SALEM — The credit union bank account that has figured prominently in the city’s firing of former fire Lt. John O’Leary, who has been accused of “misappropriating” funds from the account, was started as part of a public relations campaign by the Salem Firefighters Union.
Embroiled about a decade ago in a fierce fight with former Mayor Stanley Usovicz over manning levels in the Fire Department, the union decided to launch a fundraising campaign in order to make donations to local youth and sports groups and improve its image in the community, O’Leary, the former union president, testified this week at a hearing before the Massachusetts Civil Service Commission.
O’Leary said they were getting a lot of “bad press ... which made us look like the bad guys. ... We wanted to make our image look better by giving back to the community.”
That’s about the time that O’Leary said he met a representative from All-Pro Productions, a fundraising firm started by former pro football player Fred Smerlas and a partner.
An executive board member at the time, O’Leary said the union signed a contract with All-Pro that called for the union to get about a third of the funds raised in its name. The remainder went to All-Pro and to a company that made phone calls to solicit funds from local residents and businesses, he said.
All-Pro staged several successful events for the union, O’Leary said, including a softball game at Salem Willows featuring Salem firefighters against the “Patriot All-Stars” and a comedy night at a hotel in Danvers.
Asked how much the union would make from an event, O’Leary said he couldn’t recall exact figures but estimated the first softball game at Salem Willows earned the union about $24,000.