A Highway Department mechanic was arraigned on theft , conspiracy and receiving false traded property charges Tuesday, while his supervisor was expected to face similar counts next Wednesday week (after Shorelines goes to press).
Mechanic John M. Kennedy, 40, of Westport was arraigned in Fall River District Court on charges that his attorney later called baseless. He will next appear in court on Feb. 5 for a pre-trial hearing.
Meanwhile Highway Surveyor Jack Sisson, 58, of Westport did not appear for his scheduled arraignment last week. Instead, his attorney, Emile Morad, asked that the arraignment of be put off until Wednesday, Nov. 28. The request was granted.
It is not known whether Mr. Sisson will actually appear at his arraignment. His attorney, who did not return a phone call, asked that Mr. Sisson be allowed to miss the Wednesday proceeding.
Both men have been ordered to stay away from the Highway Department until the cases are resolved. Highway Department Foreman Chris Gonsalves, along with the town administrator, are handling Mr. Sisson’s duties for now.
Police lodged the charges after intercepting a truckload of town-owned items that was about to be driven to Mr. Kennedy’s house.
Detective Jeff Majewski said the probe began after police on October 25 saw a Peterbilt ramp truck at the Highway Department (next door to the police station) being loaded with town-owned equipment. The truck, they learned, was 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 driver then led detectives to Mr. Kennedy’s house where items delivered earlier by that same truck were found alongside a barn.
Items found, according to a police report written by Detective Majewski and Sgt. Antonio Cestodio, included 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. 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.
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. An additional larceny charge against Mr. Kennedy was added later when police said they found that he had ordered parts for a lawn tractor on behalf of the town but that the parts actually fit his own tractor.
Police say that Mr. Sisson was interviewed Oct. 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.
This is not 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.