I-Team: Essex County Sheriff’s Fundraising Questioned

By Kathy Curran, WBZ-TV

BOSTON (CBS) – Essex County Sheriff Frank Cousins is on a pretty good roll. He took office back in 1996 and he’s been winning re-election ever since.

But now an I-Team investigation is questioning how he raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to finance these campaigns and asking whether the sheriff may be on the wrong side of the law.

“Everyone is expected to donate,” says one employee who asked to remain anonymous because he fears retaliation by the sheriff. “If you don’t donate, you’re not promoted, you don’t get anywhere.”

WBZ-TV’s Kathy Curran reports

The employees we talked with say that’s the unwritten rule in the Essex County Sheriff’s Department: write a check to Cousins’ campaign fund or it’s a dead end job.

“It’s an atmosphere of fear and intimidation. It’s a very stressful place to work,” the employee says.

Eight current and former employees of the sheriff’s department tell the I-Team pressure to contribute is standard operating procedure and after sifting through years of the sheriff’s campaign contributions the I-Team found Cousins has gotten a huge boost from his employees.

Our investigation found more than 300 sheriff’s department employees and their immediate family members donated over 400 thousand dollars to his political war chest since 2005.

“That is a tremendous number of contributions and a huge amount of money; in fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if that was a record,” says Pam Wilmot, executive director of Common Cause Massachusetts.

Cousins’ fundraisers happen year-round. Every March at Ristorante Saraceno in the North End Cousins has a $250-a-head fundraiser some employees call the “million dollar meatball.”

And then there’s the sheriff’s birthday party every May, which our sources say employees are pressured to attend.

“It’s a 100 a ticket; he likes a big showing,” the employee says. “Supervisors will come up to you and say the sheriff would like to see you there… I’ve seen people get called at work to see if they’re coming to an event.”

Says Wilmot: “These are all serious allegations. It’s illegal to pressure an employee to make a contribution and even to ask them to make a contribution… It’s against ethics laws and campaign laws.”

Sheriff Cousins declined our request for an interview, but we caught up with him one morning as he was leaving his house.

“No one is forced to contribute,” Cousins said, before getting into his car and driving away.

But if no one is pressured to contribute, why did the sheriff do an about-face when it comes to fundraising when the I-Team first began asking questions.

In a statement to the I-Team, Cousins said from now on, “The only employee contributions he will accept will be from members of his command staff who wish to contribute.”

The statement went on to say: “No decisions related to hiring, promotion or discipline were related to political contributions… No employee was required or pressured to attend any event.”

The employee who spoke with the I-Team says that’s not the case. If an employee does not contribute, “You won’t lose your job, but you won’t get promoted, you won’t get anywhere. You’ll get treated differently.”

“Some people can’t afford to pay this money… and if you can’t it’s well-known and you can feel the wrath coming from up top,” the employee says.

In his statement, Cousins calls these allegations “anonymous personal attacks” by disgruntled employees and says he’s not surprised by them, given that budget cuts in the last three years have resulted in layoffs, furlough days and salary reductions.

According to campaign finance laws, not only is pressuring employees for contributions illegal, but doing so in a government building is also against the law.

  • CG

    This guy has been a crook since he took office. I’m glad that he’s FINALLY being called to the carpet. But he’ll find a way to dismiss it, and everyone will forget about it, as usual.

    • nuzzo

      Hes nothing but a drunk from newburyport.



  • Raul Duke

    After you get done there, come on down to Plymouth County. The game is the same.

  • Connie Baca Benedetto

    This is just the beginning…Anketell tried to expose this during his bid for Sheriff. No one had the guts to ask for answers. Thank you to The Valley Patriot, Channel 4 investigative team, and the unheard voices…let the truth be told


    At the very end there is a footnote about Cousin Frank being fined $10,000 for illegal CASH & CORPORATE contributions. He actually raised WELL OVER $10,000 in just these illegal contributions so, after the fine he still came out ahead!
    That’s only what’s known and over and above the extortion from emplyees.
    Something doesn’t add up.

  • ginny2

    Just another example of politics as usual in MA. Nothing will come out of this report, the Sheriff is just as untouchable as the rest of the elected hacks.

  • D. Anketell

    The I-TEAM did a great job here. The behavior Sheriff Cousins is involved in does more than just cross the line between right and wrong. It places campaign contributions above the public safety. Promotions and hiring of new employees base on contributions rather than merit weakens the quality staff effectiveness and therefore diminishes the safety of the community. This is only a small piece of a very disturbing picture of this administration’s activity. The next question you might want to ask is, did any of the illegal cash contributions from corporations the Sheriff was fined for and admitted to do business or have any contracts with Sheriff Cousins?

    D. Anketell

  • Openarms

    First Middlesex,then Essex,could be Plymouth also, why not get rid if these Sheriffs. The state pays for the Depts.,there are no more counties. Check what it costs the state to house an inmate then check what it costs the sheriff to house an inmate, it costs less for the state. Don’t think so, check budget of the DOC and divide by number of inmates then do the same with the Sheriff.

    • SHOCKED!

      Please, do the math for us. We don’t have the time to chase it down.

  • blackbear1

    There is much more to the Essex County Sheriff. He appears to be the beneficiary of an ill proposed regional Dispatch Center located on his department grounds. Under the guise of saving taxpayers money, this proposal has had an original grouping of 13 communities dwindell down to 6. Numerous questions with no answers abound, the remaining towns do not all geographically touch, are not democrafically similar. Deadlines have beeen missed and extended. The remaining communities are either in political alignment w/the Sheriff or are sound asleep (which some small towns tend to be). Those of us watching this carefully do not believe that anything going REGIONAL will be a savings to the taxpayer. I Team and other investigators may wish to continue investigating. This perhaps goes higher into State Govt. and out to Local Govt. Poorly concieved plan.

  • Matt

    So if I “donate” $1000 a year but I get promotions and pay raises and extra perks that add up to say $5000 a year. Where do I sign up?

    • Katia

      That is IF……you are chosen amongst the other 300 plus hanging on to that hope. And while you wait…..your fellow employees will attempt to throw you under the bus to make their chances better. Still want to sign up?

  • Dave_D

    How about an investigation of what do county sheriff departments actually do? The state could take over the housing of inmates. Private constables could deliver subpoenas and such. Why have sheriffs (and all the departmental employees).Sort of a relic from the middle ages.

    • Dan


  • T-Bird

    This guy has nothing on Sheriff Tom Hodgson in Bristol county. I-Team should check this guy out.

  • Mark Scanlon

    What’s cool if he doesn’t get his way…he’ll just go to a hotel and OFF himself…it worked well for DiPaola.

    I never understood the need for a sheriffs dept….in Mass. or NH.

    • blackbear1

      You are right, there is no need for a sheriff’s dept. Not long ago county govt. was thought be on the way out. Now it is making a “hacks” comeback. This guy is bringing local officials in with him.

    • Dan


  • decol

    Sheriffs should go the way of the OLD WEST—history. They make huge money and what do they actually do?It’s an old croney network,give your buddy a high paying job.Just more corruption!!vote them all OUT!!!!!!

  • pete

    whats the high sheriff got in the bag lunch lunch or has he been walking a dog

  • harry

    the orded of the day sell tickets if you than have time do your job

  • concerned

    Business as Usual

    Well I applaud a news station for finally exposing some aspect of the wrong doing. Now the question is are they going to continue to investigate or do business as usual and move on. I will go with second option cause its not about the truth anymore its about ratings. The sad part is several news sources have been given this information as well as other law enforcement agencies and still nothing. I would hope the attorney general would look at this but hey why do that and rock the boat. No one is above the law but the way politicians of this state work it makes you think they are.

    • Dan


    • SHOCKED!

      A.G. Marsha Cokely does not prosecute Massachusetts public corruption.

  • deadrabbit

    This is all Bill Welds fault. He appointed the “HIGH” Sheriff when his only qualification was a GED. funny how he only will take donations from his command staff now! Keep looking….find out about his past



  • jaygee

    Once again, we have only the media to thank for bringing such actions to the forefront. I can only imagine how many cases such as this would remain hidden if it wasn’t for televison stations or newspapers. You know, the “liberal, left media” that those who wear suits & ties like to bash. McCarthyism all dressed up.

  • William Weld

    I’m sorry Massachusetts !

  • Rich Gedman

    I bought coke off him in the 80’s.

  • Georgetown Patrot

    And to think a used car hack from Newburyport could become a political hack.

    Actually there isn’t much difference.

  • fred mcfukstix

    He’s got half of AA from Newburyport on the payroll.

  • Melvin Russel

    He paid me to kick trash off the sidewalks of NBPT ……….. then he told me i had to give the $ back …… !

  • concerned for the county

    The actions of Sheriff Frank Cousins come as no surprise to me. He has been engaging in this type of behavior since he took office in the late 1990’s. His behavior has always been self serving and unbecoming the office, now light is being shed on his criminal behavior as well.

    What will happen next? Will this just be an interesting story for a few days? Will the I Team be the catalyst for real change? We will see.

    By the way, look into how the “command staff” has grown since Cousins took over and watch how it will continue to grow.

    • Katia

      It HAS to grow now otherwise it won’ be lucrative for him!

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