SALEM — The Salem firefighters union began investigating Lt. John O’Leary, its former president, soon after he was defeated in a 2010 union election, at which time other firefighters took over a charitable fund that O’Leary had overseen for almost a decade.
Their concerns about possible phantom donations led to a phone call to the attorney general’s office, a report by a certified public accountant, a city hearing and O’Leary’s eventual firing in August.
Based on the CPA’s findings, a city hearing officer concluded that “cash disbursements totaling $25,750 appear to be misappropriated for the personal benefit of John O’Leary.”
Some of the details behind the investigation and firing came out yesterday when O’Leary’s appeal was heard in Boston before the Massachusetts Civil Service Commission.
The hearing was continued to Feb. 11, when it will resume in Salem with O’Leary scheduled to testify. Fire Chief David Cody is another potential witness.
During an all-day session yesterday, O’Leary’s attorney said his client “vigorously denies” any wrongdoing and, if anything, is guilty of nothing more than “inadequate record keeping.”
Attorney Joseph Dever also said that union politics may have played a role in the investigation. He suggested that there was “bad blood” between O’Leary and Richard Thomas, the firefighter who defeated him for the presidency and now heads the union.
The city called three witnesses to make its case against O’Leary: firefighter Ray Krajeski, the current union vice president; fire Capt. Paul Cranney, who made annual tax filings for the union; and City Solicitor Beth Rennard, the hearing officer who wrote the report recommending O’Leary’s firing.
Early in 2011, Krajeski said he and another firefighter, Lt. Wayne Silva, assumed oversight of the charitable fund, which was set up around 2002. When they went to the Greater Salem Employee Federal Credit Union, which handles the fund, they were surprised by what they found, Krajeski said.