SALEM — For the first time since he was fired by the city last August, former Fire Department Lt. John O’Leary spoke in his own defense yesterday at an appeal hearing in Boston before the Massachusetts Civil Service Commission.
O’Leary, a 16-year veteran and former union president, was terminated for the alleged misappropriation of more than $25,000 in union charitable funds.
O’Leary, who followed other witnesses on the stand, testified near the end of a hearing that was continued to next week.
While saying he sometimes made cash withdrawals or cashed checks from a union account at the Greater Salem Employee Federal Credit Union, O’Leary said it was to make donations to youth and sports groups or to pay bills. He said he made regular reports to the executive board of the Salem Firefighters Union and kept detailed records, which were turned over to the union.
O’Leary, who did not testify at the city hearing last year, was accused of writing checks or making cash donations to numerous organizations or individuals between 2002 and 2010 that could not be verified or were not received.
Although the funds were earmarked largely for charities, city hearing officer Elizabeth Rennard concluded that the cash disbursements “appear to be misappropriated for the personal benefit of John O’Leary.”
In its findings, however, the city did not present evidence of ways O’Leary allegedly benefited.
Joseph Dever, O’Leary’s attorney, said his client denies any wrongdoing and might, if anything, be guilty only of poor record keeping — a charge he suggested could also be brought against the union and many of the groups that allegedly received donations.
Yesterday, O’Leary was questioned about one of those allegedly questionable transactions — a check for $1,500 made out to “Salem Firefighters Local 172 or The William Hudson Fund” and endorsed by O’Leary.