Blanchette used Fire Department position to secure business for his private detector company
Former Lawrence Fire Department Fire Prevention Inspector David Blanchette will pay a $65,000 civil penalty for violating the conflict of interest law multiple times by using his official position to secure business for his private smoke and carbon monoxide detector maintenance and installation company, conducting inspections on behalf of the Fire Department on properties where his private business had done pre-inspection work, and through other actions. Blanchette signed a Disposition Agreement in which he admitted the violations and waived his right to a hearing.
State law requires local fire departments to inspect residential buildings upon sale or transfer to ensure that smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are placed in the proper locations and are working correctly. As the primary fire inspector in the Lawrence Fire Department’s Fire Prevention Division, Blanchette conducted most of these inspections for the city. During the period in which he served as Lawrence’s primary fire inspector, Blanchette also privately provided paid services relating to the installation and maintenance of smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.
Blanchette secured business for his private company through real estate agents he met while conducting Fire Department inspections and through subsequent word-of-mouth referrals. After scheduling a Fire Department inspection, real estate agents or sellers would privately hire Blanchette to “pre-inspect” properties to identify any issues that would arise during the Fire Department’s inspection. In most cases, Blanchette was hired to fix any problems identified by the pre-inspection. Blanchette guaranteed that they would pass the Fire Department’s inspection or that he would return on behalf of his private company to resolve any problems free of charge.
From 2018 through 2021, Blanchette privately conducted pre-inspections and/or installed smoke and carbon monoxide detectors at approximately 255 properties in Lawrence, taking in approximately $285,000. At most of these properties, Blanchette then conducted the Fire Department inspection and issued a certificate of compliance. In at least 18 instances, however, Blanchette issued a certificate of compliance without performing a Fire Department inspection.
The Lawrence Fire Chief twice instructed Blanchette not to work on behalf of his private business in Lawrence. For continuing to do so, Blanchette was suspended for one week without pay in December 2021, and retired thereafter.
The conflict of interest law prohibits municipal employees from doing paid work for anyone other than the municipality in relation to a matter in which the municipality is a party or has a direct and substantial interest. Blanchette violated this prohibition repeatedly by privately doing paid pre-inspections and installations while serving as an employee of the city of Lawrence.
By conducting Fire Department inspections and issuing certificates of compliance for properties where he had privately performed pre-inspections and/or installed detectors, Blanchette also violated the conflict of interest law’s prohibition against municipal employees participating officially in matters in which they know they have a financial interest.
In addition, by using his position in the Fire Department to generate private business and by issuing at least 18 certificates of compliance without conducting Fire Department inspections, Blanchette violated the conflict of interest law’s prohibition against public employees using their official positions to obtain valuable, unwarranted privileges for themselves or others.
“The conflict of interest law prohibits public employees from using their official positions to help their private businesses,” said Executive Director David A. Wilson. “This case is a reminder that public employees who seek private business opportunities through their public positions or while performing their public duties, particularly with those over whom they have official authority, risk violating the law and incurring substantial civil penalties.”
The Commission encourages public employees to contact the Commission’s Legal Division at 617-371-9500 for free advice if they have any questions regarding how the conflict of interest law may apply to them.