Standish Reflects on his Tenure at Housing Authority

Standish Reflects on his Tenure at Housing Authority

By Seth Daniel

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.”

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Chelsea Housing Extends Visitor Time for Hurricane Victims

Chelsea Housing Extends Visitor Time for Hurricane Victims

By Seth Daniel

As Puerto Rican residents continue to trickle into Chelsea following the massive Hurricane Maria devastation, the Chelsea Housing Authority (CHA) announced they would extend the time visitors are allowed to stay with residents – and also consider extensions in some cases.

Director Al Ewing said they have been working close with the Chelsea Collaborative, the City of Chelsea and the state to formulate a plan to accommodate family members that need to live with CHA residents. By rule, CHA only allows visitors to stay in a public housing unit for 21 days. After that, penalties begin to accrue for the resident.

That has been a problem statewide as wary Puerto Ricans flock to the area to live with family members while their homes and their island are repaired from the once-in-a-lifetime storm damage. With nowhere else to turn, residents in public housing have opened their homes to family, but in fact trouble looms due to the 21-day rule.

“What we have done is extended the 21-day limit allowed for visitors to 45 days,” he said. “The key is residents need to notify us who is living in the unit. Obviously we want to work with the residents and this was a terrible disaster and a terrible situation…At the end of the 45-day period, if there is a need for an extension while family members look for permanent housing, we will work with them on a case-by-case basis.”

Ewing said they have encountered some folks from Puerto Rico and one woman from Houston – which both suffered severe storm damage – and he said they have lowered the documentation threshold for them. While there aren’t many units available, he said they are taking applications.

“We have reduced the documentation because people are obviously coming here without the ability to have documentation,” he said. “We just don’t have a lot of vacancies in public housing, especially at this time of year. That’s why we wanted to especially relax our regulations for visitor stays so that people can live with family until they can find a permanent situation.”

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CHA Voted to Choose Corcoran for Possible Redevelopment Funding

By Seth Daniel

The Chelsea Housing Authority (CHA) chose an experienced public housing re-development firm this month to partner with in hopes of getting competitive state funds that would allow the CHA to completely re-build the Innes Development on Central Avenue.

The CHA voted to go with the Joseph Corcoran Company as it’s partner in seeking funding for the redevelopment of mixed-income housing at the site. The CHA did not choose a local partnership between The Neighborhood Developers (TND) and the Beacon Companies.

Corcoran is known for having redeveloped Columbia Point in Dorchester into mixed-income housing and was chosen last year by the Boston Housing Authority (BHA) to redevelop the Bunker Hill Housing Development in Charlestown into mixed-income housing.

“We’re fortunate to have had two good proposals,” said CHA Director Al Ewing. “You had TND with the Beacon Companies and the Corcoran Company. We could only go with one and we went with the one we felt best addressed the requirements of the Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA) from the state Department of Housing and Community Development. We chose Corcoran because we felt we had a proposal from them that had a very good chance of being funded by [the state].”

The key wording in all of that is a proposal funded by the state. So far, the CHA is in a very preliminary stage of the process and the whole effort could be for not if the state does not award them the nearly $5 million grant for the NOFA.

Earlier this year, the CHA announced that it planned to look at engaging in a public-private partnership with a developer to rebuild the Innes Development on Central Avenue into a brand new mixed-income development that would add market rate units and keep every unit of public housing.

By choosing Corcoran, Ewing said they have simply settled on a partner to seek funding with. If the state were to pass over the project, the idea would not be pursued any further.

“This is a good potential redevelopment project for our residents, but it is only a potential right now,” Ewing said. “Residents will be engaged immediately if we get the funding from the state. While we have preliminary ideas that were designed just for the purpose of entering the process, if we are funded, our first step will be to engage the residents, neighbors, and the greater community in regards to our plans.”

Corcoran has proposed a $100 million development of the Innes, most of which would be privately funded.

They would put a total of 318 units of mixed income housing, and would retain all 96 public housing units that currently exist – and they would be in their current configurations (42 two-bedrooms, 48 three-bedrooms, and 6 four-bedrooms) but would be brand new units in the overall development. The public housing units would be mixed in with the market rate units and now separated out.

There would be 222 market rate units.

The housing units would be situated in four, six-story buildings – all new construction – with surface and below-grade parking, a community clubhouse, a fitness center and retail space.

Corcoran said it would privately fund 80 percent of the project with private equity and mortgage debt. The $4.8 million DHCD funding and a $3 million MassWorks grant would supplement that.

Ewing said he would negotiate a 99-year ground lease to preserve the public housing if the state funds the CHA proposals. He said if the project is funded, residents would be relocated temporarily and would have the ability to return to the new units.

Ewing said such partnerships are the only way to find the capital to rebuild old public housing developments, as the state and federal government simply don’t have the money.

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Board, Director at CHA Come to Amenable Agreement on Contract

Board, Director at CHA Come to Amenable Agreement on Contract

The Board of the Chelsea Housing Authority (CHA) and Executive Director Al Ewing have come to terms on a contract dispute that – though in the background as compared to the overall repairing of the agency – has been outstanding since 2011.

The contract was recently approved by the Board and state officials and is now in effect, retroactive from Nov. 1, 2014. The three-year contract will pay Ewing $122,000 per year – which was a point of contention when the dispute first went to court.

“It’s a nice thing to have happen,” said Board Chair Tom Standish. “It could have been an adversarial thing all this time and it hasn’t been. We’ve worked well together and will continue to do so.”

Ewing said this week that he is glad to get the contract situation worked out and to move on to rebuilding and reinvigorating the CHA.

“I’m pleased I will continue being executive director at least through October 2017,” he said. “That gives us the opportunity to build on the many victories we’ve had. We’ve done a number of things over the past three years and we want to continue providing these services to our residents.”

One of the most unique things about the contract dispute was that it really just faded away in late 2011 as the CHA and the Board began working on the larger issues of cleaning up after Michael McLaughlin and untangling the web of complexities that was left behind in what has now been exposed as a criminal enterprise.

Originally, the contract was disputed rather vocally, but once it was entered as a court case, nothing more came of it.

That’s when Ewing and the Board seemed to roll up their sleeves and work without any animosity whatsoever despite the ongoing matter.

Standish said it was particularly noteworthy that the relationship withstood

Ewing said he viewed it as separate from his job.

“I think my job here as executive director, no matter what my pay, is to serve the residents,” he said. “I continually try to focus on that. They are two separate things. There were issues and sometimes people can have differences of opinion and that’s why we have a legal system to turn to. One has nothing to do with the other, the way I see it.”

Ewing said he had been chosen as the new executive director before McLaughlin suddenly resigned in 2011 after a Globe story spotlighted the beginnings of his misdeeds at the CHA.

After several public hearings and an executive director search in anticipation of McLaughlin’s regular retirement, Ewing got the vote of the board. His contract was to be ratified at a regular meeting the day after McLaughlin resigned.

However, with the sudden resignation of McLaughlin, the Board agreed to quickly make Ewing the interim director that very night.

The contract that came with that appointment is what struck up some controversy when the new Board took over in 2012 and rebuilding efforts began.

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McLaughlin to Spend Another Year in the Pen

McLaughlin to Spend  Another Year in the Pen

Tally on another year to the incarceration bill of former Chelsea Housing Authority (CHA) Director Michael McLaughlin, as Federal Judge Doug Woodlock sentenced him to a fourth year in federal prison last Friday afternoon in Boston Federal Court.

McLaughlin – who is serving his time in Pennsylvania and has about one year under his jumpsuit belt already – appeared before the court in a far more humble manner on Friday than he did at the same time last year. His hair was far more grey and thin than it was last July and he appeared to have lost a lot of weight and to have acquired a bit of a hunch in the back.

In the interim, it was pointed out that his wife passed away and he was not allowed to attend the funeral, and that he has kept a positive attitude in prison – going so far as to help tutor convicts who are about to be released.

None of that, however, had much to do with the reason McLaughlin was in Federal Court on Friday, which was essentially to answer to additional corruption charges related to the fixing of federal housing inspections while he was the director of the CHA.

Woodlock has been no fan of McLaughlin’s during the entirety of the situation, actually deviating significantly from a plea deal last year that would have given McLaughlin six months to one year in prison. Instead, Woodlock rejected the agreement and re-opened the case completely. When the dust had settled, McLaughlin had three years in jail and a pretty severe tongue lashing from the judge.

This time, however, Woodlock didn’t see a need to change things up, staying with the plea agreement presented to him and giving McLaughlin one additional year in prison and a $3,000 fine.

“I looked at this agreement very, very carefully because it’s a form of plea bargain that takes the court out of it,” said Woodlock. “Looking over my past history, I see there are a large percentage of these [agreements] I haven’t accepted because I haven’t agreed with the outcomes negotiated by the other parties. This is not one of them…I’m satisfied this is a fair and reasonable sentence.”

There was a desire to understand why the housing inspection case wasn’t brought with the false salary declaration case from last summer, and federal prosecutors said it was because they had only learned of the scheme after sentencing was set in the other case.

“The information about these charges only came to light on March 25, 2013 as a result of the co-conspirator bringing the information forward for the first time,” said one federal prosecutor. “By then we were already on the path to get the other case finished and saw no reason to postpone that sentencing…It’s just the chronology of what happened here.”

With that, there began a flurry of federal sentencing guideline calculations by Woodlock, which ended up showing that an additional year – giving four years behind bars in total – would have been the result if both cases were bundled together last year.

McLaughlin said he was sorry that he participated in the scheme and that he had crossed a line that he should not have crossed.

“I’m just sorry I’m back here on another issue,” he said. “I wish it would have been addressed in the beginning…It’s an issue that never should have happened and I am sorry for it.”

Others, such as several long-time tenants from CHA were in attendance – though there was far less of a presence in the courtroom this year as compared to last year. They said afterward that they thought he should have gotten much more time for the inspection rigging. That, they said, probably affected more people negatively than the salary scam.

“I thought it was going to be more than one year because of the condition this crime left the apartments in, and the condition of the apartment I live in,” said Gloria Purdencia of Margolis Apartments, through a translator. “I thought the punishment and fine would have been more severe.”

Mildred Valentin, also of Margolis, has been outspoken during the whole case and was one of two residents hand-picked last summer to address the court prior to sentencing. She said she still wants to know where all the missing money went to that was supposed to fix up the apartments.

“We still are wondering where the money is he took so that they can fix up my apartment and the other apartments,” she said. “Working cabinets would be very nice. The money should be found somewhere and he should be punished.”

Other tenants, however, still live in fear and were hesitant to give their names for fear of retribution – as many loyal members of McLaughlin’s staff remain on the job at the CHA.

“I thought it would have only been fair to give him a lot more time,” said one anonymous tenant. “I was thinking somewhere around another three years.”

CHA Board Chair Tom Standish said he had no opinion on the sentencing, but just felt it pointed to the numerous conspiracies perpetrated by McLaughlin.

“I would only like to express concern that so much damage has been done to CHA and it’s mission of serving some of the poorest residents of our community,” he said. “It does highlight the fact that there were three disparate cases against him and they all fell into what was a web of corruption. It crippled the operation of our organization. Just unravelling the financial aspects of the aftermath has taken years and years of work and restoration.”

The crux of this case against McLaughlin centered around a conspiracy between McLaughlin and two other men to provide the CHA with an advance list of apartments that were to be randomly inspected by the feds.

Bernard Morosco, a retired housing inspector from Utica, NY who had become a consultant, allegedly had solicited McLaughlin and proposed the scheme.

The former director of modernization, James Fitzpatrick, was also allegedly party to the scheme.

Using the list provided by Morosco, McLaughlin would send out SWAT units to hurriedly fix and repair the apartments on the inspection list – leaving all the other apartments in terrible condition. When inspectors showed up and saw such nice conditions in the apartments supposedly looked at randomly, it led to rave reviews and awards for McLaughlin and his staff.

All of it, however, was accomplished by subverting the process and cheating on the random inspections.

“The [random housing inspection] program is a vital program and we think this sentence of imprisonment beyond what he is already serving will send a message that if you game the system, there will be a high price to pay,” said one prosecutor. “That goes not only for executive directors, but also consultants and inspectors too.”

Fitzpatrick and Morosco have not made any agreements with the government in the case, and their cases are still pending in federal court.

Sidebar -

The Chelsea Housing Authority (CHA) met yesterday evening to discuss – among other things – the hiring of an auditor to sort out the financial web that is still tangling up the organization.

Chair Tom Standish said they are looking to get an auditor to do some forensic accounting and clear up how much the CHA actually owes to federal and state housing organizations – money that is still missing allegedly due to former Director Michael McLaughlin hiding and/or taking it.

The current talley is somewhere between $7 million and $9 million. All of it is money that was paid to the CHA during McLaughlin’s tenure by federal and state government agencies in order to fix up apartments and make improvements. However, and this is up for dispute, none of it appears to have been used for any improvements during many years of payments.

Eventually, the CHA will have to work out a payment plan to reimburse the agencies for the missing money. However, no one is still sure just how much is missing and just how much work was not done with the money.

The auditor hired by the CHA is expected to go through the painstaking process of sorting out the situation once and for all.


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Retirement Board Decision on McLaughlin Gets Hearing

Retirement Board Decision on McLaughlin Gets Hearing

Chelsea Housing Authority (CHA) officials fully expect a reversal of the Chelsea Retirement Board’s decision from last month not to confiscate former CHA Director Michael McLaughlin’s personal pension contributions.

“We’re very pleased that the state Board is going to look at the decision of the Chelsea Retirement Board,” said CHA Board Chair Tom Standish. “Our expectations are it will be given a fair hearing and will result in a reversal of the Retirement Board’s decision.”

Last month, after a careful review of the situation that lasted more than eight months, Retirement Board officials issued a decision concluding that they could not take McLaughlin’s personal pension contributions, totaling $252,000, and return it to the CHA for repairs and neglect caused by McLaughlin’s criminal acts while at the helm.

McLaughlin had accumulated the sum after 43 years of contributing. The status of his full pension – meaning the state’s matching contributions – is still up in the air at the Retirement Board.

The state retirement board – known as PERAC – reviewed the local decision earlier this month, and surprisingly took umbrage with a good many of the local Board’s conclusions.

Members of PERAC reportedly had many questions about the decision, and some of those questions were quite pointed.

That discussion and review set the stage for the calling of a full hearing on June 12 where the case will be discussed by all sides before PERAC.

“PERAC’s chair had requested additional information from us,” said Chelsea Retirement Board Chair Joe Siewko. “We’ve been invited to come back for the hearing and obviously we’ll go. Hopefully, on June 12, all the issues here will be resolved.”

The situation was discussed in depth at last Thursday’s Retirement Board meeting, mostly in executive session. All communications involving the situation were also privileged at the moment as well.

The June 12 hearing at PERAC is expected to be private as well, in an executive session.

Yesterday, May 28, the CHA also discussed the matter briefly at its monthly meeting.

McLaughlin was convicted last summer of lying about his income, and just this month pleaded guilty in Federal Court to charges of conspiracy to defraud the United States – a charge stemming from the secret rigging of federal and state housing inspections.


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Key McLaughlin Figure Gets Retirement Refund

Key McLaughlin Figure Gets Retirement Refund

James McNichols could be considered by many to be former CHA Director Michael McLaughlin’s chief henchman in most of his schemes during the 10-year tenure, but McNichols turned on McLaughlin after the house of cards came tumbling down – eventually being the key witness last summer whose testimony ensured McLaughlin would get more time in prison than expected.

Now, barring any indictment for his own actions in the CHA debacle, McNichols is $55,515 richer.

The Chelsea Retirement Board last Thursday was forced to approve a retirement contribution refund to McNichols despite some inconsistencies with his application request – complications that had held up the matter since March.

“There is no statutory right to withhold his deductions,” said Retirement Board Attorney Brian Monahan. “We have to return them.”

Given his role in the situation, Board members were cautious about rewarding the refund – as it was unknown (and still is) if McNichols is under investigation.

In a question on the application, it asked if he was the target of an investigation. While his answer said information about him had been requested by investigators, he was not considered a target.

“The Retirement Board must take action and cannot withhold deductions unless there is an indictment,” said Monahan. “We can monitor the situation, but beyond that, there is nothing the Retirement Board can do.”

If McNichols were indicted in the future, his refund award could be revisited.


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Fitzpatrick, McLaughlin Indicted for Rigging Inspections

Fitzpatrick, McLaughlin Indicted for Rigging Inspections

James Fitzpatrick

James Fitzpatrick

Media reports this week indicated that former Chelsea Housing Authority (CHA) Director Michael McLaughlin has been indicted with two others regarding the alleged rigging of public housing inspections.

McLaughlin, 67, who is already imprisoned on federal charges regarding his salary and is also facing state charges about campaign finance violations, got word of the new charges on Tuesday.

Along with McLaughlin is former Director of Modernization James Fitzpatrick – who actually retired from the CHA last March with a full pension. Many have said few, if any, improvements were made while Fitzpatrick served with McLaughlin.

He resides in Acton.

The third person, Bernard Morosco, of Utica, NY, was a housing inspector that McLaughlin hired as a consultant. It is alleged that he tipped off Fitzpatrick and McLaughlin to any announced or unannounced inspections that were coming from the federal housing programs.

Fitzpatrick’s full retirement came on March 20.

At a hearing in March, Retirement Board officials said that despite rumors and media reports about Fitzpatrick, they could not hold up his retirement pension request as he was charged with no wrongdoing. However, they did say that if he were convicted of any crime, that granting could be revisited.

He reportedly gets just over $30,000 per year in his retirement.

His average salary for his last three years at retirement was above $90,000.


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February in Florida Seemed to Be Tradition for McLaughlin: Hud Looks into Expenses Racked Up by McLaughlin, CHA Employees

February in Florida Seemed to Be Tradition for McLaughlin: Hud Looks into Expenses Racked Up  by McLaughlin, CHA Employees

Apparently, like duck hunting season or deer hunting season, the public housing conference season appears to always happen during Chelsea’s coldest months – and the location for those getaways is almost exclusively Florida.

That according to expense payments from the Chelsea Housing Authority (CHA) regarding several public housing programs that the federal Housing and Urban Development (HUD) administration is questioning right now.

HUD is questioning thousands of dollars in travel expenses reported by former Chelsea Housing Authority (CHA) director Michael McLaughlin and his oft-travel companion and alleged girlfriend Linda Thibodeau – the former CHA director of housing management. They are looking at the periods of 2005 to 2012.

In a letter to the CHA from HUD dated May 22nd – and first reported last week by the Boston Globe but also obtained by the Record – the federal agency scourges the CHA for past uses of monies specifically from the Housing Voucher Choice (HVC) program – citing $49,371 of outright ‘disallowable’ expenses and another $103,772 in questionable or unsupported expenses from that program.

The HVC program is often referred to as Section 8, and it allows rental assistance for low-income families renting dwellings on the private market.

However, that wasn’t the only inconsistency reported, as HUD cited some $711,392 used questionably from all CHA housing programs.

“Appropriated funds were spent for disallowable costs of $49,371 and for questionable and/or unsupported costs of $103,772 for the HCV program only,” read the findings in the letter. “The total amount of disallowable, unsupported, and additional potentially disallowable costs for all programs and projects operated by CHA for which Department funds are granted is $711,392.”

The letter also calls for the current CHA administration to pay back some $219,000 immediately, money for which the CHA does not currently have available. In an entirely separate issue, HUD is also going after some $7 million or more of funds that were supposed to be used from 2002 to 2009 for improving apartment conditions and were instead diverted elsewhere – including to salaries.

The HUD letter in particular cites the costs associated with travel and reimbursements.

In an exhibit with the letter, expenses are routinely questioned for McLaughlin and Thibodeau going back to 2005, but some travel expenses are also questions for current employees – such as Executive Director Al Ewing and Assistant Executive Director Diane Cohen.

Nevertheless, it is McLaughlin and Thibodeau that seem to be the focus.

A snippet of just a few years worth of travel includes:

•Jan. 2010 – unidentified travel

•April 2010 – Hyannis Resort and Conference Center

•October 2010 – Phoenix Sheraton

•Dec. 2010 – Downtown Miami Hilton and Sheraton Sand Key Resort

•Dec. 2010 – Sanibel Harbor Resort and Spa

•Feb. 2011 – Sheraton Sand Key Resort

•April 2011 – Hyannis Resort and Conference Center

•May 2011 – Royal Sonestra Hotel

•July 2011 – Hyatt Regency Capitol Hill (Washington, D.C.)

“Contrary to regulatory and statutory requirements, the CHA spent funds for many items that were not reasonable or necessary and that did not support the CHA mission,” read the letter. “Inappropriate items include expenditures for excessive travel, various entertainment expenses, excessive salaries and unsupported reimbursements to employees…These expenditures demonstrate the former executive director’s and board’s waste and abuse of funds and their apparent disregard for internal controls.”

Reports in the Boston Globe story on this same subject quoted an unidentified employee or former employee of the CHA who indicated there was never any new information brought back from the various conferences that McLaughlin and Thibodeau so frequently needed to attend.

That person also told the Globe that McLaughlin and Thibodeau once attended a computer software conference, but neither could proficiently use a computer.

Meanwhile, HUD ended its discourse – which included numerous other recommendations and findings beyond the travel concerns – by saying the expenses simply took away from the residents – residents who are the poorest and most economically vulnerable in society.

“Misuse of…funds prevents the public housing authority from assisting as many families as possible with the funds made available for this purpose,” read the letter. “These conditions occurred because the CHA management and Board failed to exercise fiduciary responsibility and did not act in the best interest of the public housing authority or those it served.”

A spokesperson for HUD refused to elaborate any further on the letter or the inquiry into expenses.


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U.S. Attorney Asks Court for Low End of Sentencing for Michael McLaughlin

U.S. Attorney Asks Court for Low End of Sentencing for Michael McLaughlin

A last-minute piece of evidence from former Chelsea Housing Authority (CHA) Accountant James McNichols could drastically increase the sentence of former CHA Director Michael McLaughlin when he faces sentencing on Friday – but otherwise federal prosecutors are advocating for the low-end of sentencing guidelines and likely 12 months in prison.

In documents filed in Boston’s Federal Court on Monday, McLaughlin’s Attorney, Thomas Hoopes, called for a sentence of probation only, while federal prosecutors called for the necessity of some prison term.

Just how long that term might be is up to Judge Doug Woodlock.

Information provided to prosecutors after McLaughlin’s February plea agreement indicated that key witness, James McNichols, had told authorities that McLaughlin approached him in October 2012 in order to concoct a cover story that would protect both of them in any investigations.

That testimony by McNichols has led to an obstruction charge against McLaughlin that could up the sentencing guideline structure and land him in jail for longer than anyone expected. Hoopes has vigorously disputed the obstruction charge, noting that McNichols has admitted to lying to investigators on a number of occasions during the case and recanted some previous testimony. Hoopes has called for a hearing before sentencing on the matter, and has said McNichols’s allegations should not be considered.

In either case, prosecutors have said they would like to see jail time, and they have laid out sentencing guidelines for Judge Woodlock that fall between 12 and 18 months in prison. They have also indicated that McLaughlin has helped them in testimony regarding other cases – all of which is sealed.

“Pursuant to the filed plea agreement, the government recommends that the Court sentence the defendant to a term of incarceration at the low end of the Sentencing Guideline range as calculated by the Court at sentencing,” read the document signed by U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz. “The government also recommends that the Court impose a fine of $4,000, 24 months of supervised release, and a mandatory special assessment of $400. Whether the Sentencing Guideline range is 12 to 18 months, or higher if the Court finds there was obstructive conduct, the government believes that imprisonment at the low end of that range is warranted to reflect the defendant’s repeated flaunting of his obligations both to the federal and state agencies that funded the Chelsea Housing Authority with taxpayer money and to the tenants of public housing who lived under his management and care. By any conceivable measure, the defendant’s compensation was grossly disproportionate to any reasonable amount which the public has a right to expect to pay its employees. Sending the defendant to prison for his manipulative and deceptive conduct is necessary to promote respect for the law and deter others who may be tempted to use such means to conceal their fleecing of the public trust.”

Ortiz also indicated that she would not advocate that restitution be included as part of the sentence, disappointing many involved in a grass-roots effort of CHA tenants. The tenants’s group and the CHA had filed two weeks ago with the court to include restitution of $548,192 to the CHA for repairs to the housing authority properties. The amount represents the difference between what McLaughlin reported as his salary and the true amount he was paid over the four-year period examined in the case.

“The CHA has also moved for restitution as a victim of the offense of conviction,” wrote Ortiz. “Consistent with its obligations under the plea agreement, the government is not recommending restitution as part of the defendant’s sentence.”

McLaughlin’s attorney also submitted a lengthy document on Monday pleading with the court to go downward on the sentencing guidelines and to keep in mind all of the good that McLaughlin has done in his long political career – as detailed in numerous character reference letters. There was also a call for the judge to consider McLaughlin’s role in taking care of his wife’s chronic brain illness.

“Mr. McLaughlin has submitted substantial evidence, in the form of letters, of a life productive for society,” wrote Attorney Hoopes. “As discussed above, these letters highlight the many ways in which Mr. McLaughlin’s service to his community left the organizations that he led better for his leadership. As many of the letters recognized, Mr. McLaughlin had a reputation for taking on difficult roles – oftentimes volunteering to take over severely mismanaged organizations – and not only turning around the organization but also championing programs that benefited citizens for years to come…The defendant respectfully requests that the Court sentence the defendant to a term of probation.”

More than 30 letters of recommendation were included in the filing, mostly from family members and those who worked with him in Dracut, Somerville, Lowell and Billerica.

One man, Emile Steele – a retired Billerica Police captain – went so far as to say McLaughlin would be like the Good Samaritan.

“Michael is a person who would stop and help a poor soul who has fallen on the sidewalk after hundreds of others have passed on by,” wrote Steele.

Two letters came from Chelsea.

One came from former CHA employee Nyomi Pena who noted that McLaughlin did not think twice about providing all residents with free bed covers when there was an outbreak of bed buds in one of the CHA’s elderly building. He also ordered the entire building flushed without thinking twice, all 210 units.

The second Chelsea letter came from Buckley Tenant Council President Joe Pandolfo.

He advocated for McLaughlin’s work at CHA for implementing elder services, useable card-operated washers and dryers, monthly food banks with fresh produce, security cameras, and monthly meetings with the tenant council.

“His honest open-door policy earned him the greatest of respect,” he wrote.

All of the information in the filings will be considered at the sentencing, which will take place in Boston’s Federal Court on Friday at 2:30 p.m.


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