For Immediate Release - September 08, 2010

Enforcement Division Alleges that Billerica Cemetery Foreman Joseph Turner Violated the Conflict of Interest Law

Sold cemetery plots to his parents in violation of town cemetery policy

The Enforcement Division of the State Ethics Commission issued an Order to Show Cause ("OTSC") alleging that Billerica Cemetery Foreman Joseph Turner ("Turner") violated G.L. c. 268A, the conflict of interest law, by selling cemetery
plots to family members in violation of town rules regarding the sale of plots.

According to the OTSC, town regulations require that the cemetery plots at the town's five cemeteries be purchased on behalf of town residents only as needed, and then up to six plots may be purchased. On May 22, 2008, Turner sold four plots in the town-owned Fox Hill Cemetery to his parents for $1,560, although no need existed at the time. Turner directed that a subordinate prepare the deed paperwork, and a deed for the plots was issued to Turner's parents on June 5, 2008. On July 1, 2008, a planned price increase for plots took effect. Purchasing plots prior to the increase saved Turner's parents $440.

Section 19 of the conflict of interest law prohibits a municipal employee from participating as such an employee in a particular matter in which, to his knowledge, he or an immediate family member has a financial interest. The OTSC alleges that Turner violated section 19 by selling the plots to his parents and by directing that a subordinate prepare the deed paperwork.

Section 23(b)(2) prohibits a municipal employee from knowingly, or with reason to know, using or attempting to use his official position to secure for himself or others unwarranted privileges or exemptions which are of substantial value and which are not properly available to similarly situated individuals. The OTSC alleges that Turner violated section 23(b)(2) by selling cemetery plots to his parents pre-need, in violation of the town policy, and by selling the plots just prior to a planned price increase, thereby saving his parents $440.

Section 23(b)(3) prohibits a municipal employee from knowingly, or with reason to know, 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 his favor in the performance of his official duties, or that he 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 further provides that it shall be unreasonable to so conclude if such officer or employee has disclosed in writing to his appointing authority the facts which would otherwise lead to such a conclusion. The OTSC alleges that Turner violated section 23(b)(3) by selling cemetery plots to his parents and not filing a written disclosure with his appointing authority to dispel the appearance of impropriety.

The Commission will schedule the matter for a public hearing within 90 days.