- David A. Wilson, Executive Director
Media Contact for Supreme Judicial Court Denies Former Brookfield Selectman’s Application for Further Review of Conflict of Interest Law Violations
Gerry Tuoti, Public Information Officer
Boston, MA — The Supreme Judicial Court has denied former Brookfield Selectman Stephen Comtois’s application for further appellate review of the Appeals Court decision upholding the State Ethics Commission’s August 18, 2020 decision that he violated the conflict of interest law.
Following an adjudicatory hearing, the Commission found that Comtois had violated the conflict of interest law by acting as a Brookfield selectman to derail a proposed donation of land to the town so that he could purchase the land for himself, and ordered Comtois to pay a $20,000 civil penalty. Comtois appealed to the Superior Court, which upheld the Commission’s decision and order, and then appealed to the Appeals Court, which affirmed the Superior Court decision. With the Supreme Judicial Court’s denial of Comtois’s application for further appellate review, the Appeals Court decision upholding the Commission’s decision and order stands as decisional law. Comtois must now pay the $20,000 civil penalty.
Comtois’s conflict of interest law violations date to 2016, when a former Brookfield resident offered to donate a parcel of undeveloped land to 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. Although 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 liaison to the landowner. 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 dodged 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 as such in matters in which they know they have a financial interest. In addition, by using his position as selectman to derail the donation of the land to the town so he could purchase it for 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.