Johnston Firefighters Illegally Fundraise for Former Fire Chief

Friday, August 20, 2010


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A GoLocalProv investigation has found that the Johnston firefighters' union is illegally fundraising for former fire Chief Victor Cipriano, who is running for mayor.

In a June 7 letter printed on the official letterhead of the Johnston Association of Firefighters Local 1950, Richard Boehm, the vice president, urges retired members to buy a ticket for a fundraiser for Cipriano. He asked those who could not attend to donate directly to Cipriano. (See below for a copy of the letter.)

The letter is a clear violation of state election law banning nonprofit and for-profit corporations from donating to or making any expenditures on behalf of a campaign, according to a local attorney well-versed in the law.

Even if the letter had been sent by the political action committee for the union, he said it would still have been a violation because the PAC already maxed out its contribution to Cipriano, donating $1,000 on April 30, according to state campaign finance records. Just the mere cost of printing the letter and paying for postage exceeded that cap, according to the attorney. “They violated two laws with that one letter,” he said.

Councilman: Letter Is ‘Absolutely Inappropriate’

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Councilman Ernest Pitochelli agreed, condemning the letter as “absolutely inappropriate.”

In the letter, Boehm urges retired firefighters to support Cipriano over incumbent Mayor Joseph Polisena, suggesting that Cipriano will get them a better deal on their contracts and pensions.

“When considering a ticket please remember how the present administration has dealt with this local with regards to retirement benefits, salary increases, C.O.L.A’s and many other issues,” Boehm wrote.

Boehm turned down repeated requests for comment yesterday.

Cipriano Expected to Support Generous Pensions

Earlier this month, GoLocalProv reported that Cipriano himself is the beneficiary of a special pension deal that violates state law by allowing him to earn more on his disability pension than he ever earned while on the job.

Pitochelli, who supports Polisena for re-election, said the letter sends a bad message to the public. “I think it shows that some of our Johnston firefighters are more concerned about their dollars and cents than the town of Johnston,” he said.

He said he didn’t doubt that Cipriano would try to get the most generous salary, benefits, and pension deals for firefighters—claiming that the costs of salaries and benefits went up while Cipriano was chief.

If Cipriano is elected mayor, Pitochelli warned that would happen again. “I’m quite confident that his goal is to feed those who are supporting him,” Pitochelli said. “To me, he’s protecting his own.”

Polisena, meanwhile, has initiated a crackdown on overly generous and potentially illegal pensions that were awarded to about nine police officers and about a dozen firefighters before he took office. His administration has said it will attempt to recover the extra money that was improperly paid to retirees—even if it has to take them to court.

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