Oakland Tribune / Argus

FRAUD ALLEGATION: Former head of Newark chamber is arrested

Copley to be arraigned in embezzlement case on Monday

NEWARK — John Copley, the former head of the Chamber of Commerce who resigned under pressure in September, was arrested Friday on suspicion of grand theft and embezzlement from the chamber, police said.

Copley, 39, who was arrested after a nearly four-month investigation, was being held at Santa Rita county jail. He is scheduled to be arraigned Monday afternoon, a jail official said.

Although police would not say how much money is involved, one official said it could be between $15,000 and $50,000.

“The Alameda County District Attorney’s Office will review the investigation to determine the appropriate charges to be filed,” police Lt. Tom Milner said.

Bail was set at $50,000, Milner said.

Copley, who police say has been living in San Jose, had not been released as of 7 p.m. Friday, a jail official said.

Copley surrendered voluntarily at the Newark Police Station, where he was arrested at noon, Milner said.

Police began investigating the finances of the chamber in October 2002 when chamber officials realized there was a money shortage.

The chamber — which, according to a balance sheet obtained by ANG Newspapers had $144,000 in cash assets in May 2000 — was more than $4,000 in debt as of last month, said then-chairwoman Gwen Helbush. In addition, the organization owes at least two years’ worth of federal and state taxes, she said.

Copley’s arrest can start the healing process at the chamber, said police Capt. Mark Yokoyama, who has been appointed to serve as the chamber’s temporary spokesman.

“It allows us to put closure to a very sad part of chamber history,” he said. “And it now allows us to move in and bring back the chamber to the higher status it deserves to be at.”

The arrest, he added, may allow the chamber to reclaim some of the funds it has lost.

“Hopefully, through the court process, there will be some sort of restitution offered,” he said.

Another chamber member, speaking on condition of anonymity, said, “I’m told (police) were so careful because they wanted to make this thing stick. … I’m ecstatic.”

Copley could not be reached for comment. Two days before his resignation, he said he had not done anything illegal.

“If I was doing something wrong or illegal with all this coming up, I would have been out of here and gone,” he said.

Shortly after Copley started working at the chamber on April 1, 2000, he changed his title from executive director to president and chief executive officer. The bylaws were rewritten, listing the president/CEO — Copley — as the treasurer.

In June 2002, disgruntled chamber members began sending mass e-mails containing concerns about various issues, including money, Copley’s title as treasurer and his successful drive to change the name of the chamber to the North Silicon Valley Newark Chamber of Commerce.

On Jan. 15, members voted to change the name back to the Newark Chamber of Commerce. They also passed a new set of bylaws that create a separate treasurer position.

The next day, the chamber accepted the city’s offer of up to $30,000, plus a year of free rent of a city-owned building — amounting to more than$25,000 — on several conditions, including the resignation of its six executive board members.

Copley has been working for two months at the Billy DeFrank Lesbian and Gay Community Center in San Jose.