Coakley closes DiPaola probe

Finds pay to play at ex-sheriff's office

Despite evidence of a “pay-to-play culture” in the Middlesex County Sheriff’s office under the late James DiPaola, Attorney General Martha Coakley today announced the conclusion of an investigation into public corruption that led to no criminal charges.

Coakley said interviews with dozens of sheriff’s office employees revealed that they frequently made donations to DiPaola as a “thank you” to the sheriff, and there was a perception in the office that employees who contributed were favored in the office.

Coakley said DiPaola was not only aware of who contributed to his campaign, but also kept a record of the employees who donated.

Other evidence, however, contradicted that description of “pay-to-play,” and Coakley said the overall evidence did not support criminal charges, while the full truth may never be known in light of DiPaola’s death.

DiPaola committed suicide in November 2010 in Maine, a month after Coakley’s office began an investigation into campaign finance violations and “corrupt hiring practices” at the sheriff’s office based on a referral from Middlesex County District Attorney Gerard Leone’s office.

Middlesex County Sheriff Peter Koutoujian, DiPaola’s successor, cooperated with the investigation.

As a result of the probe, the treasurer of DiPaola’s campaign committee agreed to pay a $4,000 fine and turn over $295,160 in leftover campaign funds, and she may never work again as the treasurer of a political committee.

Patricia Covelle, 59, of Stoneham entered into the settlement after admitting to accepting approximately $4,000 in cash contributions over $50 and failing to report those donations to the Office of Campaign and Political Finance, according to Coakley. Covelle started as treasurer for DiPaola’s committee in March 1997 and the violations cited by Coakley occurred between 2006 and 2010.

Based on interviews with more than 75 individuals, including 50 sheriff employees, and a review of bank records, emails, spreadsheets and campaign documents, Coakley said the investigation turned up evidence of employees and their families making cash donations to DiPaola in excess of $50 that were not reported.

Many of those donations were made during two annual fundraising events hosted by DiPaola, including a Cinco de Mayo event at Montvale Plaza in Stoneham and a Boston harbor cruise in August preceded by a pre-party at Sissy K’s Restaurant on the waterfront.

Coakley recommended changes to state campaign finance laws stemming from her investigation that would require public reporting of cash contributions under $50, currently not required. She said not requiring itemized disclosures of contributions under that threshold allows for the law to be exploited by candidates and individuals by accepting multiple small donations that could exceed per-person contribution limits in one year.

“No cash should go unreported. This added level of transparency would deter illegal conduct, making it easier for regulators to investigate possible violations and more difficult for candidates to evade the law,” Coakley said in a statement.

Meet the Author

Matt Murphy

State House News Service
The attorney general also recommended giving OCPF the authority to issue civil fines for violations, and eliminating investigative “walls” between OCPF, the state Ethics Commission and the attorney general’s office.

Coakley said the prohibition on OCPF from notifying other agencies about pending investigations or sharing information makes it difficult to coordinate efforts or determine which agency should take a lead role.