Unions seek lock on retirement account of Pittsfield officer accused of stealing funds
PITTSFIELD — An attorney representing two unions wants a judge to lock the retirement account of a former Pittsfield Police Officer Jeffrey Coco, who is accused of stealing more than $150,000 in union funds.
In a hearing in Berkshire Superior Court on Tuesday, Attorney Karen Betournay noted the account likely is the only asset Coco has, and there would be no other recourse for the unions to recoup any losses.
She asked Judge John Agostini to order an injunction, which would prevent Coco from accessing his city retirement account while he appeals his termination.
Coco's attorney, Timothy Burke, said Betournay's argument did not meet the standards for granting an injunction, including showing the union would suffer irreparable harm without it. He also said Coco suffers from an addiction to opiates, which developed from being "over-prescribed" painkillers after being injured on duty in altercations with prisoners.
Coco was fired last year after an internal investigation produced evidence he stole more than $150,000 over the course of three years while serving as the president of the International Brotherhood of Police Officers (IBPO) Local 447 at the Pittsfield Police Department.
Betournay, representing the IBPO and the National Association of Government Employees, said Tuesday that number may be closer to $191,000.
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."
Betournay said there is no public information regarding the amount of cash in Coco's account, but she said an estimate based on other officers with similar amounts of time on the force puts it at about $80,000.
She 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.
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.
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.
Burke called Betournay's argument an "emotional appeal," but he said there was no precedent for allowing an injunction under these circumstances.
"The law is the law," he said.
Burke said there was no evidence that a full forensic audit has yet been conducted in the matter, and he said Coco has made "good faith efforts," to repay some of the money.
Betournay said the discussions about repayment never got past the hypothetical stage and she didn't consider them serious offers.
Burke said Coco is working part-time and cannot collect unemployment due to his termination — though that decision is being appealed. He said Coco had to sell one car with a second in danger of repossession and faces $17,000 in fees from the IRS.
Agostini said he would take the matter under advisement.
Contact Bob Dunn at 413-496-6249.