DAs differ on expense approaches

No pattern or guide on office spending

AS A GROUP, the 11 district attorneys in Massachusetts are not big spenders when it comes to dining out or traveling on the state’s dime. But within the group, there are some wide variations.

Overall, the district attorneys spent $67,012 over the course of a year on trips, meals, and related expenses, according to records covering mid-2016 to mid-2017 obtained under the state Public Records Law. That works out to an average of $6,092 per district attorney, who make $171,560 a year.

“All the DA’s offices are strapped for cash, and so every little bit counts,” says David Capeless, the district attorney of Berkshire County, who spent $4,561.

At the top of the district attorney spending spectrum is Timothy Cruz, the DA of Plymouth County. Cruz spent $18,881, including $5,734 on airfare, $5,548 on hotels, $2,144 on limousines, and $900 on meeting registration fees.

Cruz traveled at least eight times out of state, one time to a three-day conference on Waikiki Beach in Hawaii and another time to New Orleans, also for a three-day event.

Cruz declined comment, but his spokeswoman issued a prepared statement saying that, as a vice president of the National District Attorneys Association, Cruz has had many requests to attend and present at conferences.

At the low end of the spending spectrum is Marian Ryan, the DA of Middlesex County. She listed one expense of $575 for airfare to a conference in New York City. She billed for nothing else—not for a hotel, not for meals, and not for ground transportation.

“Our spending is a balance of the expenditures needed for our cases and investigations and the cost of operating our 13 offices against the relatively limited resources available to us,” Ryan said in a prepared statement.

Based on the number of cases prosecuted (nearly 40,000 a year), Ryan runs the largest operation of all the DAs, and has the second-largest budget at $16.8 million. Cruz’s office operates on a budget of $9.3 million.

Jonathan Blodgett, the Essex County district attorney, is the second-biggest spender of the 11 DAs, topping off at $12,350. His list of expenses is the most interesting, a curious mix of the big and small.

On the lower end, Blodgett sought reimbursement for toenail clippers ($4.49), a bottle of Tylenol ($6.99), a bag of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups ($3.49), and a bag of potato chips ($1.99).

On the higher end, Blodgett, who is president-elect of the National District Attorneys Association, often uses a limousine service when he travels from Peabody to Boston and back. His expense records show $1,547 in spending on limousines to Boston, including one $414 roundtrip limo ride where the driver was required to wait for him while he attended a meeting. Blodgett also spent $625 on out-of-state limousine rides.

Blodgett traveled at least eight times out of state to such places as New Orleans and Washington, DC. In April, he took an unusual trip to Guantanamo in Cuba to watch a military tribunal as a representative of the National District Attorneys Association, according to the Eagle-Tribune newspaper. The federal government picked up a portion of Blodgett’s expenses, with his office paying the remaining $816, according to records.

Asked if his office will pay for his travel when he becomes president of the National District Attorneys Association this year, Blodgett’s spokesman says it’s not clear yet. “It has not been definitively determined…whether and to what extent his expenses related to the NDAA presidency will be covered by the NDAA,” the spokesman says in a prepared statement.

On one trip to Boston, Blodgett submitted a $58.85 expense for dinner at Mooo on Beacon Street near the State House. The charge exceeded the $16 allowed under his official reimbursement policy. Blodgett declined an interview request.

In Boston, Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel Conley ranks as the third-highest spender at $9,950. Much of his expenses were for trips to conferences in New Orleans, Orlando, and Palm Springs and Newport Beach in California.

The veteran prosecutor and unsuccessful candidate for Boston mayor declined an interview request. But his spokesman issued a statement saying that Conley’s expenses are incurred “almost exclusively” for outside pursuits “in his official capacity as a member” of various national DA groups. The statement says the conferences “provide insight into policies that have been effective in other jurisdictions.”

Joseph Early, the district attorney of Worcester County, has an official expense limit for lunch ($12) and dinner ($20), but his receipts indicate he often exceeds that amount. During a trip to Atlanta, he took three guests out to a high-end steakhouse, paying $256 for filet mignon and ribeye. Early was also reimbursed for a $135 tab for him and his guest for dinner at McCormick & Schmick’s, $103 for Early and another guest to have dinner at a pizza restaurant, and $91 for him to buy lunch at a brew pub for him and the DA from the Massachusetts Northwestern District. Early declined to comment.

The DA of Bristol County, Thomas Quinn, whose expenses amounted to $1,274, says he does his best to “conserve funds.”

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“When I need to go to Boston for a meeting or something, for example, I often drive around to see if I can find a place to park on the street,” he says. “I don’t use limos.”

Northwestern District DA David Sullivan also did not drop a lot of money ($3,265) on his own activities. “I’m frugal in my personal life,” he says in an interview. “So why shouldn’t I be frugal in my public life? It’s just the way I am. And I make a good salary.”