BOSTON (CBS) – A government watchdog organization is calling for a State Ethics Commission investigation into a secret MBTA take-home car perk uncovered by the WBZ I-Team.
For possibly 30 years, MBTA managers drove take-home vehicles owned by construction companies that won lucrative projects. The vehicle requirement was buried in multi-million dollar contracts, making the cost to taxpayers impossible to determine.
Shortly after the I-Team started asking questions, the MBTA returned 23 vehicles to contractors.
In response to the story, the Pioneer Institute submitted a complaint to the State Ethics Commission, requesting the agency investigate to see if the perk violated state gift or conflict of interest laws.
“The Commission should determine if any employees received use of the vehicles participated in drafting the request for proposals or selection of the contractor providing the vehicles to determine if conflict of interest existed when contract decisions were made,” the complaint said.
Boston attorney Stephen Weymouth, a legal expert with the Massachusetts Bar Association, said the hidden take-home car perk certainly has the appearance of impropriety. However, he said it is tough to know if it crosses a legal threshold without more details.
“What was the purpose of giving these cars to managers at the MBTA?” he asked. “It just didn’t make any sense to me. I couldn’t understand the purpose.”
One thing that jumped out at Weymouth was a requirement in the contracts the company-owned vehicles be painted with a MBTA logo. Every car the I-Team observed was completely unmarked.
“That tells me this particular program did not pass the smell test,” Weymouth told the I-Team. “The fact it’s not on there indicates to me that people were afraid of identifying these vehicles with T logos would lead to further difficulties and would lead to people like yourself doing an investigation.”
As the I-Team previously reported, the employees who received the perk now face the possibility of owing taxes for not reporting the free vehicles, gas and downtown parking valued at $625 per month.
State Ethics Commission spokesperson David Giannotti could not confirm or deny whether the agency is reviewing the matter, saying it does not comment on actual situations.
“Generally, the state’s conflict of interest law prohibits public employees from improperly using their public positions to secure unwarranted benefits for themselves or others,” Giannotti told the I-Team.
A case only becomes public if the Commission decides a matter with enforcement action.
Ryan Kath can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow him on Twitter or connect on Facebook.