Advisor to Chicopee Mayor Sentenced to Probation, Ordered to Pay Fine in Connection with Falsifying Petition Signatures
Admits That He Falsified Signatures for a Petition to Extend Mayoral Term to Four Years
CHICOPEE – An advisor and political supporter of Chicopee Mayor Michael Bissonnette was sentenced today to one year of probation and ordered to pay a $1,000 fine in connection with falsifying signatures for a petition to extend the mayoral term from two to four years, Attorney General Martha Coakley announced.
“This defendant falsified petition signatures, severely undermining the integrity of the petition process,” AG Coakley said. “It is vital that this process be conducted truthfully and accurately to ensure good governance in our communities and maintain the public’s trust in local government."
Francis Lapointe, age 73, of Chicopee, admitted to sufficient facts today in Chicopee District Court on the charge of Willful Alteration, Mutilation, or Destruction of Nomination Papers. The Commonwealth had requested that the court find the defendant guilty. District Court Judge Bethzaida Sanabria-Vega continued the case without a finding and ordered Lapointe to one year probation, with the condition that he be prohibited from working on any political campaign, whether for a candidate or for a ballot initiative. Violation of the terms of probation will automatically result in a guilty finding. Judge Sanabria-Vega also ordered Lapointe to pay a $1,000 fine.
Today’s action is a result of an investigation into a 2011 petition approved by Mayor Bissonnette, which if certified, would have placed a question on the November 2011 Chicopee election ballot asking voters whether the Chicopee mayoral term should be extended from two to four years. The proponents of the question needed to submit 1,701 approved signatures to the Registrar of Voters by August 26, 2011 in order to get the question on the ballot. According to investigators, Mayor Bissonnette informally appointed Lapointe to lead that effort. Lapointe was responsible for distributing and collecting the petitions and submitting them to the Registrar of Voters for certification.
By the August 26 deadline, 150 petitions sheets containing 2,012 signatures were submitted to the Registrar of Voters. The Board of Registrars rejected 270 signatures for various typical reasons, such as duplicates, illegible, and unregistered voters, and accepted 1,751 signatures, certified the petition, and submitted it to the City Clerk for final approval. Upon reviewing the petition and signatures, the City Clerk’s Office noticed numerous signatures to be similar and suspected they had been forged. The City Clerk notified the City Council and a challenge to the signatures was filed with the Registrar of Voters. The Registrar held a public hearing on September 21, 2011, during which numerous witnesses testified that they never signed the petition and suggested that someone else must have signed their name without permission. At the conclusion of the hearing, the Registrar rejected 51 signatures, which reduced the number of signatures below the number needed to certify the petition, thus causing the petition to fail.
At that point, the matter was referred to the AG’s Office for investigation. That investigation revealed that 39 of the 145 petitions submitted by Lapointe contained signatures that were falsely made. According to investigators, many of those signatures appeared to have been written by the same person, and were consistent with the writing style found in a handwriting exemplar completed by Lapointe.
A complaint was filed against Lapointe on Thursday, and he was subsequently arraigned in Chicopee District Court. At arraignment, Lapointe admitted to sufficient facts in connection to the charges. Judge Sanabria-Vega continued the case without a finding and ordered Lapointe to one year of probation and a $1,000 fine.
The case was prosecuted by Assistant Attorney General Lee Hettinger, Chief of the Western Massachusetts Regional Office. Massachusetts State Police assigned to the AG’s Office assisted in the investigation.