JACKSON — The men accused of stealing tens of thousands of dollars from an accomplished Little League team that they led will not be going to prison in a plea deal welcomed by some because it will mean that the stolen money will be paid back.

Six months after the Holbrook Little League made it to the final round of the 2017 World Series, team president Anthony Del Vecchio, 64, and treasurer John Lehman, 56, both of Jackson, were accused of stealing $126,000. They were charged with second-degree theft and conspiracy to commit theft.

As part of their plea deal, Del Vecchio and Lehmann pled guilty to third-degree theft by unlawful taking. They must each pay back $63,085 — for a total of $126,000 — and perform 100 hours of community service.

If Del Vecchio and Lehmann fail to make restitution by their respective sentencing dates, Ocean County Prosecutor Bradley Billhimer said he would seek prison time. Del Vecchio is scheduled to be sentenced on Jan. 24, and Lehman is scheduled to be sentenced on March 13.

The lack of mandatory prison time led to some criticism of the plea deal online and by callers to New Jersey 101.5's Bill Spadea morning show.

But Billhimer has said that the agreement was reached with "advice and consent of the Holbrook Little League Executive Board."

Rob Grano, who managed the 2017 team and now sits on the Holbrook Board of Directors, said he was not involved in the plea agreement negotiations but told New Jersey 101.5 that it's important to get the funds repaid in order for the team to stay in business.

"It's been hard the past couple of years. That's a lot of money for a Little League and it's almost impossible to make up and we're on a shoe-string budget," Grano said.

While Grano wishes there were a harsher punishment, he conceded that "if they get punished and we don't get the money back, how does Holbrook move forward? How do we win? It's a loss for everyone."

Grano said the incident took away from what his team achieved and put the focus on what he called a "shameful act" of stealing from kids.

"I want the memory of Holbrook to be what it should be. An unbelievable accomplishment by a group of boys who are just a great bunch of kids who ultimately achieved a great dream of theirs," Grano said.

Questions began to be asked when the parents were not reimbursed right away for expenses related to the World Series run. An investigation was started when the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office Economic Crimes Unit received an anonymous letter about alleged theft from the league and investigators learned Del Vecchio and Lehmann were the sole sole signatories on the league bank accounts.

The Economic Crimes Unit also verified that Lehmann was the sole debit-card holder on the league account and had misused the card in excess of $500.

Former Morris County Prosecutor Robert Bianchi said the plea agreement makes sense because prosecutors might have had a hard time proving that the two men worked together to steal the $126,000.

A crime of theft becomes second-degree if the amount stolen is greater than $75,000 — which is more than the half that each of the men are being ordered to pay back. Third-degree crimes, which they ultimately pleaded guilty to, don't always result in prison sentences.

"One of things the prosecutors may have had problems with is saying that they coordinated with one another and both of them were working together to steal the money as opposed to separately taking the money and that makes a big difference under the law because if it's under $75,000, if they were doing it individually, separately putting their hands into that cookie jar, then the prosecution would have a very difficult case to prove in a second-degree offense.”

He said restitution is kind of a carrot that will keep DelVecchio and Lehmann out of prison provided they make full payment.

Bianchi said the two will have a permanent felony record and will be required to perform 100 hours of community service, which he said is significant.

Attorneys for Lehman and Del Vecchio did not return requests for comment on Tuesday.

Holbrook Little League at the World Series
(Holbrook Little League)

Contact reporter Dan Alexander at Dan.Alexander@townsquaremedia.com or via Twitter @DanAlexanderNJ

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