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Disgraced former head of homeless shelter to plead guilty to stealing from organization

Casa Nueva Vida was forced to cease operations after theft charges against Manuel Duran.

Manuel Duran’s expected guilty plea will end a tragic chapter for Casa Nueva Vida, which was absorbed by another organization after the allegations against Duran surfaced last year and the state cut off funding.Photo by El Mundo Boston

The longtime head of the state’s only homeless shelter with an almost entirely Spanish-speaking staff is expected to plead guilty Wednesday 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.

Manuel Duran’s expected guilty plea will end a tragic chapter for Casa Nueva Vida, which was absorbed by another organization after the allegations against Duran surfaced last year and the state cut off funding. Duran, prosecutors allege, had been defrauding the charity for nearly a decade, and they charged him with four counts of perjury, three counts of larceny over $1,200, and two counts of making false entries in corporate books.

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“Duran abused the power entrusted to him to enrich himself, unbeknownst to CNV’s funding sources, its board of directors, and those who relied upon CNV and its services,” wrote Assistant Attorney General Mindy Klenoff in a memorandum filed in Suffolk Superior Court.

Prosecutors from Attorney General Maura Healey’s office will seek a state prison term of four to six years, 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 the memorandum.

They are also seeking restitution of more than $382,000, six years’ probation, and orders barring him from working for the state, any charity, any entity funded by the state, or any job where money is entrusted to him.

“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.

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Duran has already agreed to pay $6 million to settle a separate civil suit filed by Healey’s office seeking to recover stolen funds and also impose penalties.

Duran’s lawyer, Thomas Dwyer, will ask Superior Court Judge Michael Doolin to place Duran on probation for five years, including 2 1/2 years of home confinement with an electronic bracelet for the first year.

Duran, he argued, is “intensely remorseful.”

In addition, he is the primary caregiver for his wife, who is physically and mentally incapacitated since the sudden death of their only child, a 41-year-old son, in 2020. He submitted reports from a psychiatrist and a psychiatric social worker, who describe her “unrelenting” and “unabated” grief since her son’s death.

“Manuel Duran comes before this Court accepting responsibility, intensely remorseful for his conduct, and ready to face the consequences of his actions,” wrote Dwyer in a sentencing memorandum. “He is ashamed of the harm he has caused. He is disgraced by having tarnished what would otherwise have been a brilliant career.

“Manuel understands that under normal circumstances he would be subject to incarceration and might well recommend an incarcerative sentence himself,” Dwyer wrote. “However, he begs the Court to recognize that extraordinary family circumstances change the calculus, and that in this case, the balance of factors weigh in favor of a non-incarcerative sentence.”

With Wednesday’s plea, the prosecution of Duran will be over. But his conduct had wide-ranging consequences. In late April, the state housing agency informed Casa Nueva Vida that it was pulling its funding, forcing the nonprofit out of business.

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Devastated long-time employees and residents told the Globe earlier this year that they felt they were being punished for behavior they had nothing to do with.

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.

According to Dwyer, Duran created Casa Nueva Vida in 1990 — with just four families in a basement. The agency grew quickly and by 2020, it maintained 17 locations in Boston and Lawrence and provided housing and services for more than 150 families.

“Manuel is proud of the organization that he built and all the good works it has accomplished, “ Dwyer said.

But former employees and the agency’s board of directors said in court filings that they were profoundly distressed by Duran’s misconduct and the damage he did.

“Sometimes I started work at 7 in the morning and worked until 9 or 10 at night. But I don’t care. I love to work helping families,” said Maria Gutierrez, a longtime supervisor, who said she had viewed Duran as a role model. “This spring we found out Casa Nueva Vida was going to close. Everyone was freaking out. ... Maybe 30 years ago he had a good heart. Maybe. But whatever he had in his heart at the beginning, he killed it at the end.”

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Board members wrote that it took a while for them to comprehend what Duran had done.

At first, they wrote, they “felt that the issue must be more administrative and not criminal. ... Over time, a horrible picture had emerged that Manuel Duran, the founder and director of CNV, had been operating an intricate and multi-layered criminal enterprise.”

Duran, who was making $268,000 as the agency’s executive director, amassed a real estate empire worth more than $22 million by 2019, buying and selling more than 20 properties while running the Roxbury nonprofit agency.

Under the civil agreement, Duran had to sell nine properties — including three homeless shelters — and turn over the proceeds to the state. But he is allowed to keep the others.

According to Dwyer, Duran has already paid the state $3.5 million of the $6 million he agreed to pay to settle the civil suit.

Besides the restitution prosecutors are seeking on Wednesday, Duran also faces lawsuits from some former employees and Casa Nueva Vida itself.


Andrea Estes can be reached at andrea.estes@globe.com.