Former State Information Technology Division Acting Chief Information Officer Bethann Pepoli Fined $3,000 for Violating the Conflict of Interest Law
Solicited a $1,300 Sponsorship for a Golf Outing from a Bidder Seeking a State Contract
The Ethics Commission approved a Disposition Agreement in which former state Information Technology Division ("ITD") Acting Chief Information Officer Bethann Pepoli ("Pepoli")admitted to violating G.L. c. 268A, the conflict of interest law, and agreed to pay a $3,000 civil penalty. Pepoli solicited a sponsorship for a golf outing from Cognos Corporation ("Cognos"), a software vendor seeking a $15 million state contract, while, in her capacity as a state employee, she made recommendations regarding the award of that contract.
According to the Disposition Agreement, Cognos submitted a response to an April 2007 ITD Request for Quotes ("RFQ") to provide performance management software. Four responses to the RFQ were received by ITD. Pepoli appointed a procurement management team ("PMT") to evaluate the responses. On May 18, 2007, the PMT recommended that either the procurement process be started over so more information could be obtained, or else a small pilot program contract be awarded, to be split between Cognos and another bidder. Pepoli, however, recommended to her superiors at the Executive Office for Administration and Finance that Cognos be awarded the full contract. In August 2007, Cognos was awarded a $13 million contract.
The Disposition Agreement states that Pepoli is a member of the board of directors of the New England-Canada Business Council ("NECBC"), a private, non-profit organization created to foster business, political and cultural relationships between Canada and New England. On May 14, 2007, during the time that the Cognos response to the RFQ was being reviewed, Pepoli sent an email to a Cognos official asking if Cognos would be interested in sponsoring an annual NECBC golf outing for $1,300. On May 18, 2007, a Cognos representative informed Pepoli that Cognos would sponsor the golf outing. Cognos paid the $1,300 sponsorship fee on June 4, 2007.
Section 23 (b)(2) of the conflict of interest law prohibits a state employee from 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. According to the Disposition Agreement, ". . . by using her official position as the ITD Acting CIO to induce Cognos to make the $1300 donation to a private party, Pepoli knowingly used her official position to obtain an unwarranted privilege of substantial value not properly available to other similarly situated individuals in violation of [section] 23(b)(2)."
Section 23(b)(3) of the conflict of interest law prohibits a state employee from acting in a manner which would cause a reasonable person, having knowledge of the relevant circumstances, to conclude that any person can improperly influence or unduly enjoy her favor in the performance of her official duties, or that she is likely to act or fail to act as a result of kinship, rank, position or undue influence of any party or person. The section also provides that it shall be unreasonable to so conclude if such state employee has disclosed in writing to her appointing authority the facts which would otherwise lead to such a conclusion. According to the Disposition Agreement, by recommending that the Cognos bid be accepted after securing a $1,300 donation from Cognos to the NECBC, Pepoli acted in a manner which would cause a reasonable person to conclude that Cognos could unduly enjoy her favor in the performance of her official duties. Pepoli did not file a written disclosure with her appointing authority to dispel the appearance of impropriety. Therefore, she violated section 23(b)(3).
"Public employees may not solicit private benefits for themselves or others from people or companies with whom they have official business dealings," said Commission Executive Director Karen L. Nober. "These situations are inherently exploitable. Moreover, when the public official then makes a recommendation benefiting the party who has been solicited, legitimate questions may be raised as to whether the public's business is being conducted fairly."Disposition Agreement