Middlesex County Sheriff James V. DiPaola announced his resignation today on the eve of a FOX Undercover investigation that uncovered evidence that he's been pocketing campaign cash for personal use and using employees to chauffeur him about after he's been drinking.
The charges were made under oath in a deposition given by a former high-ranking employee of the Middlesex Sheriff's Department. The employee also spoke with FOX Undercover on the condition he not be identified.
"Is Sheriff DiPaola using his campaign account as his personal slush fund?" FOX Undercover reporter Mike Beaudet asked him.
"Absolutely 100 percent," the former employee said.
The former employee was deposed as part of a lawsuit filed by another Middlesex Sheriff's employee who claims he was fired for supporting an opponent of DiPaola's. The suit was settled out of court.
The former employee said that DiPaola has a long-standing practice of accepting cash campaign contributions. Those contributions, he says, are not recorded with the Massachusetts Office of Campaign and Political Finance as required by law. State campaign finance law also forbids individuals making cash donations in excess of $50 in a year to a candidate.
Instead of reporting his campaign donations, the employee told FOX Undercover and said in his deposition, the sheriff takes the money for himself. The former employee said he made many cash donations totaling nearly $5,000 to DiPaola when he worked for him.
"When you gave the cash, was it recorded?" Beaudet asked him. "Never," he replied.
He said he made donations "to make sure that I was going to stay in the position I was in, to remain in good graces with the sheriff."
He described another scene inside Ristorante Saraceno in Boston's North End that took place during annual dinners hosted by the sheriff.
"When the bill comes the sheriff tells one of his confidants, usually on the right hand side of him, "Here's the bill, here's how much everybody owes." He gets up and leaves the table, and before he returns to the table that person will tell everybody sitting there that they owe $70 a piece or I need $75 dollars a piece. He collects the money, the sheriff comes back, he gives the sheriff the money, the sheriff pays the bill with his campaign credit card."
"So he basically pockets the cash and charges the meal to his campaign?" Beaudet asked.
"That's correct," he replied.
Pam Wilmot, head of Common Cause Massachusetts, said the charges were "shocking." "You cannot have public employees pocketing cash for themselves for their own use from their subordinates. It's wrong. It's a violation of the law," she said.
"There are a number of potential violations involved with taking campaign cash and pocketing it. Everything from bribery to illegal gifts to violation of the campaign laws," Wilmot said. "This should be investigated by appropriate law enforcement, whether that's the district attorney or attorney general."
At a fundraiser this past August that started at a Sissy K's, a Faneuil Hall bar, then moved to a cruise that steamed into Boston Harbor, at least 22 employees of the Middlesex Sheriff's office showed up but campaign finance records have no record of donations from them.
Asked about the seemingly odd circumstances of 22 employees attending a fundraiser but not donating money, "I don't know the fact that there was 22 employees there. I have no idea what you're talking about."
The reason? DiPaola said he doesn't keep track of who donates. "I would have no knowledge of whether someone actually gave money or just showed up, enjoyed themselves and left," he said.
He denied pocketing donations or otherwise accepting illegal cash donations. "Do you pocket cash campaign donations for your own personal use?" Beaudet asked. "No I do not," DiPaola replied.
As for the scene described inside the North End restaurant, where DiPaola pocketed the cash from employees for the meal then charged the bill to his campaign account. "I have no recollection of ever doing that," DiPaola said.
"Do employees have to give you cash donations to stay in your good graces?" Beaudet asked.
"Not at all. As a matter of fact we have actually promoted people that have supported or donated to some of my opponents. So that is absolutely false," DiPaola said. There are other allegations against the sheriff, also made in the deposition and to FOX Undercover.
The former employee said he and others have given the sheriff rides when he's been drinking.
"You actually worked as the sheriff's designated driver?" Beaudet asked him. "Correct. Driving a state vehicle, essentially a police vehicle? and bring him wherever he told me to bring him," he said. "I'd get a call at 11 o'clock at night. I'd get a call at 2 o'clock in the morning. Whatever time the call comes, you go." This occurred 30 or 40 times during the course of his career with the Middlesex Sheriff's Department, the employee said. Wilmot says that is a misuse of public resources.
"You're not allowed to use public employees to drive you around for private purposes and being incapacitated because of alcohol fits that," she said.
Asked about the charge, DiPaola said, "It's not a matter of whether I've had too much to drink. On occasion, if I feel as though I'm tired, if I do want to have a designated driver, I'll take a driver from the office sometimes." "Will you call people in the middle of the night and expect them to pick you up?" Beaudet asked.
"No," DiPaola replied. "Not at all."
Stories like these may have hurt morale among the rank and file, but it hasn't hurt DiPaola's performance at the polls. Since taking office in 1996 he has easily won re-election, including earlier this month.
His campaign certainly wasn't hurt by having some politically connected friends on his payroll including two former state representatives, Susan Rourke of Lowell and Vincent Ciampa of Somerville, and former Marlborough Mayor Michael McGorty.
They're not the only ones hired by the sheriff without correctional experience.
Maurice Delvendo had a career with the state but worked his last three years of public service at the Middlesex Sheriff's Department.
Delvendo got a significant pay hike and an enhanced pension meant for those who work with inmates.
"Why do you hire these people?" asked Beaudet.
"Because they were qualified for the job and they applied for the job," DiPaola replied.
But the former high-ranking Middlesex sheriff's employee says there problems need to be exposed.
"He tries to run the place like it's an organized crime syndicate and its not. These are men and women who chose to work in a correctional facility. It's a tough job as it is? they shouldn't have to worry about taking their money, their hard earned money and having to pay him to pay to play just to keep a job," he said.
DiPaola said he has no idea why this former employee would make these allegations but says he's made many people unhappy because of the reforms he's implemented.
DiPaola's resignation comes after a Boston Globe report into his attempt collect a public pension and his sheriff's salary at the same time. Neither DiPaola nor his spokesman answered a question of why DiPaola didn't withdraw his application to retire instead of serving out the six-year term he won earlier this month.