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Ex-Chelsea housing chief’s son is fired

Held $60,000 job on Appeals Board

By Andrea Estes
Globe Staff / December 2, 2011
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The son of the embattled former Chelsea Housing Authority executive director Michael E. McLaughlin was fired yesterday from his $60,000-a-year job on the state Board of Appeals, which sources said he landed with the help of Lieutenant Governor Timothy P. Murray.

Matthew McLaughlin, who was referred for the board position by Murray in 2008, was fired after an internal investigation found that he was absent when he said he was at work, according to sources briefed on his termination.

McLaughlin, 41, was found to have falsified at least one time sheet, said the sources. He also said he was sometimes out of the office on “flex time,’’ but the agency does not allow employees to work flexible hours, the sources said.

Transportation Secretary Richard Davey launched an investigation a day after the Globe reported last month that Matthew McLaughlin had a spotty attendance record at the agency. The board hears thousands of appeals each year from drunk drivers who have lost their license.

The younger McLaughlin, who was the appointee of the Registrar of Motor Vehicles to the board, was given a letter that thanked him for his service and made no mention of any investigation into his work habits, according to a source briefed on the dismissal.

Department of Transportation spokeswoman Cyndi Roy declined to discuss specifics, saying: “Confidentiality rules bar us from discussing specific personnel matters. Registrar [Rachel] Kaprielian has exercised her authority to make a managerial change.’’

The appeals board job was not the first position Matthew McLaughlin may have won with the help of his father. Before he was appointed to the Appeals Board, the younger McLaughlin was hired for a $65,000-a-year job by Roca, a Chelsea nonprofit social service agency.

He became a Roca project director in January 2006. Two months later, the Chelsea Housing Authority signed the first of three contracts awarded to Roca worth $240,000.

On March 23, Matthew McLaughlin cosigned a formal letter to his father thanking him and the Chelsea Housing Authority for their support. “You and your staff are incredibly helpful and supportive,’’ the letter said.

For three years, the housing authority paid Roca for services that included painting, furniture moving, raking leaves, and other odd jobs.

Roca’s executive director, Molly Baldwin, said that there was no connection between the hiring of Matthew McLaughlin and the Chelsea Housing Authority contracts.

“Matthew was interested; we had a job opening. He applied, and he got hired,’’ she said, adding that she did not know Michael McLaughlin before she hired his son. Matthew, she said, helped launch a work program for underemployed young people.

“To insinuate that there was some favoritism or deals connected to this contract or job is absolutely untrue,’’ said David Guarino, a spokesman for Roca.

After leaving Roca, Matthew McLaughlin was appointed to the Board of Appeals by Anne Collins, Kaprielian’s predecessor, at the request of the Patrick administration.

Collins was reluctant to make the appointment, a source said, because McLaughlin had a lengthy driving record that included a license suspension for refusing to take a breath test, six speeding tickets, and a citation for refusing to obey a police officer.

Matthew McLaughlin declined to comment.

Former Appeals Board co-workers said that he had boasted that Murray was his “godfather’’ and took advantage of his connections to spend a lot of time out of the office.

They said that he had posted on his Facebook page photos from Florida, indicating that he was there when he was supposed to be at work.

Matthew McLaughlin was also appointed by Patrick to the Tewksbury Housing Authority. The Patrick administration said recently that it would not extend his appointment to the unpaid position.

The Globe reported last month that Murray and Michael McLaughlin appeared to be close political allies, according to the elder McLaughlin’s cellphone records, which showed the two had called each other more than 80 times over the past seven months.

When the Globe began asking McLaughlin about his housing authority salary in preparation for an article, he would call the lieutenant governor within hours after each inquiry, according to the records.

Murray identified Michael McLaughlin only as a supporter and a volunteer and said he was outraged when he learned that McLaughlin was making $360,000 a year while reporting his income to state housing officials as only $160,000.

In a prepared statement at the time, Murray said he felt betrayed when he learned about McLaughlin’s salary, which may have been the highest of any US public housing official.

The lieutenant governor said that he agreed completely when Patrick demanded McLaughlin’s resignation, along with the board members who approved his pay.

“I support and am proud of our response to date,’’ Murray said at the time.

On the question of Matthew McLaughlin’s hiring, Murray said: “We make referrals on a day-to-day basis. I never tell anyone to put a square peg in a round hole. It’s up to the people making decisions to decide whether someone is qualified or not, and then, from there, are they doing their job.’’

Murray would not say specifically whether he helped Matthew McLaughlin get his job.

He said he had never heard that the younger McLaughlin referred to him as his “godfather.’’

The FBI and other state and federal agencies continue to investigate Michael McLaughlin and the housing authority amid charges that employees shredded and removed documents around the time he resigned in early November.

On his last day, McLaughlin cosigned checks worth more than $200,000 to himself for what he said he was owed in unused vacation, sick, and personal time.

Matthew McLaughlin went to college with James McNichols, the Chelsea Housing Authority accountant who approved the checks in the hours before the elder McLaughlin’s resignation took effect Nov. 3. McNichols, who is on paid administrative leave, also admitted shredding documents, including Michael McLaughlin’s time and attendance records.

Andrea Estes can be reached at estes@globe.com. Sean Murphy can be reached at smurphy@globe.com.

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