SALEM — Former fire Lt. John O’Leary, who was fired by the city for the alleged misappropriation of funds from a union charity account, has appealed his termination to Superior Court.
O’Leary, 45, filed a court complaint this week that named the city and the Massachusetts Civil Service Commission as defendants. He is seeking reinstatement to the Fire Department and back pay.
The appeal comes a month after the Civil Service Commission upheld the city’s 2012 decision to fire O’Leary, an arson investigator who served as president of Salem Firefighters Local 172 from 2002 to 2010.
During that period, O’Leary oversaw a union charity account in a local credit union, often withdrawing cash or cashing bank checks to make contributions to causes ranging from youth sports organizations to fundraisers held by elected officials, according to testimony before the Civil Service Commission.
While the city concluded O’Leary had misappropriated more than $25,000, the state board found only five instances of alleged misappropriations totaling $2,100.
Commission Chairman Christopher Bowman, the hearing officer, said O’Leary had been “untruthful” about donations to the Stephen O’Grady Fund, Salem High Golf, a Lynn firefighter, the Salem Recreation Department and the Salem Cartoon Basketball League.
He said that those groups or individuals did not receive money O’Leary said was given to them and that O’Leary also used funds from the account to pay his personal travel expenses.
Bowman called the alleged conduct “egregious” and said O’Leary “irrevocably violated (public) trust, and there is no place for him in the Salem Fire Department.”
O’Leary strongly denied any wrongdoing, characterized the union probe as personally and politically motivated, and he offered evidence to refute some of the city’s charges.
He said records he kept were misplaced or lost by union officials after he left office.
In his ruling, Bowman was highly critical of Local 172 for raising more than $300,000 from Salem residents and businesses and then using most of the money to pay for fundraisers, hospitality rooms and bar bills, donating relatively little to charities.
The charity fund was set up more to do “coalition building” and to “burnish the image” of the union, he said.
He also was critical of the union investigation into O’Leary and blasted the report by an accountant hired by the union, who was also the personal friend of a union member.
The report formed the basis for the city’s findings against O’Leary.
No hearing date has been set.
Tom Dalton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A timeline of the O'Leary case
- O'Leary appointed to Salem Fire Department.
- O'Leary elected to union executive board.
- Salem Firefighters Local 172 signs contract with All-Pro Productions to raise funds for charities and other causes. O'Leary signs contract on behalf of union.
- Union opens fundraising savings account in Greater Salem Employees Federal Credit Union. Union Secretary-Treasurer Richard Thomas opens account and is "authorized signer."
- First fundraising drive raises $69,000 (union's share is $25,000). From 2002-10, union raises about $344,000 from residents and businesses (union's share is $129,000).
- O'Leary elected union president.
- O'Leary becomes authorized signer on union charity account.
- Richard Thomas elected union president.
- Union launches investigation into fundraising account.
- Thomas meets with fire Chief David Cody about union fund.
- O'Leary placed on administrative leave pending hearing.
- City holds hearing; O'Leary terminated.
- O'Leary appeals to Civil Service Commission.
- Civil Service Commission affirms O'Leary firing.
- O'Leary appeals to Superior Court.
Sources: City of Salem; Massachusetts Civil Service Commission Dec. 19 decision; court filings.