Ethics Commission Finds that Former Southampton Fire Department Chief Stephen Hyde, Sr. Violated the Conflict of Interest Law
Altered payroll records so his son received payment for work he did not do; presented false claims for payment to the Town of Southampton
The State Ethics Commission issued a Decision and Order (“Decision”) finding that former Southampton Fire Department (“SFD”) Chief Stephen Hyde, Sr. violated sections 23(b)(2)(ii) and 23(b)(4) of G.L. c. 268A, the conflict of interest law, by altering duty records to credit his son, an SFD call firefighter, for work his son did not perform, and by submitting those false records to the Town of Southampton for payment to his son in 2011. The Commission ordered Hyde to pay a $7,500 civil penalty. Hyde has 30 days to pay the civil penalty or file an appeal with the Superior Court. The Commission found that the Enforcement Division failed to prove an allegation that Hyde violated the conflict of interest law by installing an SFD-owned generator at his home.
According to the Decision, Hyde’s son was an SFD firefighter and emergency medical technician in 2011. As the Chief, Hyde was the only full-time employee of the SFD. The other employees, including Hyde’s son, were hourly employees who responded to fire and ambulance calls or provided station coverage duty. Firefighters would fill out a “call sheet” in order to be paid for the hours they worked. The call sheets were then placed in a locked box to which only Hyde had access, and Hyde would submit them to the Town every two weeks for payment. The Commission found that in 2011, Hyde used his position as chief to check off or add his son’s name on as many as 47 call sheets for days and times when his son had not responded to ambulance or fire calls, or performed station coverage duties. The Decision states that Hyde presented false payroll records to the Town for his son to be paid at least $200 for ambulance and fire calls to which his son did not respond, and approximately $6,172 for 336 hours of daytime station coverage that his son did not perform. Hyde testified that the payments he caused to be made by the Town to his son were for repair and maintenance work that his son performed on SFD vehicles and equipment, primarily at Hyde’s garage at his home. His son testified to having performed roughly 193 hours of repair and maintenance work, although neither he nor Hyde documented any of the work that Hyde’s son performed for the SFD. In 2011, based on the altered payroll records, Hyde’s son received at least 16 payments of substantial value, which is $50 or more.
The Commission stated, “We find that Hyde’s alteration of the call sheets is more consistent with an intent on his part to create a false record to support his payment of his son for call and daytime station coverage that his son did not perform than it is with an intent to keep track of repair and maintenance work purportedly performed by his son at some earlier, unspecified time.”
In its Order to Show Cause (“OTSC”) issued on October 28, 2013, the Enforcement Division also alleged that Hyde violated section 23(b)(2)(ii) by using his position as SFD fire chief to have a department-owned generator installed at his home and connected to his electrical power system, without seeking permission by the Town to do so. In its Decision, the Commission found that the Enforcement Division failed to prove that allegation.
Section 23(b)(2)(ii) 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 which are of substantial value and which are not properly available to similarly situated individuals. By altering the call sheets so that his son would be credited for work he did not do, resulting in unwarranted payments to his son, Hyde violated section 23(b)(2)(ii). Section 23(b)(4) prohibits a public employee from knowingly or with reason to know, presenting a false or fraudulent claim to his employer for any payment or benefit of substantial value. The Commission found that Hyde violated section 23(b)(4) by presenting 16 false or fraudulent claims for payments of substantial value to his son for work his son had not performed.