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Murray, lawyer in tow, will talk

Lt. governor tied to target in housing scandal

By Andrea Estes and Sean P. Murphy
Globe Staff / June 6, 2012
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Lieutenant Governor Timothy P. Murray has agreed to meet with state and federal investigators looking into the Chelsea Housing Authority scandal, a spokesman confirmed Tuesday, and he has retained the law firm of former US attorney Donald K. Stern to represent him.

Murray was a close political ally of former Chelsea Housing Authority director Michael E. McLaughlin, who was forced to resign after revelations that he was deliberately concealing his inflated $360,000 paycheck. Murray has not been named a target of the investigations, aides say, but his campaign has already paid nearly $10,000 to Cooley LLP, Stern’s law firm.

“The lieutenant governor has said all along that he would answer any and all questions, and he will,” said Scott Ferson, spokesman for Murray’s campaign.

The meeting, which could happen as early as this week, comes as investigators ramp up their grand jury review of evidence of possible wrongdoing at the housing agency where McLaughlin used his influence over the board of directors to make himself one of the ­nation’s highest-paid public housing officials. On the day he resigned under pressure from Governor Deval Patrick, McLaughlin cosigned checks to himself for more than $200,000 for unused sick and vacation time, even though he worked only 15 full days in Chelsea during 2011, the Globe found.

Investigators have been looking into the relationship between Murray and McLaughlin, who, a Globe investigation found, ran an extensive political operation for the lieutenant governor. McLaughlin’s cellphone records show the two men called each other 193 times in 2010 and 2011.

As a federal employee, McLaughlin was prohibited from most political activity, but he nonetheless helped organize fund-raisers for Murray while Murray helped McLaughlin’s son, Matthew, obtain a $60,000-a-year job on the state Board of Appeals, which hears appeals from drunk drivers who have lost their licenses. The younger McLaughlin was later fired.

Several Chelsea workers said McLaughlin pressured them to give time and money to Murray and other politicians. McLaughlin’s aides sometimes solicited cash donations, these people said, making donations that do not appear in campaign finance records. State law prohibits any cash donations of $50 or more.

Murray aides denied that McLaughlin was ever a fund-raiser for the lieutenant governor, insisting that he was just a volunteer. They said Murray returned or gave to charity any donations from McLaughlin, his family, and some associates.

“When the story first broke, the governor and the lieutenant governor took swift action to have McLaughlin removed, and the lieutenant governor was as appalled as anyone by what had happened in Chelsea,” said Murray spokesman Ferson.

At least two Chelsea housing employees were called this week to appear before a grand jury which is being jointly run by prosecutors for US Attorney Carmen Ortiz and Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley. In preliminary interviews, they were asked about McLaughlin’s relationship with Murray, including how close they were and how often they talked, according to a person ­familiar with the investigation.

Investigators have also grilled employees about vacations taken by McLaughlin and Linda Thibodeau, McLaughlin’s top aide and close friend. They also asked about a rally for the Patrick-Murray campaign in Everett in 2006 attended by dozens of Chelsea Housing Authority employees and tenants, according to persons with direct knowledge of the investigation.

Scheduled to testify next week is political consultant Michael Goldman, who advised McLaughlin as the Globe was preparing an article. A few days after the Globe ran its report, Goldman wrote a column in the The Lowell Sun defending McLaughlin,

describing him as “a warrior from the old school.” Goldman acknowledged that McLaughlin asked him to write the column.

“Michael McLaughlin called me for advice about talking to a reporter at The Boston Globe,” said Goldman. “My advice was the same as I tell everyone: Tell the truth. If they want me to tell that to the grand jury, fine. I have known Michael McLaughlin for decades, but I have never worked for him or with him, and I have never received a dime in pay.”

Hoping to clear up the controversy around his relationship with McLaughlin, Murray has called on the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance to investigate McLaughlin’s fund-raising on his behalf.

Though Murray downplayed his ties to McLaughlin, he told some confidants that the scandal over McLaughlin’s pay kept him awake the night before his high-speed crash on Nov. 2. Murray had talked to McLaughlin several times while the Globe was preparing an article about McLaughlin’s salary, phone records showed, but Murray said he didn’t know the salary until the report was published on Oct. 30. Murray said he felt “betrayed.”

On May 30, Murray’s campaign paid Ferson’s company, Liberty Square Group, $8,000, and paid another $9,936 to Stern’s law firm.

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

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