Sheriff Tompkins created paid state job for his niece and had subordinate employees run personal errands for him during their paid public work hours
Suffolk County Sheriff Steven Tompkins has paid a $12,300 civil penalty for violating the conflict of interest law by creating a paid position in the Sheriff’s Department for his niece and by repeatedly asking his subordinates to do personal errands for him. Tompkins signed a Disposition Agreement in which he admitted to the violations and waived his right to a hearing.
Shortly after his wife’s death in October 2016, Tompkins’ adult niece moved into his residence in Massachusetts to help care for his two minor children. In November 2016, Tompkins used his position as Sheriff to create a $45,000 per year position in the Sheriff’s Department’s External Affairs Division for his niece, which facilitated her remaining in Massachusetts to assist him with childcare. The position was not posted. The Division’s chief had not requested that any such position be filled, nor had she interviewed Tompkins’ niece or reviewed her resume. Until resigning at the end of 2018, Tompkins’ niece routinely left work during normal business hours one or two times per week with his approval to transport one of his children.
On multiple occasions during 2014-2022, Tompkins asked subordinate Sheriff’s Department employees other than his niece to assist him personally by caring for and transporting his children and by doing other personal errands for him during their paid public work hours. Tompkins’ requests violated the conflict of interest law’s prohibition against public employees requesting or receiving anything of substantial value that is not authorized by law and is given to them because of their official position. Tompkins’ subordinates assisted him with his personal matters because of his position as Sheriff, their assistance was substantially valuable, and his request and receipt of their assistance was not authorized by law.
In addition, by creating the paid state position which enabled his niece to stay in Massachusetts to assist him with the care of his children, financially benefitting both himself and his niece, Tompkins violated the conflict of interest law’s prohibition against public employees using their official positions to obtain for themselves or others substantially valuable unwarranted privileges. Tompkins also violated this prohibition by requesting and allowing members of his staff to provide him with substantially valuable assistance with his private matters during their paid public work hours.
Finally, Tompkins violated the conflict of interest law’s prohibition against public employees acting in ways that would cause a reasonable person to doubt their fairness in the performance of their official duties, as Tompkins’ actions would cause a reasonable person to conclude that his niece and the other subordinates who did his personal errands during their state work hours could improperly influence him or unduly enjoy his favor as Sheriff.
This is the second civil penalty Tompkins has paid for violating the conflict of interest law. In 2015, Tompkins signed a Disposition Agreement with the Commission and paid a $2,500 civil penalty for invoking his position as Sheriff when requesting store owners to remove his election opponent’s campaign signs.
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.