After what seemed like an excruciatingly long investigation into former Chelsea Housing Authority (CHA) Director Michael McLaughlin’s activities, he was finally charged last Thursday by U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz – and there are clear signs that he might be working out a plea agreement in the case.
And if he is ready to take a plea agreement, many are quietly wondering what exactly he gave up to get leniency in a case so egregious that federal lawmakers have already re-written laws to prevent such future abuses.
The federal government issued an Information charging document last week alleging that McLaughlin, 67, of Dracut, had falsely reported his salary for three years in annual budgets required by the federal Housing and Urban Development (HUD) agency and the state Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD). In one of those years, he is alleged to have underreported his total compensation by $160,000.
The filing against McLaughlin was unique in that he was not indicted on the charges, as many have thought he would be due to the apparently egregiousness of the matter. However, instead an alternate route was taken in charging McLaughlin – an Information. An Information is a charging document used alternatively to an indictment, and one that is commonly used in government corruptions cases when a plea agreement is being worked out or is expected eventually.
McLaughlin’s attorney, Thomas Hoopes of Boston, told the Record that they preferred not to comment on the case right now – as they have done with other members of the media.
Were McLaughlin to take a plea deal in the case, many wonder what he has shared in exchange to get the deal. From the filed Information document, his case doesn’t seem too hard to prove – as investigators simply compared annual reports to McLaughlin’s filed W-2 tax documents. The discrepancies appear rather obvious, compounded with the fact that he admitted to the deed in the Boston Globe when the story broke in 2011.
Has McLaughlin broke open the entire case and his deep political connections, which include Lt. Gov. Tim Murray?
Has he shared information about potentially corrupt federal and state housing staffers who might have looked the other way for years?
Those are the questions being asked, and those questions will likely not be answered for many months – if ever.
The charges McLaughlin faces carry a maximum of 20 years in prison, followed by three years of probation and a $250,000 fine per count.
The Information alleges that McLaughlin falsely stated that his budgeted annual salary was $151,945, when he knew that his actual salary for FY 2008 was at least $242,908 under his existing contract. It is further alleged that McLaughlin made the same kind of concealment of his rising salary in the ensuing three years. Specifically, in FY 2009 McLaughlin falsely reported that his budgeted annual salary was $156,503, when he knew that his actual salary was at least $267,199 under his existing contract and his total compensation was at least $292,902, as reflected in his 2008 W-2. Then in FY 2010, McLaughlin falsely reported that his budgeted annual salary was $160,415, when he knew that his actual salary was at least $275,215 under his existing contract and his total compensation was at least $324,896, as reflected in his 2009 W-2. In FY 2011 McLaughlin falsely reported that his budgeted annual salary was $160,415, when he knew that his actual salary was at least $283,471 under his existing contract and his total compensation was at least $324,896, as reflected in his 2009 W-2.
Officials were clear in saying that the above charges were only federal charges, and that state Attorney General Martha Coakley could also file separate charges on the state level.
City Manager Jay Ash said he believed that McLaughlin was doing a good job based on numerous audits, and was just one of many who were fooled by the former director.
“I continue to be very disturbed with all the information that’s coming out about what McLaughlin did during his tenure at the housing authority,” said Ash. “I believed him to be a qualified manager and there were very positive audits to back that up, both publicly done and privately. I’m alarmed at the money diverted from local residents. I’m hopeful the investigating authorities will get to the bottom of everything.”
Violations letter circulated
Just one day after Michael McLaughlin was charged in federal court, state officials circulated a letter from the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance (OCPF) detailing campaign finance violations between McLaughlin, other former CHA officials and Lt. Gov. Tim Murray.
The September 2012 letter came from the OCPF and was forwarded to Attorney General Martha Coakley’s office for further investigation. It was first reported in the Boston Herald, but the Record has since obtained a copy of the letter.
“We have concluded there is evidence of violations during 2008-2011 of the Massachusetts Campaign Finance law, warranting referral of the matter to the Office of Attorney General,” read the letter. “Specifically, the evidence indicates that Michael McLaughlin and James McNichols, former employees of the Chelsea Housing Authority, did not comply with (sections of the law) prohibiting political fundraising by public employees and prohibiting political fundraising in public buildings.
“The evidence also indicates that McLaughlin, Lt. Gov. Tim Murray and the Citizens Committee to Elect Tim Murray did not comply with (parts of the law) which prohibit the solicitation or receipt of contributions not raised in according with the Campaign Finance Law,” continued the letter.
It also indicated that all charged with violations had requested a hearing on the matter, minus McLaughlin.
The letter and the charges against McLaughlin came out just days after Murray announced he would not run for governor in 2014 – maintaining it was a family-based decision.