I-Team: Somerville’s Council On Aging Investigated For Ethics Violations

By Kathy Curran, WBZ-TV

SOMERVILLE (CBS) — There are possible ethics violations and mishandling of money in an agency that cares for some of the state’s most vulnerable citizens. The I-Team has been looking into Somerville’s Council on Aging and discovered there are questions about the agency’s executive director, her department and the house she’s currently living in.

It’s a two-family home on Governor Winthrop Road in Somerville owned by an 82-year-old woman, so why is one city official and her husband who aren’t relatives or tenants living on the second floor?

The I-Team caught up with Cindy Hickey on the front porch. Her official title is executive director of the Somerville Council on Aging, and moving into this home may be a case of her using her title to profit off some of the city’s elderly clients on the side.

“And it’s not. I’ve been taking care of this client for 18 years. She’s not a client, she’s a friend,” said Hickey.

But Cindy Hickey is the woman’s caregiver and Hickey’s sister is paid to step in to care for the elderly woman when she’s not around. Across town the executive director’s best friend is paid to take care of another Council on Aging client.

WBZ-TV’s Kathy Curran reports.

Peter Sturges is the former head of the ethics commission and current chairman of the government watchdog group Common Cause Massachusetts. “Anytime you’re dealing with a vulnerable population or vulnerable individual the concern is there,” said Sturges. “If an individual is using their public position to benefit themselves privately or to benefit their friends privately then you have a misuse of a position and you’re securing a privilege for somebody who’s potentially not entitled to that.”

Irene Zuffante says when she needed help caring for her cousin a Council on Aging employee told her she should hire Cindy Hickey as a caregiver saying “they were pushing to have Cindy come.”

“They thought the person I had wasn’t reliable so that’s why I should have Cindy because she’s much more reliable,” said Zuffante.

When asked if employees of the Council on Aging should be referring Cindy Hickey as a caregiver Mayor Joseph Curtatone said, “That should not be occurring.”

Curtatone has launched an investigation into Hickey and the entire Council on Aging department, but so far he believes the executive director’s done nothing wrong. “The first question is is anybody profiting? Second, have you filed proper disclosures and at this point? We have no evidence beyond the disclosure that there’s any wrongdoing,” said Curtatone.

A disclosure filed by Cindy Hickey last year says she’s an elder care advisor for two senior citizens. Once the I-Team began looking into what was going on Hickey filed an amendment saying she was sleeping at one of the senior’s homes. Hickey claims she didn’t know that information had to be disclosed.

There are questions about Cindy Hickey’s actions and allegations of mishandling money. Sources tell the I-Team the Council on Aging and the non-profit that does fundraising for it has charged seniors above cost for trips and meals.

Seniors pay $25 for a monthly dinner with the Council on Aging’s restaurant club. The I-Team found the club’s recent dinner at Somerville’s La Hacienda cost much less.

“I’ve devoted my life to seniors, I’ve worked very hard to take care of this person, it’s unfortunate that it’s been turned out to be an ugly thing,” said Hickey.

That will be up to the city and the state ethics commission to decide. The city has launched an investigation into many of the issues the I-Team found. The mayor says the city is also planning on hiring an outside auditor to do a detailed, forensic investigation into the department’s finances.

  • MrChuck

    The I team has found nothing according to this report except someone who is trying to make trouble. The non story is that no one was found to be doing anything wrong or illegal or even hinting at unethical behavior.
    The story is who started the accusations of misuse of money and position. THAT person needs to be exposed if the accusations are unfounded. Will the I team investigate that?

    • gramps


      Let’s see what $25 for ‘DIN-DIN’ gets ya…..

      I checked out the ‘Hacienda’s’ menu on line…..Veal Parm, Shrimp Scampi & Surf/Turf were $12.95ish…..

      The rest of the prices on the Italian menu were lower….

      What happened to the other $12 bucks???

      Chuckster, that’s an awfully big ‘TIP’!


  • Mrblue

    Well said mrchuck! Here is a woman that gives her heart and soul to a city inundated with clicks and good ol’ boy club members! How about looking at the real profiteers in the story? Parasitic journalism based on the claims of jilted and speculative children… Nice work, TMZ and the enquirer should be calling soon..

  • Italo

    I understand where you guys are coming from regarding the I Team’s article perspective, but there actually is more to it than that. The Councils on Aging receive grant funds through state- and nationwide Area Agencies on Aging which, in turn, receive these grants through the federal government from the the Administration on Aging Program. If those grant-provided and -calculated funds are being utilized in a way that may not be properly disseminated, then it can be a problem since those funds aren’t the Somerville Council’s, they’re part of the monies applied for and granted from the federal government. Also, state-related ethics laws prohibiting the monetary receipt of goods, services or benefits over certain established amounts, where a grants-funded professional could be receiving benefits in turn from one of the constituents whom they serve, may be a violation. This may be the bases related to the I Team’s investigation, actually.

  • gramps

    Mr. Chuck,

    I’d say you & a few others didn’t sleep well last night…

    Bet you’ve lost your ‘appetite ……


  • Somerspeak

    Hickey has done this type of scam her whole life. As for the financial benefit? She and her husband live with this senior, pay no rent to her and rent out their own apartment in a two family the Hickey’s own in another part of the city. That in itself is grounds for dismissal from the city, a fine from the Ethics commission and referral to the DA for prosecution.


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  • caringperson

    Hickey does not scam anyone my experience with her in may of 08 the trip to
    italy and she did a fantastic job with 40 plus seniors…stop all this nonse and
    lets not forget her role in the all america city in tampa….so saddend.. when the media rips you apart..

    • all american

      you tell them!

  • Rob

    I have had several people call me and tell me that they left comments on this blog telling the true story that cindy is one of the hardest workers in the city and the mayor is lucky to have her. Does the I-Team have an agenda to make a story stick or is the loyalty the the people telling bits and pieces of reality to make the apperance of wrong doing. Have a set and leave a name. Rob
    hickrobe@nspinfo.com I have several witness to see me writing this. I urge anyone else to do the same to make sure your side of the story gets told.
    Cowards hiding behind a keyboard

  • Cynic

    Why doesn’t the I-Team spend some time looking at problems that just need to be Corrected. Why,in every incident does there need to be a WRONDOER that needs to be PUNISHED? Does the I-Team keep a central registry of lives that it has destroyed?

  • Chris

    Cynic..you hit the nail on the head. No one solves problems or offers solutions. This just becomes a place to nail people to a cross. Somerville is a great city but has to many people with too much time. Let’s solve the snow issue, pot holes, parking , high rent our kids on drugs, hyperdermic needles constantly being found. but we are spending tax dollars on ths. Beleive me the seniors are our least worry thanks to Ms Hickey.

  • Concerned

    She should be investigated thoroughly. She has a history of ethics violations, treats elders like children and does whatever she wants, even when it violates a persons rights. This is a long time coming!

  • Louise

    I am not a Somerville resident but recently went on a trip with them. I did not know anyone on the trip. I observed Cincy and found her to be extremely professional and treated all people with respect. This investigation appears to be more of a head hunt – I don’t believe there is any substance to report. SHAME ON YOU CHANNEL 4

  • smellsfunny

    go, i-team. if it turns out this woman has actually moved in order to provide free care to an elder, stays up all night listening for her, and helping her, and gets ABSOLUTELY nothing in return, I will be the first to throw a fundraiser for her and reward her generous spirit. few people would do that even for a family member! but, for now, it smells funny to me.

  • Barney

    Hey i- team. ” investigators” If I send you the names of two CBS employees that have violated ethics and acted in a way not becoming a CBS employee, would you slander their names all over the TV and embarrass them and their familiies ? I didnt think so you cowards.

  • Barney

    All these Hickey Haters are jealous people who dont like to see someone successful. I know the people who made the accusations and believe me, they are small, jealous sad spineless biddies with sad miserable lives. Cindy is well loved in the city… these two old HAGS are not . Cindy has a loving family and dear friends that will stick by her. The people who pointed fingers at Cindy are well known touble makers whos lives are not happy so they hate seeing happiness. ITeam….. you should investigate FIRST …and then smear peoples lives. What a disgraceful and weale like way to make a living. PS CBS …Cowards , Bozos and Smucks !!!!

  • Tricia McLaughlin

    My mother received NOTHING but good from the Council On Aging in Somerville, and in part because of them, she would not have been able to still live by herself until her passing last May at the age of 90. In my opinion, this is hogwash!

  • sally mae

    Finally!! This is just the tip of the iceburg. If there is a thorough investigation I am sure they will find many discrepancies. This has been going on for years!! Look into where all the unused donations from the Mayor’s picnic went?? Free trips for friends & family that the seniors paid for??

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