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FBI in City of Homes? Again?

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Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Is the FBI once again sniffing around Springfield City Hall?

Sadly, yes, at least according to a recent article by the Republican’s Stephanie Barry, who cited unnamed sources in reporting that federal agents “have been conducting interviews with a small number of municipal insiders in recent weeks.” (The head of the local FBI office declined to confirm or deny any investigation.)

The apparent focus of their questions? Political consultant Charlie Kingston’s “ties to City Hall,” Barry wrote.

Kingston was also the focus of Barry’s long, detailed March 24 article. Kingston, who worked as a city tax collector during the administration of then-Mayor Richie Neal, was caught up in an earlier public corruption investigation in Springfield in the 1990s, when he was convicted of tax-related charges. He appealed those convictions, which were overturned, and eventually pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor.

None of that, however, prevented Kingston from retaining his position as a highly influential behind-the-scenes political operative in the city. And, according to Barry’s reporting, that includes undue influence over Springfield’s current mayor.

“Mayor Domenic J. Sarno won a third term by a landslide in 2011,” she wrote, “but municipal records obtained by The Republican raise questions about who really wields the most power at City Hall.”

After examining emails and voicemail messages between Kingston and Tom Walsh, the mayor’s former press aide, which she obtained through a public records request, Barry wrote, “documents suggest Kingston green-lights everything from policy and personnel decisions to appointments to municipal boards and commissions.”

Walsh told Barry that Kingston signed off on just about all the mayor’s public statements, as well as his hiring decisions and appointments. “I think the voters’ intent on who they elected was clear, but, at times, I felt that I was working for Mr. Kingston,” Walsh said. He also told Barry that he’d been directed to use his personal email account, not his City Hall address, for correspondence with Kingston, who in turn used an account under his wife’s name.

Sarno denied the allegations while, perhaps inadvertently, nonetheless revealing Kingston’s influence: “I’m the mayor. I make the decisions. Charlie has always indicated to me: Make good policy decisions for the citizens of Springfield. ... Charlie always tells me: You make the decisions and always make them based on good public policy. The politics will fall as they may. … I only ask him for the pros and cons.”

Barry’s article also raises the intriguing question of what role, if any, Kingston plays in the competition between the two casino developers interested in Springfield. “The casino topic … is scant in the emails and voicemails between Walsh and Kingston,” Barry wrote—raising the question of why she introduced the topic at all, and the expectation that perhaps she’ll have more to report on that matter. Meanwhile, reports that federal investigators have, once again, taken an interest in Springfield do not bode well for a city poised to welcome the very lucrative business of casino gambling to town.•

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