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Former Melrose fire chief fined $1,500 for accepting Bruins tickets

Posted by Matt Byrne  October 5, 2012 11:20 AM

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Former Melrose Fire Chief John O'Brien was fined $1,500 in a Thursday decision by the state Ethics Commission for accepting premium club Bruins tickets in 2010 worth $350 from the city's ambulance contractor.

According to the ruling, O'Brien admitted to receiving tickets in November 2010 from Cataldo Ambulance, which provides advanced life support service ambulance services in Melrose.

The commission determined, and O'Brien agreed, that O'Brien knew or had reason to know he received the tickets because of his status as a public official, according to the commission's decision.

The gift came two months after O'Brien, along with a panel of other city officials that included Mayor Robert Dolan, evaluated Cataldo's bid vying for the city's ambulance contract. Cataldo was awarded a three-year deal with Melrose, set to expire in 2013. O'Brien retired in June, and is now an assistant fire chief in Hudson, N.H.

In a statement, Mayor Robert Dolan said the decision to hire Cataldo was his alone.

"Cataldo was selected because they were, and remain the best emergency medical services provider for the citizens of Melrose," Dolan said.

"My decision was also based upon the tremendous resources, training opportunities for the Melrose Fire Department, the overwhelming support of the Captains of the Melrose Fire Department, the support of the Melrose Fire Fighters Association, and Cataldo's exemplary track record of serving the citizens of Melrose since 2008," the mayor said.

The ambulance company receives the tickets through a separate contract it maintains with TD Garden, said vice president Dennis Cataldo.

The company receives season tickets to Celtics and Bruins home games. The majority of the seats are distributed to charities and good causes that use them as raffle items to raise money.

"There was no ill intent," said Cataldo. He said the company cooperated fully in a six-month investigation that ultimately found no violation of state law by Cataldo employees.

The tickets O'Brien received were originally gifted to a company employee, but that employee couldn't attend the game, and offered them up at the last minute.

"We don't place a high value on [the tickets], there are so many of them available to us. We use them for what we think are good causes," Cataldo said.

The ethics panel issued a similar ruling on two pairs of Cataldo-owned tickets that ended up in the hands of Revere Fire Chief Eugene Doherty. In that case, Cataldo said he personally handed the tickets to Doherty at a community function, knowing he is Bruins fan.

Cataldo said the tickets Doherty received would have been disbursed to a company employee, but most who work for the ambulance service were attending a company golf tournament in New Hampshire to benefit cancer research.

The golf tournament fell on the same day that the Bruins would face the Tampa Bay Lightning in the fourth game of the Easter Conference finals, according to Cataldo and a 2011 press release announcing the tournament. The tickets were valued at $600, the ethics commission said.

"We've been a provider for ambulance services in Revere for the better part of 15 years," Cataldo said. "I'm certainly not going to try to sway someone's opinion with a set of tickets we couldn't use."

Matt Byrne can be reached at mbyrne.globe@gmail.com.

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