Judge declines to block Jeffrey Coco's access to retirement funds
PITTSFIELD — A Superior Court Judge has denied a motion which would have prevented former Pittsfield Police Officer Jeffrey Coco from accessing his city retirement account while he appeals his termination.
Coco was fired last year for allegedly looting about $190,000 of police union funds while he was treasurer and president of the International Brotherhood of Police Officers Local 447.
In late February, attorney Karen Betournay argued for the injunction to freeze the account, noting the estimated $80,000 it contains is likely the only asset Coco has.
She said Coco's house is not in his name and he has no other assets that could be liquidated to pay restitution if he is convicted on criminal charges — "unless he's got money hidden somewhere."
In his two-page decision, Judge John Agostini said in order to grant the injunction, the plaintiffs — the unions, in this case — have to demonstrate a strong likelihood of success on the merits of their claim and show they would suffer "irreparable harm" without the injunction.
While he found it "likely that the plaintiff will be successful," on the merits of the case for a "significant sum of money," Agostini said Betournay's argument did not demonstrate irreparable harm.
"The loss of money from theft, no matter how painful, is classically a wrong that can be remedied with money damages and is not the stuff of irreparable injury," part of the decision reads.
Agostini also noted he had "serious doubts," whether the unions would be able to claim money from the account if Coco is ultimately convicted of criminal charges and ordered to repay the money he allegedly stole.
Coco allegedly made about 415 withdrawals from union accounts, totalling about $133,000, between 2013 and 2015. An internal investigation determined those withdrawals were either cash or checks written to Coco, but not used for legitimate union expenses.
The same investigation revealed that about $58,000 worth of union dues were not paid by the local unions to the national one while Coco was a member of the union's executive board.
Betournay said the union accounts, which should have several thousand dollars in them, were whittled down to about $400, preventing the department from funding scholarships and sponsoring youth sports last winter.
In announcing Coco's dismissal in December, Police Chief Michael Wynn said he requested assistance from the Massachusetts State Police Detective Unit of the Berkshire District Attorney's Office to explore possible criminal charges.
Coco has yet to be indicted by a grand jury in the matter, but Betournay, in making her case for the injunction, said the state would be very likely to prevail if the case were to go to trial.
Contact Bob Dunn at 413-496-6249.
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