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Mass. ethics officials allege former Sandisfield town employee violated conflict of interest law

Eastbound state route 57 entering Sandisfield, Massachusetts.
John Phelan
Creative Commons
Eastbound state route 57 entering Sandisfield, Massachusetts.

The Massachusetts State Ethics Commission alleged Thursday that a former highway road superintendent from Sandisfield has violated the state's conflict of interest law.

Before he was Sandisfield's highway road superintendent, Robert O'Brien's company, P & R Construction, was paid by the town to plow snow.

The ethics commission said it "found reasonable cause to believe" that after becoming the superintendent, O'Brien violated the law between 2015 and 2018. Officials alleged he hired his own construction company 42 times to plow snow and rent equipment to the town — and approved payments of more than $50,000 to his company.

It further alleged O'Brien gathered quotes for the town to rent an excavator. After O'Brien read the quotes, the commission said, his company submitted a lower quote and later got paid for the rental.

The allegations said O'Brien also did his own work "on town time."

The commission could issue a civil penalty of as much as $10,000 for each violation.

O'Brien, who could not be reached for comment, has about three weeks to respond to the allegations.

Nancy Eve Cohen is a senior reporter focusing on Berkshire County. Previously she served as the editor of the Northeast Environmental Hub, a collaborative of public radio stations. Earlier in her career she was the Midwest editor for NPR in Washington, D.C. Before working in radio, she recorded sound as part of a camera crew for network television news, with assignments in Russia, Guatemala, Mexico, Cuba and in Sarajevo during the war in 1992.
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