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State Ethics Commission Levies Fines Against Three Middlesex Sheriff’s Department Employees for Conflict of Interest Law Violations

A Middlesex Sheriff's Department captain and two corrections officers used public resources in connection with a political fundraiser for former Sheriff James DiPaola.

A captain and two corrections officers from the Middlesex Sheriff's Office were fined by the State Ethics Commission for violations of the state's conflict of interest law in connection with a fundraiser for former Sheriff's James DiPaola, the Ethics Commission announced in a press release on Wednesday this week.

Capt. Eril Ligonde, Corrections Officer Richard McKinnon and Corrections Officer Heidi Ricci—who are all assigned to the Billerica House of Corrections—were paid a civil penalty of, respectively, $10,000, $3,000 and $2,000.

The fines, announced yesterday in an Ethics Commission press release, come after the employees used Sheriff's Office equipment to create lists of the office employees and on state time and within Sheriff's Office facilities, repeatedly solicited fellow employees for donations to DiPaola's campaign.

According to agreements in which the employees admitted to the violations of the conflict of interest law, in October 2009, Ligonde decided to hold a campaign fundraiser for DiPaola, and he approached McKinnon and Ricci, who both agreed to assist him. Ligonde contacted DiPaola’s Middlesex Sheriff's Office staff and campaign staff to schedule the date of the fundraiser. Ricci arranged to hold the fundraiser at the Tewksbury Country Club on November 19, 2009.

Ricci also used a Middlesex Sheriff's Office computer to create two spreadsheets, one which listed 500 Middlesex Sheriff's Office employees, which she provided to Ligonde, and one which listed 50 Middlesex Sheriff's Office employees, which she provided to McKinnon. Using public resources in connection with a political fundraiser violates the conflict of interest law, according to the Ethic Commission press release.

Ligonde and McKinnon used the lists to solicit those  employees for campaign contributions, and to track how many tickets to the fundraiser each employee received and how much money each employee donated to the campaign. They also, while on state time and within Middlesex Sheriff's Office facilities, repeatedly solicited fellow employees for contributions for the political fundraiser. Ligonde mostly solicited from his subordinates, while McKinnon solicited peers and superiors, according to the press release.

At the fundraising event, Ricci delivered to the campaign treasurer an envelope containing approximately $4,000 in campaign contributions solicited by Ligonde and McKinnon. The state's campaign finance law prohibits appointed public employees from soliciting political contributions and also prohibits anyone from soliciting or receiving campaign contributions in government buildings.

Ligonde and McKinnon each violated the conflict of interest law by using their positions to secure campaign donations for DiPaola; by Middlesex Sheriff's Office employees on state time and in state buildings to attend the fundraiser, and by maintaining the lists of Middlesex Sheriff's Office employees on Middlesex Sheriff's Office computers. Ricci violated the conflict of interest law by using state time and Middlesex Sheriff's Office computers to assist Ligonde and McKinnon, and by creating and maintaining the lists of Middlesex Sheriff's Office employees for political fundraising purposes.

In the press release, state Ethics Commission Executive Director Karen L. Nober said, “The conflict of interest law prohibits public resources from being used for campaign or political purposes. Public employees are also prohibited under the conflict of interest law from soliciting contributions from their subordinates due to the inherently exploitable nature of the superior-subordinate employee relationship."

DiPaola committed suicide last November in Maine in the midst of investigations by reporters and law enforcement officials of alleged ethical and criminal wrongdoing on his part. In January, Gov. Deval Patrick named former assistant district attorney and State Rep. Peter J. Koutoujian to the position of Middlesex County Sheriff.

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