Norfolk Property Developer Jack Scott Fined $2,000
For Offering an Illegal Gift to a Public Official
The Ethics Commission, in a Decision and Order ("Decision"), fined Norfolk property developer Jack Scott the maximum civil penalty of $2,000 for violating section 3 of G.L. c. 268A, the conflict of interest law, by offering an illegal gift to a municipal employee. Specifically, Scott offered a free week's stay at his fly-fishing cabin in Pennsylvania to the chairman of the Norfolk Conservation Commission("ConCom") at a time when Scott had matters pending before the ConCom. (The maximum civil penalty for this type of violation has been increased to $10,000, but that penalty cannot be applied to conduct that occurred prior to September 29, 2009, the effective date of the recently enacted ethics reform bill.) Scott has 30 days to appeal this decision to the Superior Court.
On November 18, 2008, the Commission's Enforcement Division issued an Order to Show Cause alleging that Scott had violated sections (2)(a) and (3)(a) of the conflict of interest law. A hearing in the case was conducted on April 29, 2009.
According to the Decision, beginning in May 2005, Scott, as President of Pine Creek Development Corporation, was seeking approvals from the ConCom in connection with a real estate development project on Applewood Road in Norfolk. Following a May 11, 2006 ConCom vote on an order of conditions for the property, but prior to the issuance of the order, Scott, on the morning of May 12, 2006, sent an e-mail to the ConCom chairman describing his fly-fishing cabin near Williamsport, Pennsylvania. In the e-mail, Scott thanked the chairman by saying "Jeff no bribe just a thanks for being on the up and up with us regardless of how this all plays out" and noted, "… my cabin is yours for a week with your family." The cabin is owned by The Freestone Sportsman Group, Inc., of which Scott is the president, Chief Executive Officer and director. It is marketed as a hunting and fishing cabin and typically rents for $700 a week.
Section 2(a) of G.L. c. 268A, the conflict of interest law, in relevant part, prohibits anyone from corruptly offering anything of value to a municipal employee with intent to influence any official act or act within his official responsibility. Section 3(a) prohibits anyone, otherwise than as provided by law for the proper discharge of official duty, from directly or indirectly offering anything of substantial value to any municipal employee for or because of any official act performed or to be performed by such an employee. According to the Decision, Scott's offer was not made with the corrupt intent to influence the ConCom chairman, and therefore did not violate section 2(a). However, by offering the ConCom chairman the cabin for one week as a reward or "thank you" for past and future actions related to his development project pending before the ConCom, the Commission determined that Scott violated section 3(a).
"The conflict of interest law prohibits anyone from offering or giving a gift to a public employee to reward the public employee for official actions taken or to be taken by the public employee," stated Commission Executive Director Karen L. Nober. "That Mr. Scott was given the maximum fine in the case reflects the seriousness of his actions, which had the potential to undermine the important wetlands protection process."