Somerville Police Officer Scott Trant Fined $10,600 for Violating Conflict of Interest Law
By Offering to Purchase Property from a Property-Owner Seeking Police Assistance
According to a Disposition Agreement, on February 9, 2005, an Everett woman visited the Somerville Police Department and sought assistance from Trant, who was on duty, regarding her ex-husband. The woman told Trant about her ex-husband's behavior and questionable mental state. The ex-husband was living in an illegal apartment in the basement of a dilapidated property that had been cited for code violations. The property, located at 21 Vernon Street in Somerville, was owned in trust by the woman and her two children. The woman had agreed to have her ex-husband removed from the property and to correct any code violations as part of a January 2004 agreement with the Somerville Inspectional Services Division (ISD). She reported to Trant that she had considered selling the property and had rejected an offer of $100,000. According to the woman, Trant offered to purchase the house, for approximately $200,000. The house was assessed at $438,700.
On February 9 and 10, 2005, Trant attempted to phone ISD to gain more information about the city's action involving the house; contacted the psychiatric unit of Cambridge Hospital for "information about getting someone committed;" went to 21 Vernon Street to conduct a "welfare check;" and reported to Cambridge Hospital on the ex-husband's condition. On February 11, 2006, the ex-husband was involuntarily committed to a psychiatric facility. On February 14, 2005, Trant discussed the ex-husband with caseworkers at Cambridge Hospital and the Department of Mental Health.
On February 23, 2005, Trant again offered by phone to purchase the house for $200,000. He had an attorney draw up a standard purchase-and-sale agreement and gave the agreement to the woman, who signed it. The Somerville Police Department began investigating Trant's conduct regarding this matter. After the woman's attorney told Trant she now believed she could get $400,000 for the property, he increased his offer to $300,000. Ultimately, the property transaction did not occur; nonetheless, Trant requested $600 from the woman to pay for his legal fees. The woman gave Trant the money. In September 2006, Trant was terminated for conduct unbecoming a police officer; he has appealed his termination.
Section 23(b)(2) of the conflict of interest law prohibits a public employee from using or attempting to use his position to secure for himself or others an unwarranted privilege of substantial value not properly available to similarly situated individuals. By using his position as a police officer to attempt to purchase property at a reduced price and in a quicker time frame, Trant violated this section of the law.
"Residents who seek help from police officers, particularly when they are in a vulnerable situation, are entitled to fair and impartial treatment," said Executive Director Peter Sturges. "When a police officer is providing services to a resident at the same time he is trying to initiate a business deal with that resident, neither the resident nor the police department is well served."