The Boston Herald
Monday, October 21, 2002
Convicted officials rake in pension $$
SPECIAL REPORT (First of two parts)
by Maggie Mulvihill, Jack Meyers and Jonathan Wells
Dozens of public officials convicted of on-the-job crimes ranging from taking bribes to assault with intent to kill are drawing government pensions despite a Massachusetts law designed to bar them from receiving retirement benefits.
At a time when the state's retirement boards are reeling from steady declines in the stock market, millions of dollars are flowing out of the depleted pension funds and into the pockets of crooked public servants.
In some cases, pensions are being paid to convicted officials in what appear to be flagrant violations of the law. In other instances, public employee retirement boards have bent over backward to find legal loopholes to justify the payments.
The roster of disgraced officials collecting pensions includes two county sheriffs convicted of shaking down their own deputies, a pair of Chelsea patrolmen who were on the payroll of organized crime, and a former Massachusetts State Police lieutenant convicted of larceny, attempted arson and trying to stab a state prosecutor to death.
Those and many other convicted officials continue to receive monthly pension checks despite a state statute written and rewritten over the past 60 years that requires retirement boards to rescind the pension of any public employee convicted of a crime related to his or her duties.
"This is just another example where, in Massachusetts, public corruption and the penalties for it become meaningless," said former state attorney general L. Scott
Harshbarger, the outgoing head of the national watchdog group Common Cause in Washington, D.C., said the failure by public pension boards and the courts to punish corrupt officials to the full extent of the law fuels the public's cynicism.
"It's an absolute double standard," he said. "If you're a person that has access to influence, you're treated differently."
A Herald review of records from just 26 of the 106 Massachusetts public employee retirement boards shows that more than $10 million in pension money has been paid out to convicted criminals since 1988, when the Legislature broadened and clarified the state's forfeiture statute.
This year alone, seven retirement systems will pay out $950,000 in pension checks to 34 former public employees who were convicted of crimes related to their jobs. That figure does not include the health insurance package granted to each retiree, which in most cases is worth more than $10,000 annually.
And the retirement payments continue to be made even after a landmark Supreme Judicial Court ruling two years ago that seemed to erase any possible ambiguity in the law.
"Forfeiture of pension benefits automatically flows as a consequence of conviction," the SJC wrote in its unanimous decision in August, 2000. "The statute does not allow the (pension) board any discretion as to the revocation of pension benefits."
In case after case, records show otherwise:
Forfeiture was anything but automatic in the case of former Middlesex County Sheriff John McGonigle, who in 1994 admitted extorting cash from underlings and later pleaded guilty to racketeering. He was sentenced to 57 months in federal prison.
McGonigle began collecting a Middlesex County Retirement System pension in August 1995, a few months after he went to jail. He currently receives $4,237.31 each month.
Almost immediately after McGonigle finished serving his sentence, he landed a job on the Teamsters Union Local 25 movie crew run by his friend James P. Flynn, who has ties to organized crime. McGonigle, who chauffeurs cast members to and from movie sets, gets paid $2,000 a week, plus guaranteed overtime and expenses.
Flynn and the Teamsters movie crew, meanwhile, continue to be targets of a federal investigation into alleged shakedowns of television and movie producers.
Another former sheriff, Charles H. Reardon, pleaded guilty in September 1996 to extorting deputies in Essex County for summer concert tickets, political contributions and charitable donations. He was sentenced to one year and a day in federal prison. Then-Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph F. Savage Jr. said at the time that while Reardon was sheriff, "the (Essex County) House of Correction became a house of corruption."
Just before he went to prison, Reardon began collecting a pension from the Essex County Retirement Board. He currently receives $3,051.69 per month.
In 1996, former state Rep. Francis H. Woodward was convicted under federal conspiracy, bribery and mail fraud statutes for accepting thousands of dollars in meals, entertainment and travel from an insurance company lobbyist.
Woodward appealed but was unsuccessful in overturning the conviction, and finally served his six-month sentence in 2001. He has been receiving a taxpayer-financed pension since 1995 and receives $1,787 per month.
In 1993, two former Chelsea police officers, Michael Ajewski and Joseph McCrann, pleaded guilty to charges of operating an illegal video poker machine business, beginning in 1983, and filing false income tax returns.
The two officers also admitted to collecting bribes from notorious bookmaker Samuel Berkowitz, which they then distributed to other members of the department's vice squad, as well as to public officials in Chelsea. They were each sent to federal prison for six months.
At sentencing, U.S. District Court Judge William G. Young told Ajewski and McCrann they turned over their badges and became "bag men" for the criminals.
Ajewski and McCrann both retired in the 1980s, well before they were indicted as part of a major federal corruption investigation in Chelsea. Ajewski retired in 1985 and receives $1,779.80 per month from the Chelsea Retirement Board. McCrann retired in 1987 and gets $1,953.31 each month.
Former Massachusetts State Police Lt. John J. Mace was convicted in 1990 of stealing $96,000 from the Hamden County District Attorney's Office, attempting to set fire to the office to hide the theft, and then stabbing a prosecutor who happened on the scene.
Mace, after spending 9 1/2 years in state prison, retired in 2001 and now draws $6,077 in monthly state pension benefits.
In 1992, Edward Goss topped off a long criminal career by pleading guilty to state charges that he, his brother and a third man stole parking receipts while working as cashiers at the Boston Common Garage.
Just before his conviction, Goss retired from his Massachusetts Convention Center Authority job and began collecting a state pension. He currently receives $910.59 each month from the State Retirement Board.
Although state prosecutors alleged Goss was involved in pilfering cash from the garage over a long period of time, he ultimately pleaded guilty to "larceny not exceeding $250" and was required to pay only $158 in restitution, which he did.
Earlier in his life, between 1950 and 1954, Goss was arrested for breaking and entering, illegal gambling and armed robbery. He was also mentioned in a 1965 FBI report as a possible suspect, but never charged, in a 1964 gangland murder.
In Revere, former sanitation foreman Anthony Spagnola admitted violating federal law by receiving improper payments as a public official and filing a false tax return in 1992. As part of his plea agreement, Spagnola admitted he accepted weekly bribes of $200 between 1989 and 1991 - totaling $20,000 - from a trash collection company doing business with the city. He was given a 12-month suspended sentence, but that has not stopped him from drawing his monthly pension check, now at $1,153, since he retired in 1992.
The top aide to State Treasurer Shannon P. O'Brien, who is chairwoman of the State Retirement Board, was questioned last week about eight former state employees who are receiving pensions despite their criminal convictions.
The aide, First Deputy Treasurer Michael Travaglini - who serves as O'Brien's designee on the retirement board - acknowledged that five of those employees may be receiving retirement checks in violation of state law.
He said O'Brien's office was never notified of the retirees' criminal convictions. "We're at the mercy of receiving information from either the employing agency or the prosecutorial office," Travaglini said.
According to Travaglini, the State Retirement Board sent letters Friday to the five retirees - who include Mace and Woodward - notifying them that the board will review their pensions at hearings on Oct. 28.
In the case of McGonigle, Middlesex County retirement board officials rejected the advice of their longtime attorney, Thomas F. Gibson, in deciding to award a pension to the former sheriff while he sat in federal prison in 1995.
Gibson argued that although McGonigle pleaded guilty in December 1994 to a single count of racketeering that occurred in 1987 - one year before the broader forfeiture law took effect - he had previously been convicted on other charges in which his crimes stretched between 1988 and 1993.
McGonigle's attorney, Christopher J. Muse, claimed that the pension law should not apply to his client because it did not take effect until January 1988.
The conflicting opinions led the board to seek the advice of an outside party: retired district court Judge Paul C. Menton. Menton raised an entirely different argument - that the 1988 law was unconstitutional as applied to McGonigle and violated the contracts clause of the First Amendment.
The board accepted Menton's advice and granted McGonigle's pension.
James E. Fahey, the chairman of the Middlesex County Retirement, acknowledged last week it was "unusual" for the board to reject the advice of their lawyer, but said the McGonigle case raised "novel" questions.
In Essex County, former sheriff Reardon managed to preserve his pension through careful plea negotiations. Although his original indictment charged him with conspiracy, extortion, and illegal wiretapping between 1987 and 1993, he struck a deal in which he pleaded guilty to a single charge of accepting illegal gratuities in 1987 - the year before the state's beefed up pension forfeiture statute came into force.
Reached by telephone last week, Reardon said his pension was never in question. "I just applied for my pension and I received my pension. That was it," he said.
In the case of Spagnola, the sanitation official pinched for taking bribes, Revere Retirement Board chairman Andrew R. Bisignani said the board feels Spagnola is entitled to his public pension because, in the end, he did not plead guilty to bribery, but instead to filing false information on his tax return.
That rationale, however, ignores the fact that the income Spagnola failed to report to the government came from bribes.
Harshbarger said that in many instances, the decisions by retirement boards to allow convicted officials to receive their pensions border on "civil disobedience."
"There's no way in the world these cases should not be re-examined," he said.
Tomorrow: a phalanx of former Boston police officers and one infamous city hall insider are collecting pensions, some in apparent violation of state law.
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The Boston Herald
Monday, October 21, 2002
A fractious state Senate suddenly coalesced yesterday around combative Majority Whip Robert E. Travaglini, handing him enough votes to secure the body's presidency next year, senators told the Herald.
The 50-year-old East Bostonian has about 25 of the 40 Senate votes, easily enough to notch him as the replacement-in-waiting for Senate President Thomas F. Birmingham, the senators said. For the badly divided Senate, it marks one of the speediest, and potentially least bloody, overhauls in decades.
"We had to bring this to closure, it's in the best interests of the Senate, the (Democratic) party and our constituents," said Sen. Linda Melconian (D-Springfield), a challenger for the post until the weekend. "A protracted fight was not in the best interests of the Senate."
"We had a terrible stalemate in the Senate. Bringing this to conclusion is very important so we can refocus on the important issues," said Sen. Marian Walsh (D-West Roxbury), who sources said helped create the avalanche of support for Travaglini.
While pulling the Senate together, the move marks a new potential sore spot for Democratic gubernatorial nominee Shannon P. O'Brien. Travaglini's brother, Michael, is O'Brien's top aide - which, given her tight friendship with House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran, would link the three branches of government by ties much deeper than mere politics.
Travaglini didn't return calls but senators said the dominoes started falling in his favor Friday, when Walsh and a band of dissident independents separately swung his way. Travaglini is in his fifth two-year term, joining the Senate after 10 years on the Boston City Council. He has been criticized for his close ties to city pols and for lining up loads of patronage jobs.
There were seven unofficial candidates to replace Birmingham - the top contenders being Walsh, Melconian, state Sen. Stanley Rosenberg (D-Amherst), and Ways and Means Chairman Mark Montigny of New Bedford. Sources said each had around six votes in the 40-member Senate, with another eight to 10 undecided.
The undecided group, led by state Sen. Michael Morrissey (D-Quincy) and state Sen. Richard Moore (D-Uxbridge), brought three others to Travaglini. Walsh, who helped Travaglini secure five more, brought his tally to the point where the other candidates folded, senators said.
For her trouble, sources said, Walsh is in line to snare the coveted Ways and Means chairmanship while other key players have secured leadership posts.
Rosenberg and Moore said the votes stacked up against them, forcing their hands.
"It just became clear that he had the votes," Rosenberg said.
Several senators said the internal squabbling needed to end so the state's dire finances can get their full attention.
"Given the fiscal crisis we are in now, it became apparent we would want a leadership in place as soon as we could," Morrissey said.
Senators plan to work up a batch of "pledge cards" for Travaglini as early as today, solidifying his votes in writing a full two weeks before any of them are even re-elected. The vote for the presidency of the Senate is scheduled to take place Jan. 1, when Birmingham steps down.
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The MetroWest Daily News
Monday, October 21, 2002
'Yes' on Question 3; Voters must save reform
Question 3: Public financing of elections
The most powerful people on Beacon Hill never liked the Clean Elections Law. They ignored the public campaign financing initiative when it was first put on the ballot in 1998. After it was approved by a two-to-one margin, they worked to undermine it, denying the new system the funding it required and discouraging candidates from signing on.
Through four years of maneuvers to thwart the voters' will, the incumbents in the Legislature, led by House Speaker Thomas Finneran, raised one excuse after another why the Clean Elections system shouldn't be put in place. The most insulting of these is the notion that voters didn't know what they were enacting in 1998, that voters couldn't figure out that a system of public financing of campaigns meant spending money raised through taxes on things like bumper stickers, lawn signs and TV commercials.
Clean Elections survived this year - though just barely - only through the intervention of the Supreme Judicial Court. The Legislature's cynical dance with the issue ended in a return to the ignorant voter argument. The lawmakers placed on the ballot Question 3, a non-binding referendum asking voters whether they really support "taxpayer-financed" elections.
Let it not be said that Finneran and Co. lack a sense of irony. Having snubbed the voters for four years on Clean Elections, and having just repealed two tax cuts approved in 2000 by referendum vote, they now pledge to faithfully abide by whatever the voters say on Nov. 5. You can bet they will, as long as voters vote "no." To insure that result, the lawmakers worded the referendum as distastefully as possible, leaving out the words "Clean Elections" and any mention of the law's requirement that candidates agree to limits on donations and spending in order to qualify for public funding.
Not only has Finneran forced those who favor campaign reform to support a question they didn't write, the powerful speaker is now organizing the campaign to defeat it. There's more irony in where Finneran is getting the money to defeat the measure. According to published reports, Finneran has tapped large corporations for money to fund the "No" campaign, including several that have profited directly from actions taken by state government: Fidelity Investments and John Hancock Financial Services, which benefited from tax breaks enacted by the Legislature; Gillette, which has had a hand in driving up Big Dig costs by millions of dollars; and Perini Inc., which bids on public construction jobs.
Those are exactly the kind of selfish interests campaign finance reform is designed to separate from the political process. Let them lobby all they want on issues touching the public good and their private interests. But the current system forces candidates for office to approach those interests with their hands out. The more expensive campaigns get - it now costs up to $45,000 to win a contested House race - the more power the big donors get. Yes, taxpayer-funded elections cost money and the state budget is tight. But the Clean Elections Law caps the public contribution at one-tenth of one percent of the budget. That's a small price compared to the millions in taxpayer funds paid out in special favors to campaign contributors.
The political trends Clean Elections set out to address in 1998 have only grown worse. Campaigns are more expensive than ever: Shannon O'Brien spent $22 per vote in winning the Democratic gubernatorial primary. Meanwhile, we have less and less competition: Massachusetts ranks 49th in the nation this year in number of contested races.
In Maine and Arizona, two states that have already moved to Clean Elections systems, campaigns have gotten less expensive and more competitive. Nearly two-thirds of the candidates running this year in Maine have accepted Clean Elections limits. Just 15 percent of Maine races are uncontested this year, compared to more than 70 percent in Massachusetts. In Arizona, where all the candidates running for four statewide offices are running under Clean Elections rules, competition has increased 23 percent since 1998.
Maine and Arizona have found the Clean Elections system to be popular with incumbents as well as challengers. Incumbents on Beacon Hill might find they like it as well, if they can resist the urge to smother reform in its cradle. Massachusetts voters must rescue reform from assault by the Legislature. We urge a YES on Question 3.
Finneran's Fat Cats and make a contribution to
"Save Clean Elections" (YES on Question
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