By J.J. Huggins
METHUEN — The school custodian who was fired after pleading guilty to a gambling charge denies booking bets on the job.
Then Superintendent Jeanne Whitten fired Eugene Casey in 2007, accusing him of working on an illegal gambling operation while on duty as a school custodian.
Casey appealed to the state Civil Service Commission, and the commission voted 3-2 in November to amend his firing to a one-year suspension without pay, thus allowing him to return to work. The commission did not allow him to collect back pay.
The School Department is now appealing the decision that would allow Casey to return to work.
"We believe that the termination was absolutely justified and there was no substantial findings on the record from civil service that tells me otherwise," said City Solicitor Peter McQuillan.
Meanwhile, Casey is appealing the one-year suspension and the decision to forbid him from collecting back pay. Casey also seeks sick time and vacation time, according to court documents.
The custodian has not returned to work yet.
"Until the court rules on our petition for judicial review, he is not returning to work in Methuen at this time — until they rule," said Casey's attorney, Michael Manzi Sr.
Manzi filed a response to the city's Superior Court appeal and repeatedly denied that Casey booked bets "during the course of performing his duties" at the Comprehensive Grammar School. He called upon the School Department to prove that he did.
Casey was one of 24 men indicted in 2006 for participating in an illegal gaming ring handling up to $500,000 in wagers a week. However, Manzi denied in court papers that Casey was part of a "widespread gambling organization," and Manzi called upon the School Department to prove that Casey was.
Casey pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor offense of using a telephone for gambling. He received two years of probation and was fined $2,000.
The custodian was a low-level "clerk" paid $500 to $700 a week. He disseminated betting lines on games, took in bets and registered bets via phone, the civil service decision said.
Civil Service Commissioner Daniel Henderson accepted Whitten's testimony that Casey conducted gambling business at his school job, but he said Whitten didn't prove she had just cause to fire Casey. Henderson said "there was no evidence that established whether he was on a break" when Casey took calls related to gambling, "nor was there evidence to establish that his calls interfered in any way with his custodial duties."
However, Henderson said Casey deserved discipline, hence the one-year suspension, because he didn't consider the consequences his actions would have on the school district, "including notoriety or embarrassment."
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