Suffolk County Sheriff Steven Tompkins Pays $2,500 Civil Penalty for Violating the Conflict of Interest Law
Displayed his Sheriff’s ID when asking business owners to take down his campaign opponent’s campaign signs
The State Ethics Commission approved a Disposition Agreement (“Agreement”) in which Steven Tompkins (“Tompkins”), the Suffolk County Sheriff, admitted to violating G.L. c. 268A, the conflict of interest law, in 2013 by identifying himself as Sheriff when asking eight business owners in his district to take down his opponent’s campaign signs that were displayed in their shops. Pursuant to the Agreement, Tompkins paid a $2,500 civil penalty for the violation.
Section 23(b)(2(ii) of the conflict of interest law prohibits a state employee from 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. According to the Agreement, in 2013, Tompkins went to eight retail shops in Roxbury that were displaying campaign signs for Douglas Bennett, Tompkins’ 2014 campaign opponent. The signs all read, “Vote for Sheriff Bennett.” At each of the shops, Tompkins orally identified himself as Sheriff and displayed his official identification. He then requested that each business owner remove Bennett’s campaign signs. All of the business owners complied with Tompkins’ request.
The Agreement states that Tompkins violated the conflict of interest law by using his official position as Sheriff to secure the removal of his opponent’s campaign signs. The removal of his opponent’s signs upon his request was an unwarranted privilege of substantial intangible value, which personally benefitted Tompkins as a candidate for Sheriff.
“It is unreasonable to think that any shop owner in this situation would have felt comfortable denying what appeared to be an official request from a law enforcement official,” said Executive Director Karen L. Nober. “Under these circumstances, the requests made by Sheriff Tompkins were an inherently coercive use of his official position to aid his candidacy, and therefore were prohibited by the conflict of interest law.”