Fallout from DiMasi verdict hits Greater Lowell

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.

6 Responses to Fallout from DiMasi verdict hits Greater Lowell

  1. Shawn says:

    Sure makes you think twice when you hear a politician say “we’ve cut to the bone,” and then you see public money being used in such a way.

    I heard the I.G. on Howie Carr’s show today, and many of his reports and letters are available to the publc at http://www.mass.gov/ig THis is really ugly. Makes you almost thank DiMasi for getting a $67,000 kickback.. because it all lead to an investigation of the theft of millions.

    Once again, there was a creation of a non-profit to use to funnel money away from where it belonged and into the hands of those who claim to be “public servants” but are really just serving themselves.

    And you wonder why so many people are cynical regarding government.

  2. Mimi says:

    Residents and voters in those towns should ask their respective School Committees “What were you doing while the Superintendents were asleep, or even worse were benefiting from this scheme.”

    I would urge all to read the IG reports.

  3. Right In Lowell says:

    It’s the ones who didn’t receive vital services due to these despicable people who are the real losers in this mess. Imagine what 10 million could have done for these kids.

  4. Shawn says:

    I’ve already started calling my School Committee. I want to see a meeting of the towns in the collaborative, a new board of directors (the current ones should be personally responsible), or a dissolving of the whole thing.

  5. Right In Lowell says:

    Good idea Shawn….you’d think they’d resign in shame for their lack of oversight. How does that much cash go unchecked? I’ll bet there’s a lot more going on here than we will ever know.

  6. jean says:

    I believe Shawn is correct ; just as the state had to take ovr Chelsea or Lawrence Public Schools the state should immeditely assume the control of the special ed collaborative. Total betrayal of trust in the staff would indicate to me, as a parent, that I would not want my child to spend one more day there. The betrayal of trus trickles through the system down from Barranco through the staff, the board, the superintendents and the school committees (whose jobis too burdensome to be able to over see every line item, warrant, or tuition payment.) But the school boards should have been asking “Why is the tuition rate going up?” It is like health care and hospitals…. the costs are skyrocketing. If I had time I would talk with every paent who has a child in the collaborative and encourage them to hire a lawyer and receive a private school placement until the entire collaborative is identified as “clean” of these conflicts of interest and the fraud in use of funds. Alternatively the State Department of Ed should run the collaboraive with staff that they bring in from outside todo the oversight. This has happened in public schools before (i.e., Lawrenc) where the state appointed an overseer on sight to do the workof the superintendent or asin Chelsea. There are various ways to do this. It is not cost efficient for each superintendent, school committee, parent to hire a lwyer and “wrestle” this out over a long timechain. The students need programs and services of quality and they deserve them today…. they can’t wait until Septembr because of the multiple and severe needs. The StateAuditor Bump has promised an audit late in summer but action should be more immediate from the State Department of Education to protect thechidren then sort out the legalramifications later as the individual is accused of moral turpitude and defends himself ; the student services can’t wait that long.