Hingham letter investigation could turn criminal
Probe takes place in town riven by political factions
HINGHAM OFFICIALS ARE HINTING that their $40,000 probe into who wrote two anonymous letters to the Board of Selectmen in April could possibly turn into a criminal investigation.
One Hingham employee has already said he wrote one of the letters and a report prepared for the town by private investigators suggests he received help from a sergeant in the police department. The letters contained fairly innocuous claims about candidates seeking the job of police chief earlier this year, but town officials say some of the information was obtained from police department computer systems.
Town administrator Ted Alexiades has ordered Matthew Hersey, a Department of Public Works employee who first denied and later admitted writing one of the letters, to meet again with Hingham’s private investigators and answer their questions truthfully.
“Failure to do so will result in the imposition of discipline up to and including the termination of your employment,” Alexiades said in his letter. “The only questions you do not have to answer are questions the answers to which may implicate you in criminal activity, as you are not being granted immunity from criminal prosecution.”
The private investigators hired by Hingham produced a report that includes a relatively short executive summary and hundreds of pages of transcripts of interviews with town and police officials. The contents of the report, as well as interviews with Hingham residents, paint a picture of a town riven by rival political factions eager to further their agenda and settle old scores.
Hersey said in an interview that he, on his own, wrote one of the anonymous letters to expose some minor wrongdoing by two of the candidates for police chief. Yet Hingham’s private investigators, in their report, suggested he probably received some of the information from Hingham Police Sgt. Kris Phillips, who had a rocky relationship with many of the candidates for police chief.
Hersey is the son of and Phillips is a friend of Galen Hersey, an influential Hingham resident who in the past has been a political player in town. Irma Lauter, the former chair of the Board of Selectmen who received one of the anonymous letters at her home, described the elder Hersey in her interview with Hingham’s private investigators as her “confidante” and “campaign manager.” She told investigators she gave Galen Hersey a copy of the anonymous letter after she received it.
Lauter was soundly defeated in May by Mary Power, whose campaign website said voters were “most concerned over the treatment of our valuable town employees and volunteers, and the perception of waning morale at Town Hall.” Lauter came under fire last year for raising questions about the qualifications of town engineer Roger Fernandes after an anonymous letter surfaced suggesting he had lied on his resume. Fernandes, a 10-year employee, hired an attorney and defended himself at a Board of Selectmen meeting in October 2014. The matter was dropped and Lauter apologized for the way the matter was handled.
Town officials angry about Fernandes’s treatment responded aggressively to the anonymous letters about the candidates for police chief. The previous police chief, Michael Peraino, dismissed the accusations within a couple hours of receiving them and brought in private investigators to find out where they came from. The investigators hired a company to lift fingerprints off the letters, and found a match to Matthew Hersey using fingerprints he had provided as part of an application for a handgun permit. The investigators conducted an analysis of the police department’s computer system to determine that Phillips was the only one who gained access to roster information for then-deputy police chief Glenn Olsson, who was accused in the anonymous letter of doing snow plow work while on duty. The investigators also learned that Phillips had been told by a fellow employee that Olsson was driving his daughter somewhere during work hours, an allegation that also surfaced in the anonymous letter.
In their interviews with the private investigators, Phillips and Hersey denied any involvement with the letters. The investigators told Hersey his fingerprints were on one of the letters, but he said he didn’t believe them. Phillips said he may have looked up some roster information on the computer system because curiosity got the better of him, but he denied sharing any information with Hersey or targeting Olsson, who he said he supported for the chief’s job. Olsson eventually landed the chief’s job.
Matthew Hersey last week told town officials he wrote the initial anonymous letter with no help from Phillips. He also said he did not write the second letter, which raised questions about two other candidates for police chief. The investigators hired by Hingham got nowhere investigating who sent the second letter. In fact, they asked almost no questions in their interviews about the second letter.
According to interview transcripts in the report, Phillips was fired several years ago and then rehired after problems were uncovered with his dismissal. He was placed in an administrative position with no command authority at the police department. He said in his interview with investigators that backstabbing in the department was commonplace.
“I lost my job. I’ve been called a liar. I got my job back. I crossed swords with the chief. Got my ass handed to me. That’s what this place is about now,” he said.
The transcripts indicate Olsson and the other leading candidate for police chief, Lt. David Jones, were no fans of Phillips. Olsson said in his interview that Phillips asked him about the anonymous letter one day after officials received it, but he said he acted as if he didn’t know anything about it. “I wouldn’t tell him anything because I actually feel that he’s probably the one, in my opinion, that had something to do with writing this letter,” he told the investigators. Jones also suspected Phillips as the letter writer. “This is his MO,” he said. “It’s like he’s very vindictive.”
The anonymous letters arrived amidst furious lobbying for the police chief’s job. Paul Healey, a member of the Board of Selectmen, told investigators he and Peraino, the former chief, wanted Olsson for the job. But he said he believed Lauter and fellow selectmen Paul Gannon were leaning toward Lt. Sean Cavanaugh. “We were in a political fight,” he said.
Healey played hardball in that fight. He said Cavanaugh came to him to discuss an unspecified incident in his background and Healey said he told the police officer that he would use the incident against him if he decided to pursue his candidacy. Cavanaugh subsequently dropped out.Hingham’s private investigators focused exclusively on who sent the initial anonymous letter and not on the allegations contained in it. As they said in their report, “the majority of the allegations contained in the anonymous letters were already investigated by Chief Peraino and proven to be false and completely inaccurate.”
Hingham officials have not released the results of Peraino’s investigation, other than to say the roster information that indicated Olsson was on the job when he was doing snowplow work or driving his daughter somewhere didn’t match more authoritative department payroll data.