Former Quincy College Board of Governors Chair Theresa Lord Piatelli Fined $4,000 for Conflict of Interest Law Violations
Acted as attorney for her cousin in relation to a College matter; Advocated for the College President to hire her brother
According to the Decision, in her capacity as a private attorney, Piatelli represented her first cousin, John Farrell, in civil and criminal matters. In a plea bargain, Farrell was required to complete 200 hours of community service as a condition of probation. Piatelli asked Sean Barry ("Barry"), then President of the College, to arrange for Farrell to perform the community service at the College. In June 2002, Piatelli contacted Barry seeking certification of Farrell's community service.
Section 17(c) prohibits a municipal employee from acting as attorney for someone other than the municipality in connection with a particular matter in which the municipality or a municipal agency is a party or has a direct and substantial interest. Barry, as College President, agreed that Farrell could perform his community service at the College, and, therefore, the College was a party to that agreement. In addition, the community service had a value to the College, since the College would have received the benefit of Farrell's services at no cost. Accordingly, the Commission found that Piatelli "violated [section] 17 when she represented the interests of her client in seeking certification from Barry of Farrell's community service obligation."
The Commission's Enforcement Division, the Petitioner in this case, also alleged that Piatelli violated sections 23(b)(2) and 23(b)(3) by directing Barry to write a letter misrepresenting that her cousin had completed the community service at the College, even though her cousin had not yet performed the work. The Commission ruled that the Enforcement Division did not prove these allegations.
The Decision also states that, in the spring of 2003, Piatelli contacted Barry about her brother, Daniel Lord ("Lord"), applying for an entry-level position at the College. Piatelli advocated for her brother in conversations with Barry, BOG member Daniel Raymondi, and College Vice President Thomas DeSantes. As set forth in the Decision, "Piatelli held a position superior to Barry and a leadership position with the Board of Governors, and had joint responsibility for decisions about hiring or firing [Barry] as President." At the time of Piatelli's discussions with Barry about her brother, Barry's employment contract was under consideration for renewal. Barry hired Lord on May 2, 2003. On May 27, 2003, Piatelli, as BOG chair, signed a new employment contract for Barry, a year before his current employment contract was due to expire.
Section 23(b)(2) prohibits a public 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 of substantial value not properly available to similarly situated individuals. The Decision states that "… Piatelli knowingly used her position as a BOG member to influence Barry to give a job to her brother." It further concludes that Piatelli's brother was hired "despite the fact that he was considered unqualified for the position." Accordingly, the Commission found that "… Piatelli violated [section] 23(b)(2) with regard to the hiring of her brother."
Petitioner also alleged that, in violation of section 23(b)(2), Piatelli asked Barry and Vice President DeSantes to transfer her brother from a job on the Plymouth campus to a position on the Quincy campus. The Commission found that Petitioner did not prove this allegation. In addition, the Commission found that Piatelli did not violate section 19 or section 23(b)(3) with regard either to the hiring or the transfer of her brother.
The Decision noted that at the time of Piatelli's violations, the maximum civil penalty was $2,000 per violation. The Commission imposed the maximum penalty for each violation.
"The conflict of interest law prohibits public employees from representing their clients' interests in connection with matters in which their public agencies have an interest, and from exerting pressure on their subordinates to hire their family members," stated Commission Executive Director Karen L. Nober. "The penalties assessed in this matter reflect the seriousness of the violations."