Ethics Commission Finds that Winthrop Harbormaster Charles Famolare Violated the Conflict of Interest Law
Town contractor provided and installed finger piers for Famolare at his private pier without charge
The Ethics Commission issued a Decision and Order (“Decision”) finding that Winthrop (“Town”) Harbormaster Charles Famolare, III (“Famolare) violated G.L. c. 268A, the conflict of interest law, in 2007, by receiving at no charge two finger piers (small walkways attached to a larger dock), plus free installation, from Boston Towing and Transportation (“Boston Towing”), the contractor building the approximately $2 million town pier (“Pier Project”). The Commission ordered Famolare to pay a $2,000 civil penalty. The Commission determined that the allegation that Famolare violated the conflict of interest law by receiving free cleaning of his jet-ski float from Boston Towing was not proven. Famolare has 30 days to pay the civil penalty or file an appeal with the Superior Court.
According to the Decision, in 2006, the Town hired Boston Towing as the general contractor for the Pier Project. The project was completed in 2008. As Harbormaster, Famolare was substantially involved in the project. Famolare also owns a private pier and float at his residence along Winthrop Harbor. One of several boats regularly docked at Famolare’s pier was a 24-foot Grady White, which Famolare co-owned with several friends, including Gary Ward (“Ward”). Ward is the owner of Ward Marine, a supplier of marine equipment to Boston Towing. The Decision states that sometime prior to July 17, 2007, Famolare gave Ward the go-ahead to arrange to have a finger pier attached to Famolare’s dock to allow Ward easier access to the Grady White. Ward then asked Boston Towing owner Geoffrey Lake (“Lake”) to install a finger pier at Famolare’s pier. On or about July 17, 2007, at Lake’s direction, personnel from Boston Forging and Welding attached two float brackets to Famolare’s pier’s main float for which Boston Towing paid $500. Boston Towing personnel then attached two finger piers to Famolare’s main float. Famolare was present at his pier while this work was performed. The finger piers substantially increased the size of Famolare’s dock area. The estimated cost for the finger piers and labor was between $3,500 and $10,425, but neither Famolare nor Ward was billed for the finger piers, nor did either one of them pay for the finger piers.
In the Decision, the Commission found that Famolare had no private relationship with Boston Towing or with Boston Forging and Welding that would explain why Famolare did not pay for the work or the finger piers. Famolare allowed the work on his private pier to proceed without inquiring about, or discussing payment for, the cost of the work with anyone from Boston Towing. The Commission also found that Lake and Boston Towing installed the finger piers substantially for Famolare’s benefit, and did not charge for doing so because Famolare was Harbormaster. The Commission further found that Famolare knew, or had reason to know, that, at the time of the installation of the finger piers, they were being provided to him at no charge by Lake and Boston Towing because, as Harbormaster, Famolare had input and influence concerning Boston Towing’s work on the Pier Project and had law enforcement authority over Boston Towing’s on-the-water activities in Winthrop Harbor.
Section 23(b)(2) of the conflict law prohibits a municipal employee from, knowingly or with reason to know, using his official position to secure for himself or others unwarranted privileges of substantial value not available to similarly situated individuals. In the Decision, the Commission stated that a public employee does not have to take official action in order to use his official position, and accepting what one knows or has reason to know is being given to one because of one’s official position is in itself the use of one’s official position. The Commission concluded that, by accepting the free provision and installation of the finger piers from Town contractor Boston Towing, Famolare knowingly, or with reason to know, used his official position to secure unwarranted privileges of substantial value not properly available to similarly situated individuals in violation of section 23(b)(2).
According to the Decision, “[w]here Famolare created a situation rife with potential conflicts of interest by allowing a major Town contractor with whom he had official dealings to perform work at his residence, his failure to ask about payment for the piers or confirm payment by Ward was at best willful blindness to the conflict of interest risk inherent in his situation.” The Decision further states, “[a]n unwarranted privilege of substantial value, given for or because of a public employee’s official position and actions, does not cease to be such because the recipient accepts it without asking any questions.”
The Ethics Reform Law of 2009 increased the maximum amounts of the civil penalties that may be imposed by the Commission. Violations of the conflict law that occurred prior to September 29, 2009 remain subject to a maximum civil penalty of $2,000 per violation.
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