Indictments in EMT Training Fraud

HAMILTON – Former police Chief Walter Cullen was among four people indicted on public corruption charges yesterday, following a monthslong grand jury investigation into falsified EMT training records.

Also indicted were David Mastrianni, the former chief’s son-in-law, who ran the Police Department’s EMT training program; Henry Michalski Jr., a former fire chief in Ipswich and Middleton who was also an EMT trainer; and James W. Foley. Cullen is charged with two counts of violating state emergency medical service training laws, by failing to complete a 24-hour refresher course and a 28-hour continuing education requirement, and with felony larceny and procurement fraud for collecting a salary that was based in part on his representations that he was qualified to act as director of the town’s ambulance and emergency medical services. Prosecutors allege Mastrianni repeatedly submitted false statements about class attendance in filings with the Department of Public Health.

More serious charges of perjury and attempted obstruction of justice were handed up against former Ipswich and Middleton fire Chief Henry Michalski Jr., who is charged not only with making false statements about training classes and the attendance rosters but with lying to the grand jury about it. Foley was indicted on a charge of attempted obstruction of justice and violating EMS rules. None of the four could be reached yesterday for comment.

The indictments were handed up late yesterday afternoon. The four will not be arrested but instead will be sent summonses to appear in Salem Superior Court for arraignment. An arraignment date has not been set.

The investigation was led by Attorney General Martha Coakley’s public corruption unit. Cullen could face up to 10 years in state prison if convicted on the larceny and procurement fraud charges, as well as fines of $1,000 for violating EMT training rules. In addition to the potential criminal penalties, Cullen, who retired earlier than planned after allegations about the police scandal were reported, could face the loss of his pension, estimated at $81,000 a year, if he is convicted. His pension has been suspended pending the outcome of the case. News of yesterday’s court activity was met mostly with silence in Hamilton. Town officials and residents reached by The Salem News were unwilling to comment until learning more about the charges.

David Carey, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, would not discuss details of the indictments, but did express relief at yesterday’s news. “At last, we’re moving forward,” Carey said. “The attorney general did a lot of work, and I don’t think we could have handled this at the town level.” Fellow Selectman Bill Bowler declined comment, and a message left at Selectman Jennifer Scuteri’s home last night was not returned.

A year of turmoil

Yesterday’s indictments cap a year of turmoil in the Police Department, where almost all of the officers have been tainted by a station-house culture in which they repeatedly falsified attendance sheets for EMT training classes, state investigators said. Investigators concluded many of those classes were either never held or never completed. Hamilton officers were required to have EMT certifications and were paid extra for obtaining them. Officer Michael Marchand, who was embroiled in a controversy within the department, alerted town officials about problems with EMT classes in November 2007, then took his complaints to the state Office of Emergency Medical Services, which oversees EMT training.

Last August, the state agency pulled the town’s ambulance license for at least a year and suspended the EMT licenses of nine officers, including the chief. Some of those officers have since left the department or are on leave, and two had their licenses reinstated. The seven officers whose licenses were suspended were Chief Walter Cullen and Officers Michael Marchand, Arthur Hatfield, David Mastrianni, Kent Richards, Karen Wallace and Stephen Walsh. Four Danvers police officers also had their licenses suspended because they signed training rosters for a Hamilton course that was never held. They are Michael Bean, Scott Frost, Dana Martin and Robert Sullivan.

Twelve officers were found to have falsely signed attendance rosters but did not falsify documents to renew their certifications, because they either took classes outside the station house or had not yet applied for recertification. They were Officers Joe Achadinha, Matthew Donovan, Charles Downey, Michael Girolimon, Keith Holloran, Andrew Neill, Brian Shaw, Michael Wetson, Sgt. Scott Janes, Detectives Kenneth Nagy and Stephen Trepanier, and Lt. Robert Nyland. They were all given written reprimands and required to take additional training courses, which were, coincidentally, conducted by Michalski. Richard Barthelmess, a Danvers EMT, was also reprimanded. All but one of the officers have appealed to the Office of Emergency Medical Services.

Disciplinary action coming?

None of the officers has been publicly disciplined by the town. At a recent selectmen’s meeting, however, Bowler alluded to “deals” that had been made in regard to punishment for the officers, but said the town was sworn to secrecy pending the outcome of “an ongoing investigation.” Carey said last night he was unwilling to make the deals public until he spoke to the attorney general’s office. Only four Hamilton officers were found not to have falsified training records: Sgt. Donald Dupray, Officers Jeffrey Cross and Sean Cullen (the chief’s son), and Sgt. Paul Grant. Janes was recently named acting chief, and the selectmen have offered the job permanently to Connecticut State Trooper Russell Stevens. Janes could not be reached yesterday for comment.

So far, the scandal has cost the town at least $165,000 in legal and consulting fees, and it might be out another $65,000 in uncollected fees for ambulance runs. Lyons Ambulance has been servicing the town since its two ambulances were taken off the road last year, and it doesn’t look like officials are willing to reinstate town service anytime soon, perhaps never. At least two bids from ambulance service suppliers are being considered.

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