Blue Cross Blue Shield exec walks out with $11 million severance package

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Folks in Massachusetts are boiling over the disclosure on Tuesday that the former chief executive of Blue Cross Blue Shield walked away with an $11 million separation package after he abruptly quit last year.

Cleve Killingsworth is smiling all the way to the bank with $11 million.

The non-profit company booked a massive $149 million loss in 2009, prompting the executive to resign his post.

The largest insurer in the state, serving 3 million customers, Blue Cross Blue Shield paid Cleve Killingsworth severance and bonuses totaling $8.2 million last year, and plans to pay an additional $1.8 million this year and $925,000 in 2012.

Ethan Rome of Health Care for America Now, a Washington D.C.  advocacy group said, “These numbers are unconscionable and people should be outraged.”

“If you lose $149 million and then you get paid $11 million for doing it, it is very clear to people where their health-care dollars are going. And it is not for health care.”

A spokesman for the company said the compensation agreement was signed in 2006 when times were much better and that during Killingsworth’s five-year tenure, three years were the best the company had ever experienced.

However, critics of the executive said that Killingsworth had a reputation for clashing with executives in the organization, spent too much time out of the office and had difficulty containing runaway costs.

Blue Cross Blue Shield board member Paul Guzzi said, “The Board understands and is sensitive to the community’s interest and concern about executive compensation. With the full support and urging of our new President and CEO Andrew Dreyfus, we have significantly reduced the CEO’s compensation and benefits.”

In the state capital, Sen. Mark Montigny, has pushed for legislation capping non-profit salaries at $500,000. “This is a nonprofit in a very sensitive industry that is unable to keep their costs under control.  I have a real concern about this kind of parachute. It’s disproportionate, and I don’t think it’s justifiable.

One union leader, John Zuccaro, who represent municipal workers called the news “troubling.”

“Our members are paying a 50 percent increase in their premiums this year, and have had their wages frozen,” Zuccaro said. “I don’t see that same type of partnership coming from the insurance companies.”

Killingsworth’s predecessor, William C. Van Faasen, who ran the company for 13 years, received a severance payment of $16.4 million when he retired in 2006.

Information from: Boston Herald

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Mass. Attorney General to up focus on public corruption

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Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley announced Wednesday she is creating a task force to focus on public corruption that has permeated the state’s political establishment.

Coakley says she intends to focus more on corruption in government by reorganizing her department.

The Democrat told the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce she will split an existing fraud and corruption unit in her office and refocus its workers. One new unit will focus on financial crimes, the other on public corruption.

The focus comes after the bribery convictions of former state Sen. Dianne Wilkerson and former Boston City Councilor Chuck Turner. Turner was sentenced Tuesday to three years in prison after U.S. District Court Judge Douglas Woodlock blasted what he termed the former councilor’s “ludicrously perjurious testimony” at trial.

Coakley told the business leaders attending the Chamber breakfast: “If we cannot ensure the integrity of our markets and of our government, then most of our efforts to rebuild our economy, at this stage, are undermined.”

Besides Wilkerson and Turner, former House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi is also facing federal corruption charges, following criminal prosecutions against his two predecessors.

And Coakley herself is investigating allegations of fraudulent hiring practices within the state Probation Department, the Middlesex sheriff’s office and with Massachusetts Lottery advertising during last fall’s gubernatorial campaign by independent candidate Timothy Cahill.

Coakley has been accused of ignoring many corruption cases, especially involving her fellow Democrats who compose most of the state government, but she has said that in many cases, the federal government has better law enforcement tools to prosecute the crimes.

She also highlighted for her Chamber audience the more than 40 public corruption cases brought by her office – against members of both parties – and her focus on falsified training by EMTs seeking extra pay; false workers compensation and unemployment claims; and her successful recovery of more than $250 million during the past four years through Medicaid fraud prosecutions.

Coakley said both of the new units will be staffed with prosecutors trained in public corruption techniques, as well as the white-collar crime that will be targeted by the financial crimes unit.

The attorney general encouraged business leaders to cooperate with her efforts by turning in employees suspected of embezzlement, hacking and theft of company secrets.

“Sometimes it makes sense for you, in your businesses, to send a line to your employees, to send the message, that we do not take this lightly, we are not just going to write it off after we fire you – and, by the way, send you out in the world so you can go do it someplace else at another business,” she said.

Coakley kicked off her speech with a reference to the high-profile U.S. Senate race she lost a year ago to Republican Scott Brown. Noting she had been re-elected in November and sworn in last week, Coakley quipped that “twice now in the past year, the voters have said they want me to stay as attorney general.”

She also provoked murmurs as she repeatedly highlighted the good-citizenship theme highlighted in regular Citizens Bank television ads – as she stood in front of a Bank of America banner in recognition of its sponsorship of the breakfast.

Source: The Associated Press

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Former police officer caught stealing groceries, hired by sheriff’s department

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The Norfolk County Sheriff’s office has confirmed that it hired a former Walpole, Mass. police officer, who resigned from the department after he was accused of blatantly stealing groceries from a local Stop & Shop market.

In April 2009, David Haddigan was placed on administrative leave from the Walpole Police Department, after authorities said he repeatedly filled up shopping carts with food while in uniform, and left without paying. Store employees did not stop or report him, for fear of retaliation. Other officers in the department learned of his actions, and turned him in.

Haddigan resigned from the force on July 1, 2009 after a number of meetings with police and town leaders, during which he was confrontational and uncooperative.

Haddigan could have afforded to pay for the groceries, having earned a total of $129,000 in 2008.

A sheriff’s department spokesman, David Weber, released a statement saying they were well aware of the alleged thefts before they hired Haddigan. “His eight years of service as a correction officer with the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office prior to working in Walpole demonstrated to us that he has the ability to perform this job,” the statement read. “Mr. Haddigan has a master’s degree in criminal justice and he underwent the same evaluation and assessment procedures that all of our recruits undergo prior to their appearance into the academy.”

Despite the alleged crimes, Haddigan did not face criminal charges after his co-workers reported the thefts.

Following Haddigan’s resignation, Walpole’s Police Chief, Richard Stillman, said that it was better for Haddigan to quit, rather than pursue legal action against the officer and incur a lengthy and costly battle in courts and with the police union. “That was the best thing for the department. He was removed and he’ll never be a police officer again.”

That is, until 2011.

Wicked Local Walpole

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Boston politician Chuck Turner sentenced to 3 years behind bars for bribery

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Former Boston Councilor Chuck Turner, who was convicted in October for taking a $1,000 bribe from an undercover FBI agent in 2008, was sentenced today to three years in prison by U.S. District Judge Douglas P. Woodlock.

Turner, 70, could have received a sentence for as much as 35 years, although his defense team asked for no-prison sentence, pointing to his more than 40 years of community service.

Boston Councilor Chuck Turner was sentenced today to 3 years in prison for taking a $1,000 bribe to help secure a liquor license. (photo The Boston Herald)

Turner was caught in an FBI sting, during which he was recorded on video taking a $1,000 bribe from businessman-turned-FBI informant Ronald Wilburn. During his trial, Turner said he didn’t remember if he looked at the cash changing hands and referred to it as a “preacher’s handshake.”

Around the same time, another prominent African American politician was also taken down by Wilburn and the FBI. Former State Senator Diane Wilkerson took $23,500 in bribes for agreeing to help Wilburn obtain a liquor license for a nightclub he was purportedly planning, and for her influence on a property development deal.

Wilkerson pleaded guilty to eight counts of attempted extortion and was sentenced two weeks ago to 3 ½ years in prison.

The Harvard-educated Turner began his career in politics as a community activist in Boston’s South End, fighting for better housing conditions for poor residents. He was first elected to the Boston City Council in 1999 running on the Green-Rainbow ticket, and representing District 7.

Even though he was under indictment for bribery when he ran for re-election in 2009, his popularity with voters helped him easily retain his seat.

After a jury convicted him of bribery, the city council voted him out of his seat earlier this month, but Turner refused to go quietly. Turner filed a civil lawsuit against the city claiming it had no authority to remove him from office.

U.S. Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz said of the sentencing, “Mr. Turner was sentenced to prison today because of the choices he made and the actions he took during the course of this case. It is the obligation of every elected official to be ethical and honest, and in this case, Mr. Turner was neither. Public corruption is more than a violation of the law, it erodes the public’s trust in the very system that was designed to protect us.”

In addition to the prison sentence, the Judge Woodlock ordered Turner to return the $1,000 bribe monies.

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Mass. House leader singled out in pay-for-play jobs investigation

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In the wake of the resignation by two top officials in the Massachusetts Probation Department, following a report that the department regularly handed out jobs as political favors, a story in the Boston Globe on Sunday says that one of the most active politicians in the pay-for-play scheme was Speaker of the House, Rep. Robert A. DeLeo.

Mass. House speaker Robert A. DeLeo harshly criticized the corrupt hiring practices in the state's probation department, but his relatives and political supporters were among its beneficiaries.

A report issued on Nov. 18 by special counsel Paul F. Ware, following an investigation into the department’s hiring practices, said that the probation department was riddled with fraud and “systemic corruption.”

The Ware report said that important jobs were handed out as rewards to campaign donors, after politicians sent letters of recommendation to Probation Commissioner John J. O’Brien asking him to intercede on the applicant’s behalf. Thousands of phony job interviews were held to create the illusion of an open hiring process, even though jobs had been already committed to the politically connected.

O’Brien abruptly quit on Dec. 30 in advance of a disciplinary hearing that would have likely terminated his employment. On Jan. 19, the department’s second in command, Elizabeth V. Tavares quit a day before she was scheduled for a disciplinary hearing. Two other top officials, deputy commissioner Francis M. Wall and legal counsel Christopher J. Bulger, are currently on paid administrative leave, pending hearings on their involvement in the hiring practices.

Recent comments by Speaker DeLeo suggest that he was unaware of the hiring practices, and once he learned of them from the Ware report, he became a vocal critic of the practice. “We will make clear that all public servants must not only be qualified for their jobs; they must be the most qualified people for their jobs,’’ DeLeo said earlier in January in his speech to the House after being elected to a second term as speaker. He promised to sponsor reform legislation within weeks.

Although the Ware report mostly detailed alleged improprieties of probation department officials, it mentions DeLeo by name 41 times.

Despite his current stance against using jobs as political favors, DeLeo’s record shows that he was one of the most notable offenders, according to the Globe.

A job candidate that DeLeo recommended in 2005, for the position of assistant chief probation officer at the Malden District Court, was one of the least experienced, and the only one of 39 applicants that did not have any basic training, including a mandatory two-week training program or even an employee manual.

After she was awarded the promotion, another department employee filed a grievance questioning her qualifications for the position, which led an arbitrator to order the department to re-open the search for the position or provide additional training for her.

Marisa Gogliandro-Vaughan openly told friends that she had a close relationship with DeLeo and once referred to him as her “godfather.” She also made donations to his election campaign as early as 2002.

DeLeo claims he doesn’t recall recommending Gogliandro-Vaughn, although he said he may have. He claims that she was simply a former resident of his district and “if she received a recommendation, and if that recommendation allowed someone who was less qualified to skip over a candidate who was more qualified, that was certainly not his intent.”

Some of the other questionable hirings reported by the Globe include:

  • DeLeo helped his longtime girlfriend get hired at the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority, where she is a secretary.
  • DeLeo helped his cousin, Ralph DeLeo, get a job at the state’s Executive Office of Administration and Finance after Ralph and his father each contributed $500 to DeLeo’s election campaign.
  • At the Probation Department, at least 15 people who either donated at least $850 to his campaign or were recommended by his office were given jobs or promotions since 2005. One of those recommended was DeLeo’s godson, now the state’s youngest chief probation officer.

DeLeo had plenty of contact with probation department officials as head of the House’s Ways and Means Committee beginning in 2005, and was responsible for recommending funding expenditures for the department. His influence over the department’s annual budget gave administrators such as O’Brien and Tavares plenty of reasons to keep him happy.

Critics say that the way that O’Brien repaid DeLeo’s generosity with his departmental budget requests, was by fulfilling all of DeLeo’s job recommendations.

DeLeo also brushed off the charges that his former deputy, Rep. Thomas M. Petrolati, reportedly helped over 100 campaign workers get jobs in the probation department. DeLeo claims he didn’t look at it as an ethics issue, rather “What I looked at it was an issue wherein a representative, again in terms of trying to help a constituent, you know, made a recommendation for a job . . . I’m not sure if that falls under any of our ethical rules as being not proper.’’

The Boston Globe

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Boston judge tosses evidence on paroled twice-convicted killer, caught with cash from robbery

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A judge in Boston ruled that police did not have probable cause in the arrest of a twice-convicted killer, forcing prosecutors to drop weapons and robbery charges against him. The ruling came only a few days after paroled “triple-lifer” Dominic Cinelli allegedly gunned down and killed police officer John “Jack” McQuire in suburban Woburn.

Gerald Hill, 48, was convicted of second degree murder in 1978, while awaiting trial on a fatal 1977 stabbing incident. He was released from prison on parole in Sept. 2009.

On November 9, 2009, Hill was spotted by police officer George Dias, running erratically down a street with a shopping bag and dodging cars, when he jumped in the back of a taxi and slumped down.

Dias left his post upon hearing of a robbery at the Boston Cab Co. and possible shots fired — when he spotted Hill. Dias approached the taxi with two backup officers, at which time Hill briefly pulled a gun on the officers. In the back of the taxi with Hill was $21,000 in cash, plastic zip ties and two handguns.

In his ruling, Judge Mitchell H. Kaplan found that Dias was acting on a “hunch” when he decided to pursue Hill for “some manner of illicit conduct that warranted further investigation, but did not have a reasonable suspicion based on specific facts.”

Without being able to use any of the evidence, Suffolk County prosecutors decided to drop the case.

A police spokesperson said “We respect the judge’s decision, but clearly the officer had excellent instincts and did commendable work.”

Even though the charges were tossed out, Hill remains in jail on separate charges of parole violation.

Boston Herald

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Mayoral aide gets probation for dealing OxyContin and cocaine

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A former aide to Boston’s Mayor Thomas M. Menino was spared a potential lengthy prison sentence yesterday, when his lawyers and politically-connected supporters convinced the judge he was a changed man.

John M. Forbes, 31, a community coordinator for East Boston in city hall, was arrested in December 2009 for selling OxyContin pills from his kitchen, and attempting to sell 10 ounces of cocaine in an undercover transaction. Forbes said that his life was out of control, thanks to a 5 pill-per-day OxyContin addiction.

The prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey M. Cohen, argued for a 51-month prison sentence, the same punishment that was given to a co-defendant, Lawrence R. Taylor. Cohen said that Forbes violated the public trust by representing city hall by day, and then selling drugs at night from his home — in front of his own children.

After he was arrested, he refused to cooperate with authorities, said Cohen.

Forbes’s attorney Rosemary Scapicchio, told  Judge Richard G. Stearns that Forbes was rehabilitated by his 128-day stay at a drug treatment center, and asked for leniency. She said he “can be a source of hope for others” and that he planned to help others fight their addiction.

Prominent politicians, including ex-Senate president Robert Travaglini and city councilor Sal LaMattina, were among supporters that lobbied the judge for a non-prison sentence.

He faced a maximum sentence of up to 20 years in prison. He was sentenced to five years probation and 1,800 hours of community service.

The Boston Herald

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