A lineman at the Peabody Municipal Light Plant has pocketed about $40,000 in salary since being arrested in August on suspicion of trafficking cocaine.
Ronald D'Andrea, 50, who has worked at the light plant since 2003, has also collected health, life and retirement benefits since he was arrested and placed on paid leave months ago, according to city records.
On Aug. 23, Revere police narcotics detectives caught D'Andrea with a half-kilogram of cocaine stuffed into a Target shopping bag, according to a police report filed with Chelsea District Court. Local and state drug units had been monitoring D'Andrea and eavesdropping on his conversations while investigating "the narcotics distribution enterprise" he is alleged to have operated, the police report said.
Two days before his arrest, D'Andrea paid $20,000 for the cocaine and agreed to pick up the drugs the following Tuesday at a Ninety Nine Restaurant in Revere, according to police.
About 3:30 p.m. on Aug. 23, D'Andrea drove into the restaurant's back parking lot and got into the passenger seat of gray sedan, police said. A short time later, D'Andrea got out of the car carrying a white shopping bag, then placed the bag in the trunk of his car as police approached. When police confiscated the bag, it contained "a block of white rock/powder ... in excess of 500 grams of the Class B controlled substance, cocaine," according to the police report.
After obtaining a warrant to search D'Andrea's Saugus house, police found more than $1,500 cash, a digital scale and a handheld grinder, the police report said.
D'Andrea pleaded not guilty at his arraignment in Chelsea District Court and was released on $5,000 bail. His attorney, Robert Sheketoff, declined to comment on the case specifically. He said that drug cases typically take more than a year to settle. The next scheduled court date is a probable-cause hearing slated for April 30 in Chelsea.
Shortly after D'Andrea's arrest, the Peabody Municipal Light Plant suspended the lineman without pay but then placed him on paid administrative leave in October.
When asked why D'Andrea was placed on paid leave instead of unpaid leave, Glenn Trueira, the manager of the plant, said there is no "specific policy about this," so the determination was made based on the circumstances and after consultation with the plant's attorney, Phillip Durkin. Trueira was assistant manager of the plant at the time of D'Andrea's arrest.
"What we do is look at each case separately on its own merits, what's involved and what the given details are in each case," Trueira said in an interview. "When this situation arose, I consulted with our attorney, and he looked into it."
The Municipal Light Commission was told of the D'Andrea situation but did not weigh in, said Robert Wheatley, the commission chairman.
"We weren't asked at all to get involved; it is strictly a legal and administrative matter," he said. "If we were asked (to get involved), I'm not sure what the outcome would be. ... (But) we don't really get involved in day-to-day functions dealing with employees. That's what the manager is paid to do and why we have a lawyer."
Massachusetts law clearly states that a public employee under "indictment for misconduct" should be suspended without pay. However, eight months later, D'Andrea has not yet been indicted, and state statute says nothing about what can be done if an employee is arrested on a felony charge without an indictment.
"We don't have a policy relative to the issue of administrative leave, therefore, we looked to the Massachusetts General laws statutes, which (only) give authority to put an employee on unpaid administrative leave if that employee is indicted," Durkin said.
There is also nothing in the plant employee union's collective bargaining agreement about when unpaid leave is appropriate, Durkin said. Had the plant elected to place D'Andrea on unpaid leave, it likely would have triggered a hearing from the Civil Service board, where "we'd have to get into the facts and circumstances of the arrest, which we certainly would not want to do so as not to jeopardize the district attorney's case," Durkin said. "Our hands are tied."
So plant officials elected to pay D'Andrea until he is indicted, Durkin said.
An indictment happens when a grand jury has reviewed the facts of the case and determines that there is probable cause to move forward with the felony charges. It's not unheard of for a drug case in Suffolk County to take this long for a grand jury to hear, and there's also no guarantee it ever will, said Jake Wark, the spokesman for the Suffolk County district attorney's office.
"Suffolk County is the busiest grand jury in the state, and the cases that move most rapidly are those where time is a crucial factor, where evidence could be destroyed or witnesses tampered with," Wark said, alluding to homicides and other violent crimes. "Drug cases, frankly, do not require a great amount of speed."
Sheketoff, D'Andrea's attorney, said he is not pushing the state to decide whether to indict, and so it seems that D'Andrea will continue to receive his paychecks for the foreseeable future.
"We are waiting to see how the legal situation is resolved, and then we'll determine what to do," Trueira said.
The plant has five full-time linemen and one apprentice on staff. No one will be hired to replace D'Andrea until his legal matters are settled, Trueira said.
According to city finance records, D'Andrea has been paid $39,785.55 since his arrest through April 4 of this year.
Last year, D'Andrea was paid about $95,300 in wages and benefits. In 2010, he was the third-highest-paid employee in the city, pocketing salary and benefits totaling $150,444. The pay hike was the a result of big, one-time payments made to light plant union employees as a result of a retroactive pay increases that went into effect after union officials signed a new labor contract in 2010. The negotiated pay increases were retroactive to June 2007, when the union contract expired.