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February 20, 2013

McLaughlin's deal means he helps in other probes

BOSTON — Wearing a suit and his hair in a mullet, ex-Methuen Town Manager Michael McLaughlin pleaded guilty yesterday to four counts of deliberately hiding his bloated salary as director of the Chelsea Housing Authority from federal regulators.

Michael McLaughlin, 67, of Dracut, was charged last month with knowingly concealing his salary in annual housing authority budgets from 2008 to 2011 and submitting the false figures to state and federal regulators.

During his plea hearing in federal court yesterday, McLaughlin admitted he had falsely reported his annual salary as $160,415 in 2011, when his actual salary was at least $283,471 and his total compensation was at least $324,896. He also admitted under-reporting his salary in 2008, 2009 and 2010.

The plea agreement requires McLaughlin to cooperate with law enforcement, and includes a provision where prosecutors can recommend a sentence below the sentencing guidelines if McLaughlin provides “substantial assistance” in a prosecution. The agreement does not name any other potential targets of the investigation.

U.S. District Judge Douglas Woodlock scheduled sentencing for May 14, and informed McLaughlin that he would not substitute the advice of defense counsel or prosecutors for his own discretion on sentencing. Woodlock said that each count carries a maximum sentence of 20 years, three years of supervised release and a $250,000 fine.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Theodore Merritt said McLaughlin falsely stated his salaries in annual budgets that were approved by the housing authority’s board of commissioners with “very little, if any, review.” Those budgets were submitted to the state Department of Housing and Community Development and the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Merritt said McLaughlin was hired in 2000 with a starting salary of $77,500. By the time he resigned in 2011, his salary was $360,000, a figure Merritt called “exorbitant” when compared with the salaries of other public housing authority directors. McLaughlin was the fifth-highest paid housing director in the country, even though he supervised just 900 housing units, Merritt said.

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