Attorney: Ousted Stockbridge fire chief open to settlement
STOCKBRIDGE — The attorney representing the town's terminated fire chief and current Select Board chairman has signaled that her client would be open to a financial settlement with the town instead of a jury trial at U.S. District Court in Springfield.
The suggestion of a pretrial settlement came from Ernest "Chuck" Cardillo's attorney, Elizabeth J. Quigley. And notably, her proposed settlement does not include reinstatement to his former post as fire chief.
The informal offer follows Wednesday's announcement of an $850,000 settlement with two New York vendors accused of scamming 43 Massachusetts communities through a fraudulent, high-pressure telemarketing scheme.
Stockbridge was among the victims of Pioneer Products and Noble Industrial Supply Corp., which sold Cardillo, the fire chief from 2012 to early 2019, excessive supplies of overpriced equipment such as foam, wipes, truck wash, hose and ice melt. The net monetary loss to the town was about $25,000, according to an investigation by Town Counsel J. Raymond Miyares.
"We would love to settle the case, because my client is not interested in hurting the town, he just needs to be compensated for what happened to him," Quigley told The Eagle in a phone interview. "That is what he would like because he wants to make sure he's fairly compensated but nobody's hurt."
Miyares did not offer a comment on Quigley's informal settlement offer.
Asked for his reaction to the state's settlement with the two vendors, Miyares told The Eagle via email that "the town is grateful to the Offices of the Inspector General and Attorney General for following through on the information the town provided to them. The town's experience underscores the importance of the procedures governing municipal procurement that are in place, including proper documentation and oversight. This is any municipality's best defense against unscrupulous businesses hoping to prey on unsuspecting fire chiefs and other local officials."
In his lawsuit filed at federal court in Springfield in April 2019, Cardillo alleged that he was pressured by two Select Board colleagues, Terry Flynn and Donald Chabon, to resign as fire chief and selectman "in order to stay employed by the town in an inferior position."
As a result, the civil complaint contends, Cardillo has suffered damages that include "loss of income, employment benefits, other financial losses, loss of professional opportunities, damage to his reputation and loss of community standing."
The lawsuit alleges a campaign by Flynn and Chabon to replace Cardillo as fire chief while assuring him that he would have "job security within the town" if he resigned first as selectman and then as fire chief. Initially, the complaint states, Cardillo was promised continued employment as an EMT for the Fire Department, but after a closed-door Select Board session in mid-December 2018, the offer was revised to town employment "in an inferior position, not within the Fire Department."
The lawsuit names Chabon and Flynn, as well as the town, as defendants.
"From what I can tell, not one person associated with the fraud perpetrated upon the 43 municipalities was fired from their position, except Chuck Cardillo," Quigley said.
She asserted that "not only was he fired, but he was told by the predecessor selectmen that in order for him to have any type of employment with the town, he would have to resign as a selectman."
Making her pitch for an out-of-court resolution of the case, Quigley noted that "now that the attorney general has successfully negotiated a settlement, we can take as fact that 43 municipalities were essentially defrauded by these companies."
The list of the municipalities has not been disclosed by the state. The 43 communities victimized in the scheme will share a $400,000 cut of the settlement, with most of the rest going into the state's general fund. The specific amounts headed for Stockbridge and the other communities remains under wraps for now.
"The town of Stockbridge is included among these 43 victims," Quigley said. "Unfortunately, an additional victim became Chuck Cardillo. Now that there is a change in the Select Board, it is our hope that the unconscionable act of terminating Mr. Cardillo, which caused him to lose his state pension, will be rectified by people of goodwill."
Quigley did not offer a dollar figure for a potential settlement, but she stated that "it can be done in a cost-effective way right now for the town, and it is my hope on my client's behalf that the excellent people who are now presently in office will guide the town to a cost-effective resolution of this matter."
The lawsuit filed in federal court includes a request for Cardillo's reinstatement as fire chief, the retroactive value of his salary and benefits, plus legal fees.
But, Quigley did not mention reinstatement among her suggestions for financial compensation that would avoid a jury trial, which she predicted was unlikely to be scheduled until next spring.
"If we were forced to go to trial by the town, in addition to the benefits he was guaranteed under his contract, including salary plus legal fees, we would be looking for compensation for the First Amendment violation based on the two then-selectmen requiring him to resign as selectman in order to stay employed with the town in a different position," Quigley said.
Clarence Fanto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter @BE_cfanto or at 413-637-2551.
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