SALISBURY — While selectmen this week said they are pleased to see the town proceeding with larceny charges against former police Chief David L'Esperance, at least one board member raised questions of what became of the original criminal allegations that started the investigation.
L'Esperance, 51, was arraigned last week on two felony and two misdemeanor counts of larceny. Three of the charges stem from allegations he stole items from two separate crime scenes, and the fourth charge involves the misappropriation of a truck donated to the town.
But to date, no charges have been lodged against L'Esperance in connection to allegations that he traded drugs for sex with women who had criminal histories.
And Selectman Fred Knowles said what's more frustrating is that the FBI and attorney general's office won't comment on whether they are investigating L'Esperance at all.
At their meeting Monday night, selectmen thanked Town Manager Neil Harrington and the Police Department for their work compiling evidence needed to arrest L'Esperance. A warrant for the former chief was issued July 8, and L'Esperance turned himself into Salisbury police the following day. He was arraigned July 11 and is due back in Newburyport District Court Aug. 8 for a pretrial hearing.
Many in Salisbury, including Harrington and selectmen, have been surprised that other law enforcement agencies have failed to act after allegations of criminal behavior were made against L'Esperance late last year.
After the allegations first surfaced, Harrington hired former Salem police Chief Robert St. Pierre to conduct a review of the Police Department during L'Esperance's four-year tenure. St. Pierre's scathing report, released Jan. 24, included allegations of administrative mismanagement as well as additional information on the drugs-for-sex accusations made against L'Esperance by individuals who were under arrest at the time and have since been convicted as part of a multi-town theft ring.
By the time St. Pierre's initial report was issued, L'Esperance had already retired from police work, effectively resigning as Salisbury's chief.
A New Hampshire police department is said to have sent copies of the original allegations against L'Esperance to the FBI and legal officials in New Hampshire, where the alleged criminal behavior took place.
Harrington also sent copies of St. Pierre's initial report to law enforcement agencies in Massachusetts, including the offices of the attorney general and Essex County district attorney as well as the Massachusetts Board of Bar Overseers, which investigates charges against attorneys. L'Esperance, a former Seabrook resident now living in Lynn, has been an attorney since 2003.
It was only after Salisbury hired St. Pierre to do a follow-up investigation on information obtained during his first review that enough evidence resulted for police to issue a warrant for L'Esperance's arrest.
"The public expectation after the (first) report came out was that there would be swift judgment," Harrington said. "That's not how it works."
Many have felt the scandal has not only tainted L'Esperance's image, but that of the town's as well.
But Harrington said the town doesn't have authority on whether charges are brought against L'Esperance on the original allegations. He said all he can do is pass on information to those who can take action.
The town manager is forwarding the larceny arrest and other information to the Essex Retirement Board, which is reviewing L'Esperance's request to initiate his pension for his 20-plus years as a police officer in Massachusetts.
Harrington has been in contact with the retirement board, which has resulted in the postponement of two hearings on L'Esperance's pension application.
"The town has nothing to do with (L'Esperance) getting his pension, but the town is weighing in and keeping (the retirement board) up to speed," Harrington told selectmen Monday night.
Based on his age, years of service and former salary, L'Esperance is seeking a nearly $69,000 pension from the Essex Regional Retirement System.
In a previous interview, Essex Regional Retirement System executive director Chuck Kostro said that according to Section 15, Chapter 32, of state law, there are reasons why a member of the retirement system could be denied a pension.
"A person could lose his or her pension if convicted of a crime related to dereliction of duty or convicted of a crime of moral turpitude," Kostro said. "If a person lost his or her pension, the person would be refunded the money he or she contributed into the system without interest. That's state law."
Kostro said hearings on pension applications are not standard procedure, but the retirement system board must vote to approve pensions before they are received.
Selectman Henry Richenburg said he hopes the state Board of Bar Overseers looks into whether L'Esperance should be allowed to continue practicing law.
Although L'Esperance closed his small law practice in Lynn when he became Salisbury's police chief in 2006, he reopened it in recent months and has taken on clients.