In 2011, the Chelsea Housing Authority (CHA) was in total disarray, and Chelsea resident Tom Standish had a long history of putting things back together.
As the chair of the CHA since 2011, putting things back together is exactly what Standish, the other Board members and the staff at CHA did in the wake of the Michael McLaughlin corruption scandal.
Now, with his work seemingly done and the CHA now a high-performer in the public housing world, Standish has stepped aside from his long-time role as chair of an organization that was quite literally brought back from the grave.
“It was a clear case of corruption and the need to restore normalcy to the government,” said Standish recently from his home on the waterfront, a few weeks after stepping down as chair. “Really, it was transparent that someone was controlling the situation and had everyone in line. There needed to be five people who had the strength of character and expertise to guide the CHA back to normalcy. As it turned out, we guided it to high performance.”
After the McLaughlin scandal, few thought that the CHA would ever be put back given the tangled web of accounting fraud and the money not expended on facilities for so long.
Tenants were angry.
The public was angry.
The federal government was angry.
Those five board members, led by Standish, helped restore the confidence.
Standish said he saw a posting about the City looking for talented people to serve on the new board – as the old board had been removed quickly on suspicion of corruption with McLaughlin. With a deep resume as a regulator in the Connecticut government and in other endeavors, he was chosen right off. At the first meeting, his other four colleagues quickly elected him as the chair when he voiced concern over the minutes from the previous meetings – challenging the Board’s attorney.
From there, the rebuilding took place, including the hiring of current CHA Executive Director Al Ewing – who had served previously in the CHA administration.
“It was our task to establish a route that would bring us to restoration of faith in the performance of the duties,” said Standish. “We went on the war path. We got the support of Al Ewing and he did a fabulous job of brining a fee accountant in and an accountant from outside to do an audit…That gave us a lot of confidence in Al. You can change a lot with a big organization if you can get competent, honest people. For me personally, that was a turning point in the organization.”
Another turning point, he said, was when they were able to get the full services of the Nixon Peabody law firm and Attorney Jeff Sacks to help them guide the case against McLaughlin on behalf of the CHA. That was also assisted by Charlestown attorney Susan Whalen, whom the CHA hired.
Standish said, through a mutual friend, he had heard that Nixon Peabody was looking for a case to work on pro bono that would make a difference. As it happened, that case was the CHA’s.
“They were going to pay for it 100 percent,” he said. “It wasn’t one of those where they said they would help us for 75 cents on the dollar. It was 100 percent…Susan Whalen in conjunction with Nixon Peabody were able to move the case forward and were able to get a decision.”
While the matter of McLaughlin’s $200,000 pension is still outstanding, and the McLaughlin matter still appears as a potential Executive Session item on every CHA meeting agenda – for the most part justice was done.
Standish said he was very relieved on the day McLaughlin was sentenced in Boston Federal Court, knowing that justice had been rendered for the tenants and the taxpayers. However, he said he was conflicted about the time and type of sentence – noting that he is glad he did not have to make a recommendation to the court.
“In the end, McLaughlin said he was just trying to keep up with his neighbors,” he said. “He said they all had nice cars and nice houses and he just wanted to keep up with them. It was a totally different McLaughlin than we had seen up to then.”
Overall, Standish said he would look back at his time on the CHA as something of a gift – a way he could give back, and in turn, be given to.
“I was energized by it,” he said. “There are a lot of people who run out and look to be fulfilled in life by making money, but try as they may, nothing is more fulfilling than giving to society…The thing that’s great for me is to see public housing work in Chelsea. I’ve come to realize that high-minded people make this world work. We have been a high-performer every single year since the first one. We worked very hard – many long hours and all uncompensated. It has been invigorating and exciting. I regard it as a gift to have had the opportunity.”
On Dec. 22, at 5:20 p.m., officers responded to 165 Walnut St. for a report of a past armed robbery. Upon officers’ arrival, they made contact with the victim and alleged robbery suspect, standing out front of the building. The victim claims the suspect took $200 from him after he left the ATM at the Chelsea Bank on Broadway. The suspect claims the money was used to buy drugs from him and that the victim complained about the quality of the drugs purchased.
Jose Rivera, 32, of 11 Congress Ave., was charged with unarmed robbery.
REFUSED SERVICE AT BAR
On Dec. 22, at 10:49 p.m., officers were dispatched to the Spanish Falcon Club located at 158 Broadway on the report of a fight outside.
Officers observed security outside speaking to a group of men, two of which appeared intoxicated. As Officers spoke to security, they were informed that the two intoxicated males had been causing a disturbance because security refused them entry due to their state of intoxication.
They were asked to leave several times, but were becoming aggressive towards employees. As officers engaged the men in conversation, it was apparent that the men were upset at having been refused entry and wanted to continue their night of drinking. The two men refused the officers’ orders to leave the area and became loud and boisterous, causing a disturbance. The first male was placed into custody after violently resisting officers in their attempt to place him under arrest. The second male, and brother of the male taken into custody, refused orders to leave, and he also became aggressive and was taken into custody after a struggle.
David Garcia, 24, of 141 Marlborough St., was charged with disorderly conduct.
Kevin Garcia, 21, of Lynn, was charged with disorderly conduct, assault and battery on a police officer and resisting arrest.
The Metro Housing Boston organization reported this month that their transition assistance program for families in crisis helped 70 families in Chelsea with a total expenditure of $190,623 locally.
Outside of Boston, Chelsea was the one community where RAFT was utilized more than others. The next closest community was Malden with 47 families helped.
The Rental Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT) program provides families with a small amount of cash assistance and provides an option to having to enter emergency shelter. Metro Housing Boston administers RAFT in Boston and 28 surrounding communities. With RAFT, eligible families can apply for up to $4,000 that can be used to help retain housing, get new housing, keep utilities on and to avoid homelessness. To qualify, a family cannot make more than 50 percent of the area median income, which in the 2017 Boston region was $46,550 for a family of three.
“Many families are living paycheck to paycheck,” red the report. “An unplanned expense can put their housing in jeopardy. RAFT provides a safety net for families to have something to fall back on when they are in crisis and need support.”
It is the fourth year that Metro Housing Boston has shared the data about the program, which is funded by the state Department of Housing and Community Development. Stating that Boston is one of the top five most expensive cities to live within in the United States, officials from Metro Housing Boston said such funding is extremely important for families with very low incomes to handle things like fires or other catastrophes that they cannot afford to plan for.
“For four years running, our reports continue to show the positive impacts of the RAFT program,” said Metro Housing Executive Director Christopher Norris. “For a relatively small investment, families in our region are able to stay in their communities near their children’s schools, their health providers, and their social networks. This is crucial to helping families maintain stability and achieve economic security.”
Overall, including Chelsea, the program likely saved 1,000 families from turning to a shelter – which also is estimated to have saved the state $31 million in emergency shelter funds. For the $3.8 million RAFT funding, 1,474 families were able to resolve housing crises.
With the continued commitment to funding by the state for RAFT, the program has been able to assist 60 percent more families than it did four years ago. However, this year the average benefit decreased by 3 percent to an average of $2,614 per client.
Also, a pilot program during FY17 expanded RAFT eligibility to include families of all sizes and configurations. Under this program, Metro Housing served 60 households, 31 of whom were individuals and 27 of whose head of household had a disability.
A vast majority of those receiving RAFT (48 percent) use it to pay rent that is in arrears. Some 20 percent use it to pay security deposits for a new apartment, and 11 percent use it for first/last months rent payments on a new apartment.
Chelsea High School senior Brandon Lazo performs ‘Carol Of The Bells’ for his piano solo during the annual CHS Winter Concert on Friday, Dec. 15. The evening included music, dance and percussion all performed to a packed house in the auditorium.
Kelly Klempa and Bently, wearing matching elf sweaters, during the Mystic Brewery and Polkadog Bakery Ugly Puppy Sweater Party on Saturday,Dec. 16, at the taproom. Scores of dogs and their owners, all decked out in their worst holiday gear, converged on the brewery for a fun party with friends.
This Monday, the City officially unveiled a light illumination feature in the clock tower of City Hall – a feature that can be seen prominently from Rt.
The Chelsea City Hall clock tower has finally been illuminated after many years of advocacy by Councillor Matt Frank. The project was unveiled on Monday and displays holiday-themed colors at the moment.
1 and the Soldiers’ Home and adds some variety to the Chelsea skyline.
When it went on Monday night, the new lighting scheme alternated green and red colors to match the City’s new Christmas decorations in the downtown area.
The lighting coincided with the last meeting of Councillor Matt Frank, who has long asked for the City to look into introducing some creative lighting on the exterior of City Hall.
Afterward, he said he was very happy to see that the City had taken his request seriously and had actually implemented it before he left office.
“I am beyond delighted that the City was able to complete the first phase of the clock tower light project on the eve of my last City Council meeting,” he said. “It’s a project I have been pushing for since the late 2000s and I am hoping they take the next step by installing outdoor lights to also bring light to the outer structure. Currently the lights are going red and green for the holidays and I’ve been told they are considering using the new lights for snow emergency purposes with a blinking blue.
“Combined with the fixing of the lights on the clock tower, this gives the City a powerful new tool when it comes to civic pride,” he continued. “The lights can be used to signal victory for our high school teams, to show holiday spirit and to showcase City Hall as a beacon for miles in every direction. Symbolism is a powerful thing. Hopefully this light will play it’s part in helping to bring more civic engagement to City Hall.”
Meanwhile, City Manager Tom Ambrosino said he gives all the credit to Frank and to Fidel Maltez of Public Works.
“It’s just another small part of our efforts to improve the Downtown,” said Ambrosino. “I have to give the credit for the idea to Councilor Frank. I would have never thought of that on my own.”
Parishioners at the St. Rose Church on Broadway have returned to put up their spectacular Christmas light display this year on the new piazza. The volunteers spent most of 2016 building out the new structure, and this year is the first year they have been able to fully decorate it for Christmas – a tradition that goes back about six years.
An electrified Nativity scene outfitted with a blazingly bright star is just one of the many spectacular light displays on the new piazza to the north of St. Rose Church – a light display that started humbly a few years ago and now has grown to great proportions.
Father Hilario Sanez said the annual display is back this year courtesy of many dedicated parishioners from the Vietnamese-speaking contingent of the Parish.
The 20 or so men dedicate their time year in and year out to build out the bright display for the community and to honor the Christmas holiday.
The effort is now made all the more special due to the piazza patio that is in place to the north of the church – a patio that supports the colorful light display even more than the previous lights.
Cuong Pham led the Vietnamese parishioners in installing the piazza in the summer and fall of 2016. Working late into the night on weekdays and weekends, parishioners built out on a volunteer basis the new structure so that the church could host better get-togethers outside.
Their dedication to the project was unmatched, as many of those working came to volunteer late into the night after working full-day shifts in the construction industry.
Now, after a year break from the Christmas lights, this month the crew of Vietnamese parishioners were back to work putting up the light spectacular.
Within the community, many have commented on the display, and noted that the City’s new Christmas lights compliment the St. Rose display perfectly – making the downtown area much more festive.
By a preliminary vote of 8-0, Councillor Damali Vidot received the support of her colleagues to become the new Council President in 2018 during a meeting on Monday.
The annual Conference Committee on leadership took place Monday with two possible candidates, current President Leo Robinson and Vidot. Both had been vying for the position behind the scenes, lobbying their colleagues for the position.
However, Robinson apparently had withdrawn his name before Monday’s conference, conceding the gavel to Vidot.
Those voting for Vidot to be president were Councillors Luis Tejada, Yamir Rodriguez, Giovanni Recupero, Calvin Brown, Bob Bishop, Enio Lopez, Robinson and Judith Garcia.
Vidot did not vote for herself, and Councillor Roy Avellaneda did not show up for the Conference. Councillor-elect Joe Perlatonda was absent during the president vote.
Vidot said she was honored to receive support from her colleagues, and will lean on the experience of long-time councillors to help her with the new role.
“I am honored to have received the support of my colleagues in serving as president of Chelsea City Council,” she said. “It is a responsibility I do not take lightly. I intend on leaning on the experience of longer-serving councillors while building on the passion and ideas of newer colleagues. We all have something different we bring to the table and I want to honor all of those voices while working cohesively on the concerns of our hard-working residents.
“More importantly, I want to ensure that we are always adhering to our City Charter and it’s ordinances and ensuring that the process is always fair and transparent,” she continued.
The vice president role was more hotly contested, with Councillor-elect Brown getting the nod over Recupero in a vote of 6-4.
Those voting for Brown were Vidot, Rodriguez, Brown, Bishop, Lopez, and Garcia. Those voting for Recupero were Tejada, Recupero, Robinson, and Perlatonda.
Avellaneda was not present for the vote.
Tejada was unanimously elected as the new School Committee liaison in a vote of 10-0, with Avellaneda absent.
The Council also participated in the annual drawing for Roll Call vote order and seating order.
Vidot will be the first vote next year in any roll call, with Recupero being the last vote.
In seating, there will be some interesting neighbors – with Councilors Recupero and Perlatonda sitting next to one another again. The old friends sat next to one another when Perlatonda was on the Council previously. Oddly enough, Perlatonda will also sit next to Garcia, who replaced him two years ago and whom he has criticized from time to time. Bishop will site on one end of the Council, while Calvin Brown will sit on the other end.
Chelsea GreenRoots is leading the way in jump-starting a renewal of Chelsea-Eastie activism on the Chelsea Creek – sending out teams to help build up momentum on the Eastie side for Creek activism.
GreenRoots Director Roseann Bongiovanni said the organization began trying to revitalize the interest in Eastie back in August after getting a grant to do some organizing.
“We can only be more powerful with one voice like we were in the past,” she said. “Overall, since we started, folks have been receptive because they know this is for East Boston residents and will be led by East Boston residents. It goes back to the holistic look at the Chelsea Creek on the East Boston and Chelsea side.”
For many years, the former Chelsea GreenSpace and the Eastie Neighborhood of Affordable Housing (NOAH) combined efforts to form the Chelsea Creek Action Group – or CCAG. Together, that group fought of what they believed to be environmental threats to the Creek, including a power plant, CAD cells buried in the riverbed, and the Hess tank removal. They also advocated successfully for the Urban Wild location on the Eastie side, and held social events like the River Revel.
However, about two years ago, a lot of the leadership in Eastie shifted to other matters and concerns in the neighborhood, leaving Chelsea holding up one side of the Creek.
Recently, though, Eastie’s Magdalena Ayed spun off environmental work in her organization HarborKeepers.
That began to develop some interest again in the Creek activism in Eastie.
This year, GreenRoots got a grant to do work to re-activate the grass roots base in East Boston and to institute Eastie leaders to begin leading the revived organization.
“That was very important that this was for East Boston and we were just helping to get it started for them,” said Bongiovanni. “We didn’t want it to seem like Chelsea was coming over and telling East Boston what to do.”
First, they visited 12 groups, including the many neighborhood organizations in Eastie, and spread the word about trying to revive interest in Creek activism.
Right now, John Walkey of Eastie and Indira Alfaro of GreenRoots are canvassing Eastie to get more people involved.
Bongiovanni said getting both sides organized again is very important to the health of the Creek.
She said there is also a great opportunity to learn from one another.
“You see gentrification along the Creek a lot more in East Boston and we are hoping to learn from what they have gone through,” she said.
Bongiovanni said the missing link on the Creek still is Revere, but she has hopes that some organizing can be done there as well.
Describing it as a “wonderful thing” on FBI surveillance tapes, the cold-blooded murderer of Irvin Depazm, 15, of Chelsea, has now been brought to justice.
An MS-13 member pleaded guilty on Thursday, Dec. 14, in federal court in Boston to racketeering conspiracy involving the murder of a 15-year-old boy in East Boston.
Joel Martinez, a/k/a “Animal,” 23, a Salvadoran national formerly residing in East Boston, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to conduct enterprise affairs through a pattern of racketeering activity, more commonly referred to as RICO conspiracy. U.S. District Court Judge F. Dennis Saylor IV scheduled sentencing for March 22, 2018.
Martinez was identified as a member of MS-13’s Eastside Loco Salvatrucha (ESLS) clique, which operated in Chelsea, Everett, and elsewhere in greater Boston.
Martinez admitted that on Sept. 20, 2015, he murdered a Depazm, 15, on Trenton Street in East Boston.
In recorded conversations between Martinez and a cooperating witness, Martinez acknowledged being a member of MS-13 and admitted that he stabbed the victim to death. Specifically, Martinez said, “I stabbed the (expletive deleted) three times, and it was a beautiful thing! Just beautiful!”
As a result of the murder, Martinez was “jumped in” and made a “homeboy,” or full member of MS-13, during a ceremony that was surreptitiously recorded by federal agents. When a prospective member is “jumped in,” members of the MS-13 clique beat the new member with their hands and feet while one of the leaders of the clique counts aloud slowly to 13.
After a three-year investigation, Martinez was one of 61 individuals named in a superseding indictment targeting the criminal activities of alleged leaders, members, and associates of MS-13 in Massachusetts. Martinez is the 27th defendant to plead guilty in this case.
Martinez faces up to life in prison, five years of supervised release, and will be subject to deportation upon the completion of his sentence.