, Salem, MA

July 26, 2013

Our view: Some cheers, some jeers for recent newsmakers

The Salem News

---- — CHEERS to U.S. District Court Judge Douglas Woodlock, who last week exceeded the request of prosecutors in sentencing Michael McLaughlin to three years in prison.

McLaughlin, the former executive director of the Chelsea Housing Authority, pleaded guilty to lying about his salary in his budgets and then filing false reports to state and federal authorities. McLaughlin reported his salary in 2011 was $160,415, when in fact, his salary was at least $283,471, and his total compensation was $324,896. McLaughlin also under-reported his salary in 2008, 2009 and 2010.

McLaughlin faced a maximum sentence of 20 years, three years of supervised release and a $250,000 fine on each of four counts.

Prosecutors had recommended that McLaughlin, who was a Methuen town manager in the early 1990s, receive 18 months. But Woodlock doubled that sentence, saying McLaughlin had committed “very serious crimes.”

It is refreshing to find a judge who is willing to look beyond the deals made between prosecutors and defense attorneys and hand down sentences appropriate to the crimes committed. Woodlock said McLaughlin “picked the pockets” of housing authority residents. He deserved the harsher sentence.

JEERS to McLaughlin himself, who indeed picked the pockets of the poor.

The former Chelsea Housing Authority director wept crocodile tears as he was about to be sentenced, saying that he “truly regretted” filing false reports and blamed his actions on his stubbornness and ego. We suspect the only thing McLaughlin “truly regretted” was that he was caught.

In his more than 40-year political career, McLaughlin had a track record of questionable behavior.

While a state representative in the 1970s, McLaughlin was investigated by the Middlesex District Attorney’s office for allegedly pressuring businesses to contribute to his campaigns. That case was dismissed.

While serving on the Middlesex County Commission, he was called to testify before a grand jury concerning the selling of jobs. McLaughlin repeatedly pleaded the Fifth Amendment in refusing to testify about his approval of jobs for high-ranking members of the Boston mob. McLaughlin was never charged.

McLaughlin lasted just two years in the early 1990s as Methuen town manager. He resigned under pressure in 1992. Council members called him “power hungry” and “ruthless.”

The late Sen. Paul Tsongas had him pegged: “In all my life in politics, from the Lowell City Council to the U.S. Senate, no one worries me more than Michael McLaughlin.”

His guilty plea and sentencing likely put an end to McLaughlin’s political career — an end that is long overdue.

Finally CHEERS to the Salem residents who staved off a push to paint over the city’s own TARDIS earlier this month.

For the uninitiated, the TARDIS (which stands for Time and Relative Dimension in Space) is the blue box used to travel through time and space by the title character of the long-running British science-fiction series, “Doctor Who.”

In the television show, the TARDIS takes the form of a blue police call box commonly found in Great Britain in the last century. Salem’s TARDIS is actually a hulking utility box off Bridge Street painted over by artist Amanda Dunham as part of the city’s public ArtBox program.

Some residents worried that others might confuse it with an actual call box, and they wanted the “police” painted over. Fortunately, there was a hue and cry over social media, and cooler heads prevailed. We think it’s a fun addition to the downtown landscape.