Coakley resolves allegations of campaign finance violations

Bryan Cohen Jan. 25, 2012, 2:21pm


BOSTON (Legal Newsline) - Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley announced a settlement on Tuesday with the former treasurer of former Middlesex Sheriff James V. DiPaola's campaign committee that resolves allegations of campaign finance violations.

Under the terms of the agreement, Patricia Covelle admitted to campaign financial violations, including accepting individual cash contributions of more than $50 that totaled approximately $4,000 to the DiPaola Committee. Coakley also recommended that changes be made to laws related to campaign finance to ensure greater accountability and transparency by elected officials.

Covelle admitted that she failed to report the cash donations to the Office of Campaign and Political Finance. The alleged violations occurred between Jan. 1, 2006, and Dec. 31, 2010. Covelle had been the treasurer for the Committee since March 1997. Covelle must disgorge to the commonwealth the remaining balance of the committee's campaign account, which totals $295,160. In addition, Covelle must pay a $4,000 civil fine from her personal funds. Covelle is prohibited from ever acting as treasurer for a political committee.

Middlesex Sheriff Peter Koutoujian fully cooperated with Coakley's throughout the course of the case.

"Our investigation uncovered proof of campaign finance violations that resulted in today's civil fine against the campaign's treasurer," Coakley said. "We also found a general perception among many employees that those who made campaign contributions to DiPaola's campaign were favored within the office. As a result of this investigation, we believe changes should be made to campaign finance laws to improve transparency and accountability by public officials."

Coakley's office alleged that it found circumstantial evidence of a "pay-to-play" culture. A number of employees interviewed allegedly stated that they made contributions to the campaign as a "thank you" to DiPaola. They said that while the "thank you" contributions were not expected, they were very well-received by DiPaola.

Coakley's office alleged that those who made contributions to the sheriff's campaign were favored within the office. In addition, the office also alleged that the sheriff was aware of, and kept a record of, the various employees who had made contributions to the campaign.

Meanwhile, there were other employees interviewed whose accounts contradicted the evidence of a "pay-to-play" environment. None of the witnesses interviewed was able to provide circumstantial or direct information necessary to support a criminal allegation that a specific person was promoted based on a campaign contribution or multiple contributions.

Because the evidence did not support specific criminal violations there will not be a full explanation of what happened during the late DiPaola's tenure. The evidence did, however, support actions taken by the State Ethics Commission against employees of the Middlesex sheriff's office for violating G.L. c. 268A, which refers to the conflict of interest law.

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