April 22, 2014
On March 17, 2014, the parties filed a Joint Motion to Dismiss the Proceedings.
On August 17, 2011, Petitioner filed an Order to Show Cause alleging that either as Executive Director of the Merrimack Special Education Collaborative (“Collaborative”), a municipal agency, or as the Executive Director of the Merrimack Education Center (“Center”) exercising control over the Collaborative’s activities, Respondent John Barranco (“Barranco”) violated G.L. c. 268A, § 23(b)(2) and § 23(b)(3) by arranging for Richard W. McDonough to have a position at the Collaborative in which he did virtually no work and enabling McDonough to receive pension benefits to which he was not entitled.
Petitioner also alleges that by hiring McDonough and renewing his contracts as Public Affairs Director for the Collaborative rather than continuing to retain him as an outside lobbyist for the Center, Barranco shifted the cost of McDonough’s compensation from the Center to the Collaborative. The Center allegedly was a business organization, and Barranco allegedly was a Center employee. Petitioner alleges that Barranco violated § 19 by participating as a Collaborative employee in a particular matter in which the Center had a financial interest.
In the Joint Motion to Dismiss, the parties report that in December, 2013, a federal grand jury returned an indictment of Carl A. Nystrom, former Chief Financial Officer of the Center. The indictment refers to Lobbyist A, the Director of Public Affairs and Government, which was McDonough’s title at the Center.
Attached to the Motion is a letter from Assistant United States Attorney Andrew E. Lelling stating that the federal investigation encompassed Nystrom’s colleagues and associates at the Center and the Collaborative and persons who appear to have been impermissibly enrolled in the Massachusetts State Retirement System. Lelling expressed concerns that there may be substantial factual and evidentiary overlap between the Ethics Commission matter and the federal matter, and that developments in the Ethics Commission matter could adversely affect the federal prosecution of Nystrom or the ongoing federal investigation. Lelling respectfully suggests that the Commission move to stay its case pending resolution of the federal matter.
In the Motion, Petitioner states that the United States Attorney’s Office is in the best position to address the matter, and that dismissal of this Commission’s proceedings is in the best interest of the parties, the State Ethics Commission and the public. The Motion notes that substantial resources would be required to proceed with this matter, with a high probability of out-of-state travel and/or reimbursement of travel expenses for out-of-state witnesses.
Barranco argues that the passage of time has affected his ability to defend this matter, as illustrated by the death of two Collaborative board members and the incapacity of a third since the Order to Show Cause was filed.
The Commission notes that the allegations underlying the federal investigation were first made public in 2011. While the Commission may stay rather than dismiss a pending adjudicatory proceeding at the request of another agency, the Commission believes that it should dismiss rather than stay these proceedings because, given the length of time that already has passed, further delays at the request of another agency are not consistent with the interests of justice.
Accordingly, the Joint Motion to Dismiss is ALLOWED, and the above-captioned matter is DISMISSED.
Barbara A. Dortch-Okara, Chair Paula Mangum
Martin F. Murphy William J. Trach
Regina L. Quinlan
Dated: April 22, 2014