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Ethics panel accuses state auditor of violating the law

The commission said Auditor A. Joseph DeNucci ordered his office to hire his 75-year-old cousin as a fraud examiner. The commission said Auditor A. Joseph DeNucci ordered his office to hire his 75-year-old cousin as a fraud examiner.
By Martin Finucane
Globe Staff / September 10, 2010

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The State Ethics Commission alleged yesterday that state Auditor A. Joseph DeNucci violated state conflict-of-interest law by directing his office to hire his 75-year-old cousin in 2008.

DeNucci hired Gaetano S. Spezzano as a fraud examiner even though Spezzano was not qualified for the post and did not complete the second page of a two-page job application, the commission alleged.

Ethics regulators also said that there was no such position at the time and that no other candidates were considered.

Spezzano had a degree in music and had previously been a professional jazz musician and a salesman for a meat company, the commission said.

“Spezzano did not have the skills or knowledge required of a fraud examiner,’’ the commission alleged.

In a show-cause order issued yesterday, the commission’s enforcement division said there was “reasonable cause’’ to believe that DeNucci violated ethics laws, and asked the full commission to rule on the case. The commission is expected to schedule a public hearing within 90 days.

In a statement, DeNucci, who is not running for reelection, said: “I am extremely proud of the work of the state auditor’s office. Every day, the quality of our work speaks for itself and improves the operations of state government.’’

DeNucci’s lawyer, Thomas R. Kiley, added that DeNucci is “a high achiever from an unconventional background. He has done an exemplary job and he has not and he does not always hire people with the most conventional backgrounds, but his people always do the job.’’

Kiley also argued that “the task of hiring is his, it’s reviewable by the people every four years and . . . it is [up] to the auditor and not the Ethics Commission to determine who is and who is not qualified for the jobs within his office.’’

Spezzano went on sick leave in December 2009 from the $40,545-a-year job. In April 2010, after he had used all of his sick leave, his employment was terminated, according to the commission.

DeNucci also took heat last month for giving his staff a 5 percent raise amid layoffs in the state workforce.

The state Republican Party, which is hoping to win the auditor’s race this fall, issued a statement yesterday criticizing DeNucci’s “patronage hiring,’’ saying, “Voters know there’s an urgent need to change the status quo on Beacon Hill.’’

Martin Finucane can be reached at mfinucane@globe.com.