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People will tell you Richard Bento is a good actor — on and off the stage. Which is why many in New England's community theater scene think he's been able to do what he's done for so long: trick people and take their money, repeatedly in different states.
People will also tell you Bento is charismatic. In numerous videos on his theater company's Facebook page, he's seen hyping upcoming productions.
But many times, as the leader of South Shore Theatre Works, he didn't purchase the rights to perform those shows, like the two youth productions of "Legally Blonde" and "Newsies" that were supposed to happen this month. Kids were charged $150 to participate. The money was supposed to go toward, among other things, buying the rights.
Last summer, Bento went on Stoughton public access television to promote his production of "Carrie: The Musical," saying the cost of obtaining rights to perform is worth it.
"There's always rights and royalties, but you have to think about — well, at least what we think about at SSTW — is what impact are we having," Bento said. "Not just on our audiences but also with our performers."
He was fined for performing "Carrie" without permission. In a statement to WBUR, a spokesperson from Concord Theatricals, which owns "Carrie," said, “South Shore Theatre Works and producer Richard Bento mounted a number of unauthorized productions in 2018 and 2019 of Concord Theatricals titles."
Once Bento's pattern of dishonesty was pointed out by SSTW's former theater tech last month on Facebook, Bento disappeared; he deactivated his Facebook account; hung up when WBUR called and ignored email and text messages.
Bento, however, emailed parents to "apologize for all of this." He wrote that "it was never my intend [sic] to hurt anyone in anyway [sic]."
But this isn't new. According to interviews and records, over the years, on numerous occasions, Bento has gone to various community theaters, become a trusted leader charged with handling finances, taken money and vanished. And then the cycle continues again somewhere else.
"He's like the Jesse James of community theater," said Sue Nedar, who runs the Footlights Repertory Company in Swansea.
Nedar first met Bento in 2011, when he played the role of Judas in Nedar's production of "Jesus Christ Superstar." Later that year, Nedar said Bento went on to direct a show for her theater company. Bento was tasked with making sure the set builder got paid. Nedar said the set builder never got paid.
Nedar fired Bento, but not before she said he took advantage of her kindness.
"If it wasn't that he was dying from throat cancer, it was that he needed a few dollars to tide him over," Nedar recalled.
Other people in New England's small amateur theater community remember Bento having a GoFundMe during this time.
"Let's just say he [owes me] thousands of dollars, okay?" Nedar said.
A judge ordered Bento to pay Nedar nearly $3,000 in 2013.
Nedar said she's lucky she didn't let Bento near her theater company's bank account. But others weren't so fortunate.
In 2012, Bento became the artistic director of the Bristol Theatre Company in Rhode Island. Marie Knapman, who runs the theater, says two years later, she found out Bento siphoned nearly $15,000 from the theater company.
"We ended up being able to get pictures from the drive-through at the banks that showed him cashing the checks," Knapman remembered. "He was arrested and charges were brought against him. And ultimately he was found guilty and ordered to pay restitution to us."
Rhode Island Superior Court records show Bento has paid about half of what he owes. He stopped paying last year, Knapman said, and now there's an open warrant for his arrest.
After leaving the Bristol Theatre Company, Bento returned to Massachusetts to start his own community theater company — South Shore Theatre Works. The 501(c)(3) designation was revoked in 2018, according to the IRS's nonprofit portal, for not filing paperwork "for three consecutive years."
But last summer, a year after his theater company's nonprofit status lapsed, Bento went on Stoughton public access television and asserted that South Shore Theatre Works is a nonprofit after the host asked if the company is seeking sponsorship and donations.
"What kind of nonprofit would I be if I'm not looking for sponsorships, right?" Bento rhetorically asked, smiling. "Of course. We have wonderful sponsorship opportunities."
Bento had organized raffles and galas and suggested people make "generous contributions" after the theater lost its nonprofit designation.
Jennifer Kuzmeskas was a treasurer during South Shore Theatre Works' nascence. But she said she didn't last long after she asked Bento about money from a fundraiser that was never deposited.
"I spent many hours on the phone with the bank, trying to find out where that money went — if it had been deposited in the wrong account or what had happened," Kuzmeskas said. "So, when I had a lot of questions about that, he promptly removed me as treasurer."
After Bento's most recent financial charade was brought to light — making performers pay to participate under the guise that he'd purchase performing rights, but never purchasing them — the entire board of directors of South Shore Theatre Works resigned and hired a lawyer.
The lawyer, Chris DiOrio, said he intends to notify the state's attorney general about Bento. He said the board of directors still wants there to be a community theater that Bento can't interfere with.
Sue Nedar says she has an idea of what Bento's next move will be, based on her previous dealings with him.
"He's going to scrape up whatever dollars he stuck in his pocket from unwitting parents and he’s going to hit the bricks and he’s going to go AWOL," she said. "And he’s going to resurface in another town, because this has been the pattern right along.”
But many are hoping this time Bento will be held accountable and doesn't repeat the pattern.
WBUR went to an address listed for Bento in Swansea. His dad was there and said his son is in the hospital — as someone peeped through the blinds.
This segment aired on August 14, 2020.
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