Smith Voke auto chief charged with car thefts
NORTHAMPTON — The head of Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School’s automotive department has resigned amid allegations that he stole school property — two cars that had been donated.
Jonathan A. Yourga, 45, of 188 Earle St., Northampton, pleaded not guilty Friday in Northampton District Court to two counts of larceny over $250 related to a pair of vehicles that were donated to the school’s automotive shop.
According to court records, Yourga attempted to sell one of them for cash and had the title of the second signed over to him after convincing the former owner that the car was beyond repair and would be used for educational purposes by the automotive students.
Thomas T. Merrigan of Greenfield, Yourga’s attorney, said Monday that his client has entered “an unequivocal not guilty plea.”
“There are two sides to every story,” Merrigan added. “At the end he will be exonerated.”
Yourga is scheduled to return to court Aug. 13.
The allegations about the automobiles surfaced during a separate internal investigation by the school into Yourga’s conduct with female teachers and students, according to court records.
John Kelly, the principal at Smith Vocational, said Monday that Yourga was placed on paid administrative leave on April 8 when the investigation about his conduct began, and he resigned on June 3.
Kelly declined to comment on the allegations of misconduct and declined further comment about the larceny charges.
Yourga was hired by the school in October 1993. In 2013 he earned $66,281, according to city records.
According to court records, during the school’s investigation into Yourga’s conduct, a letter was found in his file from August 2006 regarding the sale of a 1985 Pontiac to a then 21-year-old man.
According to the application for criminal complaint, Yourga sold the car for $700 after the buyer saw it parked in front of Yourga’s home advertised for sale in July and August 2006.
The buyer’s mother became concerned because her son was going to be responsible for the sales tax on the vehicle, which is calculated based on the so-called “Blue Book” value rather than the sale price, and contacted Yourga.
Yourga allegedly told the buyer’s mother to obtain paperwork from the Registry of Motor Vehicles to classify the sale as a “gift,” eliminating the sales tax.
The woman contacted the RMV in Boston and was told that would be illegal under those circumstances, according to court records.
“Mr. Yourga suggested circumventing the law by claiming the vehicle as a gift,” according to the application for criminal complaint filed in court.
The buyer’s mother also contacted the car’s original owner who told her that he donated the car — formerly used as a hearse — to Smith Vocational. Yourga agreed to take the car back and returned the $700, but the whereabouts of that vehicle are not known, according to court records.
Northampton Police checked with the RMV for all vehicle identification numbers assigned to Yourga and found another vehicle — a 1998 Nissan Altima — that had been donated to the school, but was parked in Yourga’s driveway.
Police contacted the Altima’s previous owner, who told them the car broke down during the spring of 2011 and she had it towed to the school. The woman said Yourga told her the car was damaged beyond repair, but agreed it would make a good donation for the automotive students to use and she signed the title over to him, according to court records.
The seller claimed she also signed a donation form for the Altima which was valued at $2,519, but never received a copy, and to her knowledge the car was never used by the school, according to court records. At some point the car had $352 worth of work done to repair its timing chain, according to court records.
Police contacted Smith Vocational Superintendent Jeffery Peterson, who confirmed that donated vehicles are not for personal use, and requested that the Altima be returned and charges filed against Yourga. Staff in the Smith Vocational office said Peterson is away this week and unavailable for comment.
A search warrant was executed at Yourga’s home on May 21 and the car was seized, according to court records.
Bob Dunn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.