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newton

Case has police under a spotlight

By Deirdre Fernandes
Globe Staff / July 15, 2012
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Newton has spent more than $13,000 investigating allegations that the police chief’s former secretary stole $660 from the department, and her counterclaim that her boss falsified the charge against her in retaliation for, among other issues, her complaints about a raise he received last year.

The city has hired a forensic auditor and two investigators since Jeanne Sweeney Mooney, a nearly 30-year Newton employee, was placed on paid administrative leave last September.

They were brought in to look at the financial, criminal, and civil aspects of the case, and to avoid any conflicts, since it involves the police chief’s office, according to Dolores Hamilton, the city’s human resources director.

“It has a lot of legs, this case,” Hamilton said. “It’s a tough one.”

The audit and the initial investigator cost the city about $12,000, according to invoices.

Newton hired a second investigator in late May after receiving a letter from Mooney’s lawyer alleging wrongdoing by Police Chief Matthew Cummings. The investigator has charged the city about $1,000.

The case has roiled the department for months, and involves both criminal and civil complaints.

Newton police are seeking to charge Mooney with larceny over $250, according to Cummings. He said a hearing is scheduled next month in Framingham District Court, where a clerk-magistrate will decide whether to go forward with the case.

Mooney has denied that she took the money, and has sent a letter demanding $600,000 in damages from the city for her pain and suffering stemming from the allegations, as well as reinstatement of her job and the firing of Cummings.

The case first became public last week when the Newton TAB reported on the May letter from Mooney’s attorney.

In the letter, John Tocci, with the Boston-based firm Tocci, Goss & Lee PC, alleged that Cummings verbally humiliated Mooney on two occasions, and tried to intimidate her into taking on more responsibilities by suggesting that a local TV station was investigating her. The letter also states that Cummings gained an 8 percent raise without following proper protocol.

Mooney said in the letter that Cummings brought the theft allegations against her soon after she raised questions about the salary increase with a police captain.

“These are very serious, disturbing allegations,” said Mayor Setti Warren. “I take them very seriously.”

That’s why the city hired Ed Mitnick to conduct an investigation, which should be complete in the coming weeks, Warren said.

Mooney declined to discuss the case.

However, in her lawyer’s letter to the city, she disputes the Police Department’s allegation that she took an envelope containing cash collected through various police permit fees, and destroyed nearly $1,500 in checks and a schedule of the payments. Mooney was working with the police chief at the time another employee alleged to have seen her take the money, the letter said.

Mooney gave the city the results of a lie-detector test showing she had truthfully answered two questions regarding the missing schedules. There were no specific questions about the missing cash, city officials said.

The letter also questioned the credibility of the eyewitness, who in February was detained by Natick police after being accused of attempting to steal expensive meats from a grocery store by using false bar codes. The employee, Vincent Nguyen, was never charged with a crime and remains employed by the city.

Newton officials said that Nguyen also took a lie-detector test this spring about whether his eyewitness account was truthful, and he passed.

Since Nguyen wasn’t charged with a crime by Natick police, nor did the case involve city property, Newton did not fire him, Hamilton said.

The city could take other disciplinary action, including placing a warning letter in his employee file. Hamilton declined to say whether the city disciplined Nguyen, who declined a request for a comment.

According to the letter from Mooney’s attorney, the working relationship between Cummings and Mooney had been on the decline since 2010. Cummings made inappropriate comments to her twice that year in front of witnesses, calling her a “bitch” on one occasion, and, in commenting on a 1992 department photo of her, saying, “I think you look like a whore,” according to the letter. He also kicked her in the ankle, the letter says.

Cummings declined to talk about the criminal investigation. But when asked about the accusations about the inappropriate comments, he said, “I can’t remember saying anything like that.”

He also disputes allegations in the letter that he tried to threaten Mooney into doing more work by producing a photo indicating that a local television station was investigating what she was doing during her breaks. “I’ve never threatened anybody,” Cummings said.

He also said the 8 percent longevity raise that he received last year was appropriate.

The raise is given to employees who have a long and discipline-free history with the city, and the chief was eligible to apply for it, said Hamilton, the human resources director.

Newton officials need to further investigate Mooney’s allegation, Hamilton said, because it is unclear how Cummings could have circumvented policies to get the raise.

Cummings said he is awaiting the results of the Mitnick report. He said he knows the case has raised questions among his staff.

“Some of them might be upset about this, but they’ve got to know I’m doing my job,” Cummings said.

Newton elected officials are also awaiting the results of the Mitnick investigation.

But some policies should change, according to Alderwoman Ruthanne Fuller, who said the case indicates that Newton needs tighter controls over how city departments handle cash and checks.

The initial financial audit indicated that there were some discrepancies between what the police bureaus were submitting and the money that went to the city treasurer’s office.

As for the allegations by Mooney, Fuller said, “We need a complete investigation of what all the parties are saying.”

Deirdre Fernandes can be contacted at deirdre.fernandes@globe.com.

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