison term of four to six years for Manuel Duran, citing “the gravity and impact of the offenses, the vulnerability of the victims, the amount of money stolen, the use of unsophisticated confederates, the length of time during which he conducted the schemes, and the repeated deceptions necessary to carry out the schemes,” according to court documents.
But Healey was satisfied with Suffolk Superior Court Judge Michael Doolin’s sentence.
“Manuel Duran’s schemes and blatant abuse of power led to the destruction of a valuable charitable organization and basic services for our state’s most vulnerable residents. We are pleased to deliver accountability in this case,” Healey said a statement. Duran’s organization, Casa Nueva Vida, ceased operations after Duran’s thefts were exposed.
Duran’s lawyer, Thomas Dwyer, had sought no jail time, saying five year’s probation was more appropriate. But Dwyer, too, said he was satisfied with the sentence.
Dwyer said he believes the judge was “impressed” by the fact that Duran was willing to pay the state $6 million as part of a separate agreement to return more than he had stolen.
“I thought the court was very fair,” said Dwyer. “He balanced the decades of my client’s service to the homeless against his recent aberrant conduct.”
Prosecutors were also seeking restitution of more than $382,000, but the judge did not rule on the restitution request on Thursday.
The judge also imposed four years’ probation after his release, 250 hours of community service and an order that he not work for any non-profit offering transitional housing.
Duran’s plea closes a tragic chapter for Casa Nueva Vida, whose employees were told in late April that the state housing agency was not renewing the funding, forcing the charity out of business.
By July, most of the 150 families housed there were moved to another shelter, Heading Home, and most of Casa Nueva Vida’s 83 employees were offered jobs there. The $7 million state contract formerly awarded to Casa Nueva Vida was transferred to the new agency.
Anguished former board members and employees wrote letters asking Suffolk Superior Court Judge Michael Doolin to impose the maximum possible penalty.
“He is a cold and calculating criminal that couldn’t get enough of his thievery and continued to seek ways to maintain his illegitimate wealth,” wrote Lisa Morales, Alba Alvarez-Cote, and James Cote, three members of the agency’s board of directors who urged prosecutors to seek the maximum penalty.
The Attorney General started investigating Duran in 2021 after then state Inspector General Glenn Cunha received an anonymous tip.
“This is a case where one person’s complaint to our fraud hotline had an enormous impact. It helped bring an end to years of theft and wrongdoing by Duran, who enriched himself with public funds designed to help children and families experiencing homelessness,” said Acting Inspector General Natalie Monroe in a statement.
Andrea Estes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.