PROVIDENCE – The Rhode Island Ethics Commission has dismissed two complaints against Pascoag Fire District Chief Harold Carter, voting that there was no probable cause for the violations alleged by Tax Collector Laurie McCutcheon.
McCutcheon, a 17-year employee of the district who has been on paid leave since January, stated that Carter had violated the state’s ethics law against nepotism in an investigation of possible fraudulent storm pay to his niece Brianna Carter, and his brother, Keith Carter.
A second count alleged that the chief had committed a violation in the promotion of Keith to the deputy chief position last year.
On the first count regarding storm pay, the commission members present voted 5-0 that probable cause did not exist to support McCutcheon’s allegations.
On the second count, the board was split, with two members voting in favor of investigating Keith Carter’s promotion and three voting against it, ultimately leading to a dismissal.
The chief was represented by Providence-based attorney Albin Moser, and testimony before the board lasted around 45 minutes.
Commission member Marisa Quinn thanked board members at the end of the meeting for their patience noting, “I think it’s important to give people a chance to make their case.”
According to McCutcheon’s complaint, the problems at the department – one of four independent fire districts in Burrillville – began on January 8 when Chief Carter gave her a list of recipients due pay for working during a January 4 snow storm. The tax collector stated she believed that neither Brianna or Keith Carter had worked for the district during the storm.
The tax collector then contacted district Commissioner Brian Mathieu and informed him that the chief had asked her to violate the law by paying his relatives when they didn’t work
On January 9, McCutcheon received a letter noting she was suspended with pay “pending the completion of an investigation of certain conduct you have engaged in surrounding the payment of wages.”
Chief Carter has stated that he personally saw Keith and Brianna Carter working on January 4.
While the reason for their findings will not be released until later in the week, commission members sided with Carter, effectively closing the case.
Contacted for a reaction on the ruling, McCutcheon said, “It is too bad the commission ruled in his favor, we all know the justice system isn’t perfect but, I sleep well at night because i know the truth.”
It is the second time in recent months that a state agency has cleared the district of wrongdoing. In July, the department of the Attorney General ruled that the Pascoag Fire District did not violate the state’s Open Meetings Act during McCutcheon’s suspension.
But in August, the same office found the district guilty of two violations.
Another separate complaint to the Ethics Commission submitted by the tax collector’s husband, Gregory McCutcheon, against Deputy Chief Keith Carter’s wife, Commissioner Linda Carter, has not yet been addressed by the board, which meets monthly to discuss such complaints from across the state.
Editor’s note: The above article has been edited to add McCutcheon’s reaction, obtained after the story was initially published. It also notes two recent decisions issued by the AG’s office, discovered after the initial publication.