Ethics Commission’s Enforcement Division Alleges Conflict of Interest Law Violations in Lawrence Public Schools Printing Scandal
Allegedly kickbacks paid to Lawrence School Department employees
The State Ethics Commission’s Enforcement Division issued an Order to Show Cause (“Order”) alleging that Wellington House Publishing, Inc. (“Wellington House”) owner Algird Sunskis violated G.L. c. 268A, the conflict of interest law, by paying kickbacks on three occasions to Lawrence Public School (“LPS”) employees to obtain LPS contracts. One of the contracts involved the fraudulent sale of equipment that was paid for by the LPS but never delivered.
According to the Order, Sunskis, who was also employed as an LPS teacher, paid hundreds of dollars in kickbacks to LPS employee John Laurenza in return for Laurenza falsely certifying that Wellington Publishing was the low bidder on a contract to purchase 10,000 pocket folders, and a contract to purchase 15,000 carbon bi-weekly LPS timesheets.
Additionally, the Order alleges that in September 2008, Sunskis, through Wellington Publishing, paid LPS employee Charles Birchall a $2,200 kickback for issuing a purchase order for a folding machine.
Neither Sunskis nor Wellington Publishing delivered a folding machine to the LPS. The City of Lawrence paid Wellington Publishing $4,950 for the machine.
Section 2(a), the bribery section of the conflict of interest law, prohibits anyone from corruptly offering or promising anything of value to a municipal employee with the intent to influence any official act, or any act within the official responsibility of the employee.
According to the Order, Sunskis, through Wellington Publishing, allegedly violated section 2(a) in the first two incidents by orchestrating a sham bid process, in which Wellington Publishing paid kickbacks to an LPS employee in exchange for being misrepresented as the low bidder and being awarded the contracts. In the third incident, Sunskis allegedly violated section 2(a) by paying an LPS employee a kickback for issuing a fraudulent purchase order to Wellington Publishing for a folding machine that was never delivered.
Section 3(a), the gifts and gratuities section of the conflict of interest law, prohibits anyone, other than as provided by law for the proper discharge of official duty, from directly or indirectly giving or offering anything of substantial value to any municipal employee for or because of any official act performed or to be performed. The Order alleges that, by making payments to Laurenza and Birchall through Wellington Publishing, Sunskis intended to reward them for generating contracts for Wellington Publishing in connection with the three purchases described above.
Section 20 of the conflict of interest law prohibits a municipal employee from having a financial interest, directly or indirectly, in a contract made by a municipal agency of the same city, in which the city is an interested party of which financial interest he has knowledge or reason to know. According to the Order, Sunskis allegedly violated section 20 because, as an LPS teacher who owned Wellington Publishing, he had a prohibited financial interest in each contract Wellington Publishing entered into with the LPS.
The Commission previously cited Laurenza and Birchall for their participation in these transactions. On June 6, 2012, the Commission approved a disposition agreement in which Laurenza agreed to pay a $4,000 civil penalty and a $536 civil forfeiture to the City of Lawrence for accepting bribes from Wellington Publishing. On October 6, 2011, the Commission approved a disposition agreement in which Birchall agreed to pay a $6,000 civil penalty and a $2,449 civil forfeiture for accepting a bribe from Wellington Publishing.
The Ethics Reform Law of 2009 increased the maximum amounts of the civil penalties that may be imposed by the Commission. Violations of the conflict law that occurred prior to September 29, 2009, remain subject to a maximum civil penalty of $2,000 per violation.
The Commission will schedule the matter for a public hearing within 90 days.
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