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I-Team: Essex County Sheriff Changes Fundraising Practices

By Kathy Curran, WBZ-TV
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Essex County Sheriff Frank Cousins

Essex County Sheriff Frank Cousins

BOSTON (CBS) – The Sheriff of Essex County makes some big changes in the way he raises campaign money just days after the I-Team exposes some questionable practices.

The I-Team first reported that current and former employees of the department say that pressure to contribute to Sheriff Frank Cousin’s campaign is standard operating procedure at the Essex County Sheriff’s department. Our confidential source explained, “Everyone is expected to donate. If you don’t donate, you’re not promoted. Supervisors are always coming up to people and saying you know the sheriff would really like to see you at this event.”

WBZ-TV’s Kathy Curran reports

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. Cousins refused our request for an interview and denies the accusations. When we approached him at his Newburyport home he said, “No-one is pressured to contribute.”

But when we first began asking questions he changed his policy immediately and vowed to stop accepting contributions from employees except his command staff. Just days later that policy has changed yet again. After our first story we asked Sheriff Cousins for all department records reflecting payments to all vendors doing business with the Essex County Sheriff’s Department, both companies and individuals. Now, two days after that request, the sheriff says he will no longer accept campaign donations from anyone affiliated with his office, including vendors.

Pam Wilmot is with the government watchdog group Common Cause Massachusetts. Wilmot said, “Having a good policy going forward doesn’t erase what happened in the past. If there were illegalities in the past, they need to be prosecuted and investigated.”

Pressuring employees for donations and soliciting contributions in a government building are both illegal. In a previous statement Sheriff Cousins called these accusations quote – “anonymous personal attacks” by disgruntled employees. Cousins has confirmed that one-third of the 1.2 million dollars he has raised since 2005 has come from sheriff’s department employees and their relatives.

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