BOSTON (CBS) – In the wake of an I-Team exclusive report, Essex County Sheriff Frank Cousins is now under investigation by the Attorney General’s office for allegedly pressuring employees to contribute to his political war chest.
Cousins blames anonymous disgruntled workers, but the I-Team interviewed an employee who is neither anonymous nor disgruntled.
“If you don’t contribute you may just be overlooked, you may just disappear into the woodwork,” said Michelle Kravette, who recently retired after working 20 years for the Essex Sheriff’s Department.
Kravette said if an employee does not write checks to Cousins’ campaign, it’s a dead end job.
“If you don’t contribute and you speak out against policy, that’s different,” she said. “Retaliation is expected inside the walls.”
It’s an allegation first brought to light by another employee who asked that we protect his identity, fearing retribution from the sheriff.
“Everyone is expected to donate,” the employee said. “If you don’t donate, you’re not promoted.”
That charge was dismissed by Cousins, who called it an anonymous personal attack by a disgruntled employee. “No one is forced the contribute,” the sheriff said.
Asked about Cousins’ denials, Kravette said, “I beg to differ. There is pressure.”
Pressure on employees to contribute is illegal and so is soliciting those donations in a public building. Eight current and former employees have told the I-Team both have been standard operating procedure under Cousins’ leadership.
“You could get a personal phone call,” Kravette said. “It’s talked about at work. An administrator may approach you and say, ‘The sheriff would like to see you there, it might be in your best interest if you go.’”
That approach apparently paid off for Cousins. Our investigation found more than 300 sheriff’s department employees and their immediate family members donated over $400,000 to Cousins’ political war chest since 2005.
“I’ve brought my entire family to some of the functions,” Kravette said. “You feel you need to attend these four to eight functions a year.”
After the I-Team first started asking questions in February, Cousins abruptly announced he would no longer accept campaign contributions from any of his employees or anyone associated with the department.
But that may not be the end of it as sources tell the I-Team that Cousins’ fundraising is now under investigation by Attorney General Martha Coakley’s office.
A spokesman for Coakley declined to comment.
Cousins issued another statement, saying: “Any allegations that I pressured department employees to contribute to my campaign, or that I solicited contributions in the workplace, are completely false.”