March 23, 2011

 

DISPOSITION AGREEMENT

 

The State Ethics Commission ("Commission") and Heidi Ricci ("Ricci") enter into this Disposition Agreement pursuant to Section 5 of the Commission's Enforcement Procedures. This Agreement constitutes a consented-to final order enforceable in the Superior Court, pursuant to G.L. c. 268B, § 4(j).

On April 16, 2010, the Commission initiated, pursuant to G.L. c. 268B, § 4(a), a preliminary inquiry into possible violations of the conflict of interest law, G.L. c. 268A, by Ricci. The Commission has concluded its inquiry and, on January 21, 2011, found reasonable cause to believe that Ricci violated G.L. c. 268A.

The Commission and Ricci now agree to the following findings of fact and conclusions of law:

 

Findings of Fact

 

1. During the relevant time period, James DiPaola was the elected Middlesex County Sheriff. The Middlesex Sheriff's Office ("MSO") is responsible for the operation of the Billerica House of Correction ("BHC").

2. During the relevant time period, Ricci was a BHC corrections officer ("CO").

3. During the relevant time period, Richard McKinnon was a BHC CO.

4. During the relevant time period, Eril Ligonde was a captain at the MSO assigned to the BHC.

5. The Massachusetts Campaign Finance Law, G.L. c. 55, prohibits an appointed and compensated public employee from soliciting political contributions (c. 55, § 13) and prohibits anyone from soliciting or receiving campaign contributions in government buildings (c. 55, § 14).

6. In October 2009, Ligonde wanted to hold a fundraiser for DiPaola's re-election campaign. Ligonde approached McKinnon and Ricci about helping him to organize the fundraiser. Both agreed to provide assistance.

7. Ligonde contacted DiPaola's MSO administrative assistant to schedule the event. Once a date was set, Ligonde (sometimes with McKinnon) repeatedly spoke or met with DiPaola's campaign treasurer to discuss the fundraiser.

8. Ricci arranged to hold the fundraiser at the Tewksbury Country Club ("TCC"). DiPaola's campaign treasurer arranged to have tickets printed for the event. DiPaola's campaign treasurer contacted Ligonde when the tickets were ready, and Ligonde picked up the tickets at the campaign treasurer's house.

9. The text on the front of the fundraiser tickets was, "Friends of Middlesex Sheriff James V. DiPaola Cordially Invite You to a Reception in His Honor." The information printed on the tickets included the location (TCC) and date and time of the fundraiser (November 19, 2009, from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m.). At the bottom of the tickets were the words, "Suggested Donation $50/$100. Please make checks payable to The DiPaola Committee" and "Paid for by the DiPaola Committee."

10. While on state time and while using an MSO computer,[1]  Ricci created and maintained a document listing approximately 500 MSO employees, which Ligonde used to solicit donations for the fundraiser from MSO employees. In addition to the employees' names, the list noted how many tickets, if any, each employee had received, and the "amount donated." While on state time and while using an MSO computer, Ricci created and maintained a second solicitation list, with the names of approximately 50 employees who were the responsibility of McKinnon to solicit for donations for the fundraiser.

11. Ligonde, and, to a lesser extent, McKinnon, on state time and in MSO buildings, repeatedly solicited and received donations for the fundraiser from MSO employees. Ligonde was a captain; therefore, most of his solicitations were of his subordinates. McKinnon was not a superior officer; his solicitations were either of his peers or his superiors.

12. At the TCC fundraiser, Ricci delivered to DiPaola's campaign treasurer an envelope containing approximately $4,000 in cash and checks, which Ligonde and McKinnon had solicited. Tickets were also sold at the door by DiPaola's campaign treasurer.

13. Approximately 60 people, most of them MSO employees and their spouses, attended the fundraiser.

14. The DiPaola campaign reports filed with the Office of Campaign and Political Finance (OCPF) listed McKinnon's wife and Ligonde's ex-wife as having made "in kind" contributions of $500 to the DiPaola campaign in connection with the fundraiser. DiPaola's campaign treasurer did not speak with McKinnon's wife prior to the fundraiser. DiPaola's campaign treasurer never communicated with Ligonde's ex-wife regarding the fundraiser. Ligonde's ex-wife was not involved with the event in any way, nor was she aware that the DiPaola campaign had reported to OCPF that she had made an in-kind contribution.

 

Conclusions of Law

 

15. As a BHC CO, Ricci was a state employee as defined by G.L. c. 268A, § 1. [2]

16. Section 23(b)(2)(ii) of G.L. c. 268A prohibits a state employee from, knowingly, or with reason to know, using or attempting to use her official position to secure for herself or others unwarranted privileges or exemptions which are of substantial value and which are not properly available to similarly situated individuals.

17. The Commission has consistently held that the use of public resources of substantial value for political purposes amounts to the use of one's official position to secure an unwarranted privilege. These resources include publicly provided stationery, office supplies, utilities, telephones, office equipment, office space or other facilities, or a public employee's time on the public payroll. [3]

18. Ricci, on state time and using MSO computers, assisted Ligonde and McKinnon regarding their DiPaola fundraiser by creating and maintaining lists of over 500 MSO employees for potential solicitation to attend the fundraiser for DiPaola.

19. By using MSO time, facilities and equipment to organize and solicit donations for a fundraiser for DiPaola's reelection campaign, Ricci used her MSO CO position.

20. The use of these MSO resources was a privilege.

21. The privilege was unwarranted because state resources are to be used solely for official state purposes.

22. The privilege was of substantial value because the value of the resources was well over $50.00. [4]

23. The privilege was not properly available to other candidates vying for public office.

24. Therefore, based on the foregoing, Ricci repeatedly violated § 23(b)(2)(ii).

 

In view of the foregoing violations of G.L. c. 268A by Ricci, the Commission has determined that the public interest would be served by the disposition of this matter without further enforcement proceedings, based on the following terms and conditions agreed to by Ricci:

(1) that Ricci pay to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, with such payment delivered to the Commission, the sum of $2,000 as a civil penalty for repeatedly violating G.L. c. 268A, § 23(b)(2)(ii); and

(2) that Ricci waive all rights to contest, in this or any other administrative or judicial proceeding to which the Commission is or may be a party, the findings of fact, conclusions of law and terms and conditions contained in this Agreement.

 

STATE ETHICS COMMISSION

 

    //signed//                     2/28/11     
Heidi Ricci                         Date 

 

    //signed//                     3/23/11    
Karen L. Nober                 Date
Executive Director

 

I, Heidi Ricci, have personally read the above Disposition Agreement. I understand that it is a public document and that by signing it, I will have agreed to all of the terms and conditions therein, including payment of $2,000 to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, with such payment delivered to the State Ethics Commission.

 

   //signed//                         2/28/11_
Heidi Ricci                         Date

 



[1] When users log on to the MSO network, a screen is displayed stating that it is unacceptable to use the office's technology resources for, among other things, "any political purposes."

[2] MSO employees are employees of the Commonwealth. 1997 Mass. Acts 48.

[3] See Advisory 84-01: Political Activity.

[4] See Commonwealth v. Famigletti, 4 Mass. App. 585, 587 (1976) (Court held that $50 in cash is considered " substantial value" ).