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

By Kathy Curran, WBZ-TV
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(credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

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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.

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