Former Town of Blandford Selectman Robert Nichols Ordered to Pay $12,500 Civil Penalty for Conflict of Interest Law Violations
Selectman Nichols made misrepresentations to secure a Town contract for his own company
The Ethics Commission (“Commission”) issued a Final Order on Summary Decision and Civil Penalty (“Order”), concluding the adjudicatory proceeding involving Robert Nichols, a former member of the Board of Selectmen of the Town of Blandford (“Town”). The Commission’s Enforcement Division initiated the adjudicatory proceeding in February 2015 by issuing an Order to Show Cause. Although the deadline for filing an Answer to the Order to Show Cause was extended several times, Nichols did not file an Answer, and the Petitioner moved for a default judgment. The Commission entered Summary Decision for the Petitioner Enforcement Division and ordered Nichols to pay a $12,500 civil penalty for violating sections 19, 20 and 23(b)(2)(ii) of G.L. c. 268A, the conflict of interest law.
Nichols was held liable for the following acts alleged in the Order to Show Cause: Nichols was the owner and operator of Nichols International LLC, d/b/a Berkshire Consulting. In his capacity as a Selectman, Nichols misrepresented to his fellow Selectmen that the Town’s engineering consultant, Tighe and Bond, was unavailable to repair a culvert and portion of Hiram Blair Road, and committed the Town to a contract with Berkshire Consulting, which he falsely described as his “former employer.” Nichols himself did the work under the contract. Berkshire Consulting issued an invoice to the Town for $12,150.50, and Nichols deposited the check from the Town into a Berkshire Consulting bank account on November 22, 2011.
Under section 19 of the conflict of interest law, a municipal employee may not participate in a particular matter if he has a financial interest in the matter or if a business organization that employs him has a financial interest in the matter. The Commission found that Nichols violated section 19 because he participated as a Selectman in selecting Berkshire Consulting to do work on the culvert, work in which he and Berkshire Consulting, his private employer, had a financial interest. Section 20 prohibits a municipal employee from having a financial interest, directly or indirectly, in a contract made by the town which he serves. The Commission found that Nichols violated section 20 because he had a financial interest in the $12,150.50 that the Town paid to Berkshire Consulting under the contract. Section 23(b)(2)(ii) prohibits a municipal employee from using or attempting to use his official position to secure for himself or others unwarranted privileges which are of substantial value and not properly available to similarly situated individuals. The Commission ruled that Nichols violated section 23(b)(2)(ii) by using his position as Selectman to secure an unwarranted privilege of substantial value -- $12,150.50 -- for himself or others by misrepresenting the unavailability of Tighe and Bond to work on the project and by mischaracterizing his relationship with Berkshire Consulting to his fellow Selectmen.
The Commission ordered Nichols to pay civil penalties of: $5,000 for violating section 19; $5,000 for violating section 20; and $2,500 for violating section 23(b)(2)(ii). Although Nichols had reimbursed the Town the $12,150.50 as the result of a different proceeding, the Commission concluded, “Civil penalties are appropriate because Nichols accomplished his objective of directing Town money to himself by means of active deception as well as concealment of facts of vital importance.”
Nichols may file an appeal of the Commission’s Order in Superior Court within 30 days after the Final Order was issued.