HAVERHILL — City Council voted unanimously last night to disavow a controversial letter signed in November by then-council president Robert Scatamacchia that was used by a company to win a provisional license to operate a medical marijuana dispensary in the city.
The council also voted to ask Attorney General Martha Coakley to investigate the tactics used by Healthy Pharms Inc. in obtaining Scatamacchia’s signature on the letter as well as several claims and statements in the company’s application for a dispensary that have since been disputed.
Scatamacchia has said he was tricked into signing the letter and that he did not know it would be used to help Healthy Pharms win a license or even that it would be included in the company’s state application.
The letter, which said the city does not oppose a dispensary, was signed by Scatamacchia on behalf of the full council, but other councilors said they knew nothing about it and did not agree with it.
James Jajuga, a registered lobbyist and former state senator who until recently worked for Healthy Pharms, initially asked Mayor James Fiorentini to sign the letter, but the mayor refused. Instead, the mayor had his aide David Van Dam call Scatamacchia and ask him to come to the mayor’s office to sign the letter, which Scatamacchia agreed to do. Jajuga is also a Methuen City Councilor and a former president of the Greater Haverhill Chamber of Commerce.
Scatamacchia said he believed the purpose of the letter was only to show the state that Haverhill had a temporary ban on medical marijuana dispensaries while it considered the best place to allow one in the city.
Jajuga told The Eagle-Tribune two weeks ago that a lawyer for Healthy Pharms wrote the letter, but that Fiorentini substantially rewrote it before Scatamacchia signed it.
“The letter is on City Council letterhead and it was given without an understanding of how it would be used,” said Councilor William Macek, who called for the council to formally retract the letter last night. “We should request that DPH investigate the veracity of the letter and re-score the (Healthy Pharms) application without the letter.”
In calling for the law enforcement probe, Scatamacchia reiterated that he believes Healthy Pharms acted immorally and possibly illegally in obtaining his signature on the letter.
“The term misled is an understatement,” Scatamacchia said of the circumstances that led to him signing the letter. “No one will even take credit for it. The company says it wrote part of it. The mayor says he wrote part. The whole process has been convoluted.”
Tim Coco, a Haverhill resident and License Commission member who ran unsuccessfully for state Senate two years ago, has also called for the attorney general to investigate Health Pharms’ dispensary application.
In a letter, Coco asked Coakley last week to look into whether Healthy Pharms “lacked candor” or engaged in misrepresentations in its filing with the Department of Public Health. Coco also asked Coakley and Secretary of State William Galvin to make a determination about whether paid lobbying activities on behalf of Healthy Pharms by Jajuga were properly disclosed.
In its 144-page application, Healthy Pharms claimed to have met with local officials who were supportive of a medical marijuana dispensary in Haverhill. However, three of those officials — Haverhill Planning Director William Pillsbury, Joseph Costanzo, administrator of the Merrimack Valley Regional Transit Authority and Dennis DiZoglio, executive director of the Merrimack Valley Planning Commission — said they never met with Healthy Pharms and disputed statements in the company’s application that they supported the proposed Haverhill dispensary.
Councilor Thomas Sullivan noted that similar questions about dubious tactics and alleged misstatements have cropped up in dispensary applications in other communities including Boston where companies have been awarded provisional licenses.
“I suspect we are going to see certain applicants will be denied licenses in the coming months, or at least made to reapply,” Sullivan said.
The council voted 8-0 to send separate letters to the attorney general and the state public health department, which is overseeing the licensing of dispensaries.
“There’s a cloud hanging over Haverhill and these letters will allow us to remove it and focus on the way forward,” Council President John Michitson said.
Councilors also agreed last night to invite a representative of Healthy Pharms to an upcoming council meeting.
“We need to have a meeting with them to address our concerns and have them give us a presentation on what exactly they propose to bring to our city,” Macek said.