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Settlement In the Matter of Vito Trodella

Date: 06/12/2012
Organization: State Ethics Commission
Docket Number: 382

Table of Contents

Disposition Agreement

1. This Disposition Agreement (Agreement) is entered into between the State Ethics Commission (Commission) and Vito Trodella pursuant to Section 11 of the Commission’s Enforcement Procedures.  This Agreement constitutes a consented to final Commission order enforceable in the Superior Court pursuant to G.L. c. 2688, §4(j).

2.  On September 14, 1988, the Commission authorized a preliminary inquiry into possible violations of the Conflict of Interest Law by Vito Trodella (Mr. Trodella), a member of the Board of Registration of Veterinary Medicine.  On May 31, 1989, the Commission found reasonable cause to believe that Vito Trodella (Mr. Trodella) violated G.L. c. 268A and, by a majority vote, authorized the initiation of these proceedings.

3.  Mr. Trodella has served as the public member of the Board of Registration in Veterinary Medicine (Board) since December, 1979.

As a member of the Board, Mr. Trodella is a state employee as that term is defined in G.L. c. 268A. §1(q).

4.  The Board is a state agency within the Division of Registration.  The Board’s primary function is to deal with violations of veterinary licenses; the Board acts as a disciplinary panel and has the authority to reprimand veterinarians and to revoke veterinary licenses.  Mr. Trodella is one of five members of the Board.

5.  At all relevant times, Suffolk Downs Racetrack (Suffolk Downs) was a horse racing facility.  Approximately 17 veterinarians licensed by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts participated in the business of Suffolk Downs by caring for horses at the track.  Two of these veterinarians were employees of the State Racing Commission, three were employees of Suffolk Downs, and 12 were private veterinarians who were licensed to practice at the track.  All of these veterinarians were subject to the supervision of the Board, which has the authority to suspend or revoke their license to practice veterinary medicine in the Commonwealth.

6.  Suffolk Downs has approximately 250 race dates per year.  The track charged an admission fee for each race day, and a separate charge for automobile parking.  Season passes were not sold at Suffolk Downs, but were rather distributed by the management free of charge to select groups of people, including horse owners, jockeys, trainers, and members of the press.  Suffolk Downs also maintains a parking lot for “preferred customers,” i.e., high-stakes gamble, and others holding a special sticker on their automobiles.  No daily fee was charged to those admitted to this special parking lot.

7.  In each of the years 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986 and 1987, Mr. Trodella received for himself at least one season pass from the Suffolk Downs management.  Mr. Trodella received the passes at his request after making known to the Suffolk Downs management that he was a member of the Board.  Mr. Trodella did not pay for the passes.  Mr. Trodella used the passes to gain entry to Suffolk Downs for private recreation.

8.  In late 1987, Mr. Trodella requested and received from Suffolk Downs management a sticker for 1988 allowing him to park without charge in the preferred customer parking lot at Suffolk Downs.  Mr. Trodella did not pay for the parking sticker. At the same time, Mt. Trodella asked for and was promised a free season pass to the track for 1988.  The season pass was not then given to Mr. Trodella because season passes had yet to be printed.

9.  Also in late 1987, after he had received a 1988 parking sticker and had been promised a 1988 season pass for his personal use, Mr. Trodella approached Suffolk Downs General Manager Daniel Bucci (Bucci) and told Bucci that the other four members of the Board wanted season passes to Suffolk Downs and that he was requesting four season passes on the Board members’ behalf.  Mr. Trodella asked Bucci to send him the four season passes so that he, Mr. Trodella, could distribute them to the other Board members.  In fact, the other Board members had not requested the passes.  Bucci agreed to provide four additional season passes.

10.  In January, 1988, Mr. Trodella received his own 1988 Suffolk Downs season pass.  He did not receive the four additional season passes because the Board secretary turned them over to the Board’s legal counsel.  On January 28, 1988, Mr. Trodella met with the Board’s legal counsel, who instructed Mr. Trodella that the receipt of season passes involved a conflict of interest.  Mr. Trodella returned his season pass.  The Board’s legal counsel returned the four additional passes Mr. Trodella bad sought from Bucci.

11.  Section 3(b) of G.L. c. 268A prohibits a state employee from directly or indirectly asking for or receiving anything of substantial value for or because of any official act or acts within his official responsibility performed or to be performed by him.

12.  The season passes to Suffolk Downs were items of substantial value within the meaning of G.L c. 268A, §3(b).  The unlimited ability to use the pass for as many entrances as desired makes the pass an item of substantial value.  Similarly, the free parking sticker was an item of substantial value because it gave Mr. Trodella the unlimited ability to park at Suffolk Downs at no charge.[1]

13.  At all relevant times, the suspension or revocation of veterinarians’ licenses were acts within Mr. Trodella’s official responsibility as a member of the Board of Registration of Veterinary Medicine.  Insofar as Suffolk Downs employed veterinarians whose licenses were subject to regulation to the Board, Mr. Trodella was in a position to use his authority to affect Suffolk Downs, and Suffolk Downs had a motive to obtain Mr. Trodella’s good will by giving him season passes.  Thus, the season passes were given to Mr. Trodella for or because of official acts to be performed by him.[2]

14.  By requesting and receiving for himself free season passes to Suffolk Downs in 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1987, and 1988; by requesting and receiving a free 1988 Suffolk Downs parking sticker, and by requesting four additional 1988 free season passes, Mr. Trodella sought and/or received items of substantial value for himself for or because of official acts or acts within his official responsibility as a Board member, thereby violating G.L. c. 268A, §3(b).

15.  Section 23(b)(2) of G.L. c. 268A prohibits a state employee from knowingly, or with reason to know, 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.

16.  The free season passes to Suffolk Downs for 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1987 and 1988, and the free parking sticker which Mr. Trodella requested and received for 1988, and the four additional 1988 free season passes Mr. Trodella sought but did not receive, were unwarranted privileges of substantial value which were not properly available to Mr. Trodella and similarly situated individuals.  Therefore, by identifying himself as a Board member, asking for and receiving those passes from Suffolk Downs while he had official regulatory authority over the veterinarians who worked at Suffolk Downs, Mr. Trodella violated G.L. c. 268A, §23(b)(2).

17.  Section 23(b)(3) prohibits a state employee from acting in a manner which. would cause a reasonable person, having knowledge of the relevant circumstances, to conclude that any person can improperly influence or unduly enjoy his favor in the performance of his official duties, or that be is likely to act or fail to act as a result of kinship, rank, position, or undue influence of any party or person.

18.  By requesting and/or receiving free season passes to Suffolk Downs for 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1987, and 1988, and by requesting and receiving a free 1988 parking sticker, all while he had official regulatory authority over veterinarians who worked at Suffolk Downs, Mr. Trodella acted in a manner which would cause a reasonable person to conclude that Suffolk Downs could unduly enjoy his favor in the performance of his official duties, thereby violating G.L. c. 268A, §23(b)(3)[3]

Based on the foregoing, the Commission has determined that the public interest would be served by the disposition of this matter without further Commission enforcement proceedings on the basis of the following terms, to which Mr. Trodella has agreed:

1.  that he pay to the Commission the sum of $500.00 for violating G.L. c. 268A, §§3(b), 23(b)(2) and 23(b)(3); and

2.  that he waive all rights to contest the findings of fact, conclusions of law and the terms and conditions of this agreement in this or any related administrative or judicial civil proceeding in which the Commission is a party.

[1] In May, 1985, the Commission issued Advisory No. 8, “Free Passes”, to alert public officials and members of the entertainment industry that the practice of providing free passes to public officials often violates the conflict of interest law. The Commission observed that, “[a] season pass to a theater, racetrack or other entertainment facility which charges a fee for admission is an ‘item of substantial value’ within the meaning of [G.L. c. 268A,) §3.” Advisory No. 8, 1985 SEC 40.

[2] There need by no showing of an explicit understanding that the gratuity is being given in exchange for any specific act performed or to be performed.  See, In the Matter of George A. Michael, 1981 SEC 59, 68. “All that is required to bring section 3 into play is a nexus between the motivation for the gift and the employee’s public duties. If this connection exists, the gift is prohibited.” ld.

[3] The Commission lacks the jurisdiction to pursue any violation of G.L. c. 268A, §23 which occurred prior to April 8, 1986.  See, Saccone v. State Ethics Commission, 395 Mass. 326 (1985); G.L. c. 268B, §3(i), as amended by St. 1986, c. 12.