- David A. Wilson, Executive Director
Media Contact for Appeals Court affirms Superior Court judgment upholding Commission decision that former Brookfield Selectman Stephen Comtois violated conflict of interest law
Gerry Tuoti, Public Information Officer
Boston, MA — In a decision issued today, the Massachusetts Appeals Court affirmed a Suffolk Superior Court judgment upholding the State Ethics Commission’s 2020 decision that former Brookfield Selectman Stephen Comtois violated the conflict of interest law through his actions concerning a proposed donation to the town of land that he was interested in buying. The Commission concluded Comtois used his selectman position to derail the proposed donation so he could purchase the land himself.
Following an adjudicatory hearing, the Commission ordered on August 18, 2020 that Comtois pay a $20,000 civil penalty for violating two sections of the conflict of interest law. Comtois appealed the Commission’s decision in Suffolk County Superior Court, which upheld the decision, and then appealed to the Massachusetts Appeals Court.
Comtois’ conflict of interest law violations date back to 2016, when a former Brookfield resident wished to donate undeveloped land the town because she believed it was unbuildable and over-assessed. The town taxed the land as buildable and assessed its value as $43,900.
Despite being interested in purchasing the land himself, Comtois voted as a selectman to submit the proposed land donation to an upcoming Town Meeting, then volunteered to serve as the Board of Selectmen’s representative to the landowner. In his capacity as a selectman, Comtois contacted the landowner’s real estate broker, misled her into believing the Board of Selectmen opposed the proposed land donation, then offered to buy the land himself. Comtois never informed the town of his intent to purchase the land and evaded questions from the town’s assistant assessor regarding the status of the land donation. Comtois then purchased the property for $200 and agreed to pay legal expenses associated with the purchase.
Through his actions as a selectman concerning the land donation, Comtois violated the conflict of interest law’s prohibition against municipal employees participating in matters in which they know they have a financial interest. In addition, by using his position as selectman to create an opportunity to derail the land donation so he could purchase it himself, Comtois violated the law’s prohibition against public employees using their official positions to obtain valuable, unwarranted privileges that are not available to similarly situated persons.
The State Ethics Commission is charged with civilly enforcing the conflict of interest law, G.L. c. 268A. The Commission encourages public employees to contact the Commission’s Legal Division at 617-371-9500 for free advice if they have any questions regarding how the conflict of interest law may apply to them.