Middlesex Sheriff’s Office employees routinely paid cash bribes to buy promotions and favorable treatment, nearly a dozen told FOX Undercover in interviews that revealed deep and widespread corruption inside the department.
“I've been to 4-5 parties. I've seen the money counted, $2,100 in one case, $2,300 in another, and handed to the sheriff. He'd put it in his top left hand pocket and then smoke a cigar like it was normal business,” one current employee told FOX Undercover.
The interview, like others, were done on the condition that the person’s identity not be revealed out of fear of retribution. FOX Undercover interviewed nearly a dozen people, mostly current and former employees, who told the same story: cash bribes were given in hundreds, even thousands, of dollars at a time to former Middlesex Sheriff James DiPaola.
“You go to someone's house. They put a party together, there'd be 20, 30, 40 people there. Everybody would give cash,” the employee said.
The employee admitted giving cash himself on several occasions.
“I think I gave up to 600 dollars in cash,” he said.
Others say they gave much more.
One former employee said in an off-camera interview that he personally handed DiPaola an envelope with $2,000 cash that had been raised at a party in a bar in Lowell.
More often, these current and former employees say, money was raised at workers’ homes at events commonly called cash parties.
“I was invited to many cash parties, you know, ‘We're having a cash party for the sheriff, do you want to come?’” said one former employee, who spoke on-camera with another former employee.
Both said they were asked to pay cash to the sheriff. They said they didn’t but knew many who did.
“Two of my associates, who I do consider friends… they both told me they gave him over $3,000 dollars in their kitchen,” the other former employee said.
“Cash?” FOX Undercover reporter Mike Beaudet asked.
“Cash,” the employee replied. “They're now ranking officers at the department.”
One experienced public corruption prosecutor said stories like these could lead to various corruption charges, including bribery, conflict of interest, even larceny and campaign finance charges.
“(Investigators) want to make sure that people who hold positions of trust have been held accountable if they need to be held accountable, and they want to make sure that no one gets away with something that they shouldn’t have gotten away with,” said Steve Huggard, who ran the public corruption unit for the US Attorney’s office in Boston for four years.
Huggard, who now practices at the private law firm Edwards Angell Palmer & Dodge, said investigators would be looking to follow the money in a case like this.
“You've got to try to corroborate what's being said. And so if what we're talking about here is envelopes of cash, that's very difficult to corroborate,” Huggard said.
The late sheriff denied any wrongdoing in an interview with FOX Undercover one week before he committed suicide.
“Do you pocket cash campaign donations for your own personal use?” asked FOX Undercover’s Beaudet.
“No, I do not,” DiPaola said. “I have no idea what would motivate someone to say that.”
“Do employees have to give you cash donations to stay in your good graces?” Beaudet asked.
“Not at all,” DiPaola replied.
DiPaola was responding in part to allegations made by a former high-ranking employee interviewed earlier by FOX Undercover.
“As an employee, I saw numerous people that were in management level positions giving cash, giving him envelopes with cash in them. Giving him birthday cards with cash in them,” the employee said in an interview.
The former employee made the same claims under oath, saying in a deposition how difficult it was "having to go to fund-raisers and give cash."
His story was part of the first FOX Undercover report about the Middlesex Sheriff’s Office. The same day our story aired, The Boston Globe exposed DiPaola’s attempt to collect a pension and salary at the same time and DiPaola made the shocking announcement he was resigning despite having won re-election earlier that month.
The FOX Undercover story prompted the Attorney General's office to launch an investigation.
The following Saturday, DiPaola was found in a Maine hotel room dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. The Attorney General's office says it’s still pursuing its investigation but declined to comment further.
Even if the case is corroborated and others in the department are charged, Huggard says DiPaola's death complicates the case.
“No matter what case you put together the defense is probably going to want to point the finger at the empty chair and say that it was that person's fault. So the overlay of the tragedy here complicates the case for a prosecutor tremendously,” Huggard said.
A criminal case may be complicated, but the AG’s investigation could also result in some kind of administrative action, including removing employees from their jobs if they paid for promotions, Huggard said.
A spokesman for the Middlesex Sheriff's department did not respond to our requests to talk about this story. A spokesperson for Gov. Deval Patrick, who is expected to name a replacement for DiPaola as soon as this week, also declined to comment.