By Paul Tennant
---- — BOSTON — Michael McLaughlin, a former Methuen town manager who was paid $360,000 a year to run the Chelsea Housing Authority before resigning under fire, has been indicted again, this time on state charges of illegally seeking campaign donations for former Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray.
McLaughlin, 67, was indicted yesterday by a Suffolk County grand jury on four counts of unlawful solicitation by a public employee, four counts of solicitation in a public building and four counts of conspiracy to solicit in a public building.
McLaughlin, who was town manager from 1990 to 1992, then quit under pressure, was sentenced last month to three years in prison after pleading guilty to federal charges of falsely reporting his income. Gov. Deval Patrick pressured McLaughlin and the Chelsea Housing Authority board members to resign in 2011 after the director’s huge salary was revealed.
Murray, who resigned as lieutenant governor earlier this year and now heads the Worcester Chamber of Commerce, yesterday agreed to give back $50,000 in illegal contributions. The money came from fundraising events that McLaughlin helped arrange in Methuen between 2008 and 2010 as well as gatherings that a state worker put together in the Worcester area.
Murray also agreed to pay a civil penalty of $80,000. Ten-thousand dollars of that will come out of his own pocket.
“Talk about a slap on the wrist,” state Rep. James Lyons, R-Andover, said. Lyons said one-party rule in Massachusetts has contributed to a political culture that allowed McLaughlin to keep getting his salary raised without oversight.
The dominance of the Democratic Party, he said, has permitted members of the state’s political establishment “to protect their own.” Murray, who had planned to run for governor and was aggressively raising money for that quest, pulled himself out of the race.
Lyons said it’s outrageous that Murray is being allowed to pay the bulk of the civil penalty, $70,000, out of his campaign fund.
Former state Sen. James Jajuga of Methuen pointed out that the indictment against McLaughlin is merely an allegation — not a conviction.
Jajuga also noted that McLaughlin has not been accused of stealing anything. McLaughlin’s indictment and Murray’s agreement to pay a large civil penalty “feed into the cynicism” that people have about politicians, Jajuga said.
Most people in public life, he said, “do the right thing,” Regarding Murray’s relationship with McLaughlin, Jajuga said, “He feels he was duped.”
McLaughlin asked Chelsea Housing Authority workers to attend fundraisers for Murray and directed one of them to collect donations and send out invitations, according to state Attorney General Martha Coakley.
“It is important that campaign finance laws be adhered to,” said former Methuen Mayor William Manzi, now the town manager of Seabrook, N.H. The actions taken against McLaughlin and Murray show that the attorney general will enforce those laws, he added.