Former DOC Employee Pleads Guilty, Sentenced for Having a Hidden Financial Interest in State Vendor and Using That Vendor to Receive Illegal Gifts and Steal State Funds and Equipment for His Own Personal Use
Gary Mendes, age 50, of Berkley, pled guilty in Brockton Superior Court to charges of Conflict of Interest-Financial Interest, Conflict of Interest-Gratuities, Procurement Fraud (2 counts), and Larceny Over $250 (3 counts). After the plea was entered, Superior Court Judge Carol Ball sentenced Mendes to two-and-a-half years in the House of Correction, with the sentenced suspended for a probationary period of five years. While on probation, Judge Ball ordered that Mendes perform 500 hours of community service. Mendes was also ordered to repay restitution, the amount of which will be determined at a later date.
"By placing his private financial interests ahead of his public responsibility to the Department of Correction and the citizens of the Commonwealth, Mr. Mendes's behavior violated the very reason we have conflict of interest laws." AG Coakley said. "He exploited his position for his own benefit by receiving gifts and other financial benefits from a state vendor, and leveraging the relationship to engage in procurement fraud and larceny from the DOC. This conduct will not be tolerated and our office will continue to prosecute and investigate these crimes of public corruption."
In 2007, the DOC Internal Affairs Division started investigating allegations that a member of their Special Operations Division had been improperly acquiring personal items that were purchased with state funding or credits from state returns, and that members of the Special Operations Division had gone on a trip to Florida that was paid for by a state approved vendor of law enforcement supplies located in Western Massachusetts. After conducting their investigation, the DOC referred the matter to the Attorney General's Office in March 2008.
Investigators discovered that starting in 2004 Mendes developed a personal financial relationship with a vendor in the months before it bid on (and won) a multi-million dollar statewide contract for firearms, ammunition, and related accessories. Mendes was a member of the five-person Public Safety Procurement Management Team (PMT) that solicited, reviewed, and awarded the contract. Mendes was also the DOC purchasing agent who used the statewide contract to order approximately $250,000 per year in supplies from the vendor.
While working for the DOC and serving on the PMT, Mendes began to accrue both a "personal credit" and a "DOC credit" with the vendor. Mendes obtained personal credit by selling ammunition left over from military training programs conducted at the DOC's Bridgewater facility. In exchange, the vendor would write checks to or for Mendes's benefit, including checks payable to Mendes, his bank, and various personal credit cards, including Home Depot, Lowe's, Staples, and Sears. Over time, the dollar value of the checks out-paced the dollar value of the military ammunition, and Mendes was bringing in ammunition and other items to "pay down" what he owed. In all, between June 2004 and September 2008, Mendes's ammunition sales and running line of credit resulted in the vendor issuing over 70 checks totaling over $80,000 that were either to or for Mendes's benefit.
The vendor also kept track of a separate DOC credit that Mendes funded by returning DOC purchased merchandise, or by asking the vendor not to ship all of the items on a particular DOC purchase order, or by finding a lower price for items than the price on the purchase order and applying the difference to the credit. The DOC credit (like the personal credit) was kept informally as a running handwritten tally on a succession of manila folders maintained by the vendor.
Mendes used the store credit to purchase items without a DOC purchase order. He would purchase items from the vendor's store, other stores, and on the Internet. When purchasing from other stores, Mendes would frequently place the orders and pay for the items using the vendor's business credit cards. The value of these credit card purchases would be deducted from the accrued DOC credit. Mendes used the DOC credit to buy equipment and supplies for both DOC business and for his own personal uses and needs including: a pitching machine, baseballs, and other baseball equipment, paintball guns and accessories, a bow and two bow cases, a gift for his wife, and various supplies and equipment that he sold to colleagues.
In addition to using DOC credit to cover in-store personal purchases, and personal purchases from other stores and the internet using the vendor's business credit cards, Mendes enjoyed additional personal financial benefits. Each holiday season in 2004, 2005 and 2006 he received over $200 in Omaha Steaks from the vendor. In 2007, the vendor paid for a trip to Orlando, Florida that Mendes and other members of the Special Operations Division took with the vendor.
In the summer of 2008, Mendes pocketed cash derived from selling DOC brass shell casings, "shorting" one DOC ammunition order to pay for the personal purchase of five brand new Smith & Wesson firearms sold for $2,500, and inflating another DOC ammunition order by $9,000 to cover both DOC and personal purchases and have enough left over for Mendes to pocket several thousand dollars more.
On November 19, 2008, Mendes was arrested at his residence without incident by the Massachusetts State Police assigned to the Attorney General's Office. Mendes was arraigned that same afternoon in Greenfield District Court where he entered a plea of not guilty. Mendes was released on personal recognizance on the condition that he stay away from the law enforcement supplies distributor to whom he had close ties. The Commonwealth had requested that Mendes be held on $25,000 bail.
A Plymouth County Grand Jury returned indictments against Mendes on June 25, 2010. On August 6, 2010, he was arraigned in Brockton Superior Court where he entered a plea of not guilty. On March 28, 2011, Mendes pled guilty to all charges and was sentenced.
The case was prosecuted by Assistant Attorney General Jim O'Brien, Chief of AG Coakley's Public Integrity Division, and Assistant Attorney General Jessica Massey, of Attorney General Coakley's Enterprise and Major Crimes Division. The case was investigated by financial investigators Jessie Dean and Taylor Glynn, and members of the Massachusetts State Police assigned to the Attorney General's Office, and the Commissioner's Office of the Department of Correction.