While the trial of former House Speaker Sal DiMasi last week came to a close, the jury verdict did not signal an end to the apparently wide-ranging investigation that led to that trial. Yesterday, the Globe reported that DiMasi’s convicted co-defendant, Richard McDonough, had, according to the Globe story which was based on a State Inspector General’s report, been given a “no-show, no-work job on a public payroll” by an outfit in Chelmsford called the Merrimack Education Collaborative.
Before I could fully digest the implications of that story, the Globe followed with another today that John Barranco, the former Executive Director of that outfit (called the Merrimack Special Education Collaborative in today’s story) and the man who had hired McDonough had, again according to the Globe story, “fleeced” the organization of more than $10 million. The Globe also wrote that according to the Inspector General, the oversight provided by the organization’s board of directors “may have been compromised by Barranco’s habit of appointing them to high paying positions.”
This story gets a bit confusing because there are two similarly named entities involved: Merrimack Education Center Inc and Merrimack Special Education Collaborative. The two have separate websites but Merrimack Education Center Inc seems to private-side portion of this operation. Merrimack Education Center Inc. owns the various properties listed for both organizations (40 Linnell Circle in Billerica, 114 Turnpike Road in Chelmsford, and 40, 80 and 84 Brick Kiln Road in Chelmsford. Merrimack Education Center Inc also is on file with the Secretary of State’s Corporation’s Division as an active Massachusetts corporation with Dr. Barranco holding all executive offices. The latest annual report conveniently includes a list of the organization’s 2009-10 Board of Directors which contains some familiar Greater Lowell names.
The Special Education Collaborative, on the other hand, appears to be some type of regional governmental or quasi-governmental agency. It does not appear as an independent corporation and how else would McDonough, as an employee, be considered to be a public employee? According to its website, “The Collaborative serves ten member schools districts – Billerica, Chelmsford, Dracut, Groton-Dunstable Regional, Nashoba ValleyTechnical High School, North Middlesex Regional, Tewksbury, Tyngsboro, Westford, and Whittier Regional Vocational Technical High School as well as more than 85 other districts.”
One interesting twist of today’s story is that Barranco had used the Center’s credit card for three hotel and ticket packages at the 2005 Kentucky Derby. The accommodations were used by Barranco and two unnamed members of the board of trustees. The hotel rooms were part of a block set aside for Cognos, the software vendor at the root of the DiMasi trial and the company from which the Collaborative had purchased $250,000 in software.
It would seem that the IG’s findings would provide much for prosecutors to explore but as folks in Lowell know, an Inspector General’s finding of wrong-doing doesn’t necessarily amount to anything.