BOSTON (AP) — A top Democratic Party official Thursday criticized Republican Gov. Charlie Baker’s response to the latest allegations involving financial irregularities within the Massachusetts State Police and called for an independent investigation of the department.
State police have been buffeted by a series of recent disclosures including an audit that pointed to overtime abuse by troopers patrolling the Massachusetts Turnpike. On Wednesday a prosecutor announced that a payroll director, Denise Ezekiel, had been charged with larceny for allegedly stealing more than $23,000 from the agency.
“When senior command staff at the scandal-ridden State Police are given a way out through retirement in the wake of serious allegations and the Governor turns around and says it’s a ‘good thing’ when charges are brought against a middle manager in the payroll department, it’s time for an independent investigation,” said Gus Bickford, the state’s Democratic party chairman, in a statement.
Bickford’s reference was to remarks Baker made to several reporters on Wednesday. The governor did not characterize the charges against Ezekiel as being a positive development, but credited state police for uncovering and investigating the alleged theft.
“This is good news, folks,” said Baker, according to Masslive.com. “When the leadership of the state police is cleaning up its own house and doing the investigation that develops a baseline for criminal investigation, that’s a good thing, not a bad thing.”
Ezekiel is scheduled for arraignment on Monday. Her lawyer did not immediately return a message.
Bickford did not elaborate on his call for an independent probe. A Democratic Party spokeswoman said he preferred something along the lines of what the House Ways and Means Committee proposed last week as part of its state budget plan. The panel called for a multifaceted approach, including a review by a special legislative commission of state police promotion and hiring practices; a new internal audit unit directed by the state’s inspector general; and an examination of the department’s overall management structure by experts at University of Massachusetts-Boston.
Former Newton Mayor Setti Warren, a Democratic candidate for governor, called on the Legislature to form an independent commission and suggested Baker had “lost the necessary perspective” to supervise the state police.
Baker recently ordered the unit that currently patrols the turnpike be disbanded. He also called for troopers to wear body cameras and that GPS be used to track the whereabouts of state police vehicles.
“Stuff that goes on (during) my watch belongs to me,” Baker acknowledged Thursday when asked during an appearance on WGBH-FM if he should have been more aware of issues surrounding the department before they came to light publicly.
While he could never know “everything about everything,” in state government, “once issues are raised we will do everything to fix them and address them,” said Baker, who is running for a second four-year term.