Ethics board finds probable cause for nepotism by Pascoag Fire Commissioner

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BURRILLVILLE – Commissioner Linda Carter should have recused herself from approving payments from the Pascoag Fire District to herself and members of her family, and her failure to do so showed probable cause for nepotism, according to the Rhode Island Ethics Commission.

The state board held a hearing on Tuesday, Jan. 8 over a complaint filed last year, which included copies of the meeting minutes and check logs showing Carter approving payments to herself, as well as her son, her daughter, her husband and her brother-in-law.

The commission found in part that “there exists probable cause to believe that, by voting to approve payment of bills on 9/13/16, 2/14/17, 5/9/17, 11/14/17 and 3/20/18, which included payments issued to members of her family, the respondent, a member of the Pascoag Fire District Board of Fire Commissioners,” violated a state law prohibiting nepotism.

The ruling is the latest development in a series of problems for the small, independent fire district. The complaint was submitted by Gregory McCutcheon, the husband of former district tax collector Laurie McCutcheon, who was suspended from the job last January after 17 years of service.

An additional ethics complaint against Commissioner Carter, submitted in October by Stephanie Sloman, has not yet been ruled on by the board. That charge notes that Carter voted to appoint her personal attorney, Albin Moser of Providence, to represent the district itself at the board’s Sept. 17 meeting.

Moser resigned from the district in December after just two months of service.

The roughly 60 member department is one of four independent fire districts in Burrillville, comprised of 27 square miles and approximately 1,700 households. It is governed by a board of five fire commissioners including Carter, who is also a firefighter and the wife of Deputy Chief Keith Carter. Their children, Nick and Briana Carter, also serve as firefighters and Keith’s brother, Harold Carter, is the district fire chief.

Linda Carter is among several in the village fire district who have faced allegations of nepotism and violations of the state’s access to public records act over the past year.  In some cases, the district has been cleared of wrongdoing, but in others, the charges have stuck.

Complaints of nepotism against Chief Carter, submitted by former tax collector McCutcheon herself, were dismissed in August with the state board finding no probable cause.

Another complaint, filed in November against Commissioner Brian Mathieu, points to payments made to his employer, Burrillville Motor Sales. Those allegations, also filed by Gregory McCutcheon, state that Mathieu failed to recuse himself on votes to pay the company for towing and repair services on 16 occasions over the past three years.  Meeting minutes show the commissioner voting to approve more than $11,000 in payments to the company, doing business as Larry’s Towing, since 2015.

Among Linda Carter’s recent ethics issues were payments to Carter Bros. Inc.,  a heating oil delivery company operated by her brother-in-law Kevin Carter.

Kevin, a former chairman of the Pascoag Fire District Commission and brother to Chief Harold and Deputy Chief Keith, was fined $8,000 after multiple ethics violations in 2010. It stated that his legal fees were paid with tax money – an action that violates district bylaws.

The decision in that case, which can be found here, noted among other violations that Carter Bros. Inc., entered into a heating oil delivery contract with the district without prior public notice or subsequent public disclosure.

For Linda Carter, the finding could likely also come with a fine, or additional litigation.

“The commission voted to find probable cause, which means the case moves forward to either an administrative trial or a proposed settlement,” said Ethics Commission Executive Director and Chief Prosecutor Jason Gramitt.

Editor’s note: This article has been modified to state that the Ethics Commission found “probable cause,” and that the case is still pending for an administrative hearing or a settlement. 

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Sandy Seoane is the founder, publisher, and editor of Northern Rhode Island News On the Web. A SUNY Albany graduate with more than eight years experience covering news in the Blackstone Valley, Seoane previously worked for The Valley Breeze and Woonsocket Patch.