Tucked behind bushes and alongside a Highway Department employee’s barn, police last week found a truckload of town equipment.
Another load had been headed to the same place, police said, when officers intercepted it.
Westport Police now intend to charge town Highway Surveyor Harold “Jack” Sisson Jr., 58, and Highway Department mechanic John M. Kennedy, 40, both of Westport, with three felony counts each in connection with accusations that they stole town-owned equipment.
The two face charges of receiving false-traded property, larceny over $250, and conspiracy. Items taken, according to a police report written by Detective Jeff Majewski and Sgt. Antonio Cestodio, were a Cub Cadet riding mower worth $1,700, and other items valued at from $25 to $250 including a hydraulic plow, aluminum ramps, bagger attachment, landscaping trailer, aerator/thatcher attachment, and a landscaping roller. The items were listed as being in fair to excellent condition.
Although the two were arrested Monday, both men had already been relieved of duty late last week. Highway Department Foreman Chris Gonsalves, along with the town administrator, is handling Mr. Sisson’s duties for now.
Mr. Sisson could not be reached for comment Monday. Both men were summonsed to appear in Fall River District Court for arraignment on Nov. 20
After meeting in closed session Thursday under the reason ” Investigating charges of criminal misconduct and to consider the filing of criminal complaints,” The Board of Selectmen notified Mr. Sisson late last week by letter that he is to stay out of town buildings and vehicles other than Town Hall. The letter states that the action is due to Mr. Sisson having “taken from the Town of Westport Highway Department numerous pieces of equipment owned by the Town with the intent of permanently depriving the Town of the ownership, possession and use of its equipment.” It also accused him of having “inappropriate” contact with other town employees during the investigation and forbids him from having further contact with any town employees. He has been ordered to return any town equipment in his possession, including a Cub Cadet riding mower.
Asked how this situation had come to light, Town Administrator Jack Healey said, “The police chief looked out his window and saw something that needed to be explained to him.” Mr. Healey would not elaborate, saying that the matter is under investigation.
In Monday’s police report, Det. Majewski said he learned that a company was at the Highway Department (next door to the police station) on October 25 loading town property into a Peterbilt ramp truck registered to 146 Supply Center in Millbury, Mass.
“The chief had seen this and sent two lieutenants out to find out what was going on.” The lieutenants, in turn, called in Det. Majewski.
The truck driver told Det. Majewski that he had been instructed by Mr. Sisson to deliver the items to a 174 Forge Road, the residence of Mr. Kennedy. The detective and driver went to that address.
“As we pulled into the driveway. I observed a Cub Cadet lawnmower” and other items “placed alongside the garage and behind some bushes,” items that Det. Majewski said the driver told him had been delivered in an earlier load that morning.” The driver said that Mr. Sisson “pointed out to him where to place the items behind the garage.”
Interviewed later, Mr. Kennedy told police that Mr. Sisson said the items were to be traded in to 146 Supply for equipment that the department needs. Mr. Kennedy told police that he asked Mr. Sisson whether he could have the Cub Cadet if he paid $500. He said that Mr. Sisson replied that he would try to get 146 Supply to give it to him for free since it wasn’t worth much.
Det. Majewski said that Mr. Kennedy was asked if he had any other town-owned items at his house. He replied that he had an air compressor a weed trimmer and a chainsaw — he returned the items the next day.
Police say that Mr. Sisson was interviewed Ot. 26 and shown various quotes from 146 Supply for purchase of items against trade-in of other town items. Asked if he understood the basics of procurement law and the need to get bids for purchases over $500, “Mr. Sisson replied, ‘I’m getting older’ as an excuse for why it had not been done properly.” He said he didn’t think of getting other quotes.
Later, he acknowledged to police that he had been receiving training for proper procurement processes after previous problems but added, “I don’t like dealing with paperwork.”
Last Thursday evening, the Board of Selectmen voted to freeze all town Highway Department expenditures. A press release the next day stated that Town Administrator Healey will be in charge of financial matters at the Highway Department for the time being.
Mr. Sisson is allowed inside Town Hall for personal reasons or conduct highway surveyor business.
This is hardly the first time Mr. Sisson has faced accusations. In 2011 he was accused of having his department do work on private land, providing town-owned stone to private individuals, and having a local firm to work on highway vehicles without going through proper bidding.
He called the accusations “political,” the result of a campaign against him by former Town Admibistrator Michael Coughlin. He said the stone/asphalt mix was of no use to the town and was used by individuals who had provided help to his department that had saved the town money. And he said the fact that he has repeatedly been reelected by comfortable margins an indication that townspeople understand the political basis of the repeated attempts to oust him
Mr. Coughlin, in turn, said the accusations were backed by a highly critical report by the state Inspector General’s office. The accusations were forward to the District Attorney’s office which declined to prosecute.