EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

February 16, 2013

McLaughlin to plead guilty

Former Methuen town manager charged with under-reporting his salary

From staff and wire reports
The Eagle-Tribune

---- — BOSTON — Former Methuen town manager and director of the Chelsea Housing Authority Michael McLaughlin of Dracut plans to plead guilty to four federal counts of falsely reporting his salary.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office charged McLaughlin, 67, last month with knowingly concealing his salary in annual housing authority budgets from 2008 to 2011 and submitting them to state and federal housing regulators.

Authorities allege that in Fiscal Year 2011, McLaughlin reported his annual salary as $160,415, when his actual salary was at least $283,471 and his total compensation was at least $324,896. He is also accused of falsely reporting his income in 2008, 2009 and 2010.

McLaughlin was forced to resign in November 2011, when Gov. Deval Patrick froze the assets of the agency after the Boston Globe reported McLaughlin’s under-reporting of his salary.

Under state law, public employ­ees are liable to forfeit pensions if convicted of crimes in the performance of their ­duties. Currently McLaughlin’s pension is estimated at $278,000 a year, according to the Boston Globe.

A plea agreement filed in court Friday says McLaughlin will plead guilty to all four charges. A hearing is scheduled Tuesday in U.S. District Court.

If convicted of the charges, McLaughlin could receive a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, followed by three years of supervised release and a fine of up to $250,000 on each count.

McLaughlin has had a long and controversial career in local politics, before his two-year stint as Methuen town manager in the early ’90s.

“In all my life in politics, from the Lowell City Council to the U.S. Senate, no one worries me more than Michael McLaughlin,” the late-U.S. Sen. Paul Tsongas, a longtime McLaughlin adversary, once said.

In 1970, McLaughlin, then just 24, was elected state representative. Five years later, came his first brush with the law when the Middlesex District Attorney’s office investigated him for allegedly pressuring Billerica businesses into making campaign contributions while he was a state representative. The case was eventually dismissed.

In 1976, he was elected to the Middlesex County Commission, which ran courts, jails, hospitals and work programs. Then two years later, he was called to testify before a grand jury on a county commissioner’s office job-selling scandal.

Repeatedly pleading the Fifth Amendment, McLaughlin refused to answer questions about his relationship with his aides and his approval of two courthouse janitor jobs for relatives of high-ranking Boston gangsters, including the nephew of former Boston mafia boss Gennaro Angiulo. McLaughlin was never charged in the scandal, but his aide was eventually convicted.

In 1979, McLaughlin became executive director of the Somerville Housing Authority. He would hold the position, in addition to his role as county commissioner, until 1985.

The state Attorney General investigated him in 1980 for allegedly packing the Middlesex County ballot with straw candidates to increase his changes of winning. McLaughlin denied the allegations and the investigation was later dropped.

McLaughlin went on to direct the Lowell Housing Authority in 1986. A year later, authorities tape-recorded at least nine conversations between McLaughlin and reputed mobster John R. “Jackie” McDermott, a bookmaker whose phone was wire-tapped as part of a state police and FBI investigation into organized crime in Lowell.

McLaughlin, who was in the running for city manager at the time, allegedly asked McDermott to pressure city councilors into picking him for the job.

McLaughlin, passed over for the Lowell manager job, was never charged with wrongdoing for his involvement with McDermott. However, in 1990, Lowell Housing Authority board members accused him of politicizing the authority and bought out the remainder of his contract.

He came to Methuen as town manager in February 1990, and within weeks angry residents were calling for his resignation.

Within a month, town councilors had ordered a police investigation into his background and formed a subcommittee to explore a contract buyout. In 1991, he came within a single vote of being fired after councilors derided him as “power hungry” and a “ruthless politician.”

McLaughlin eventually resigned under pressure from the town council in October 1992.

Though McLaughlin has been investigated for wrongdoing numerous times he has never been indicted or found guilty until the current charges were brought against him.

Attorney General Martha Coakley has said her office is also pursuing a criminal investigation that has focused, in part, on McLaughlin’s fundraising for Lieutenant Governor Timothy P. Murray.

His lawyer, Thomas Hoopes, did not immediately return a call seeking comment.