State: Ex Southampton fire chief Hyde faked payroll to pay son $7K; used department generator at home for years
SOUTHAMPTON — The state Ethics Commission said Tuesday it has reason to believe former fire chief Stephen J. Hyde Sr. falsified payroll documents in 2011 so his son, Stephen J. Hyde Jr., could be paid $6,581 for firefighting duties never performed. In a statement, the commission also said Hyde used the Fire Department’s $2,000 generator to power his home without permission for about 2½ years.
Select Board members have remained silent on why they voted not to renew Hyde’s contract in June 2012, so Tuesday’s announcement by the Ethics Commission’s enforcement division sheds light on the issue for the first time in 16 months.
Hyde, 64, did not return calls for comment Tuesday. After the board’s decision in 2012, Hyde told the Gazette he was “totally surprised” and had done nothing to deserve his ouster.
In interviews that summer, Hyde said he had the generator at his home to power his police and fire radio and other equipment in case of a power failure. He said other fire chiefs before his time had done the same.
The Ethics Commission’s Enforcement Division announced that it had filed an “order to show cause” describing Hyde’s alleged violations of the state’s conflict-of-interest law. If the commission ultimately decides he did violate the law, it can levy a civil penalty of up to $10,000 per violation and require him to pay restitution to the town.
Select Board member and Highway Superintendent Edward J. Cauley said he received a copy of the order Monday. “I guess they found enough evidence to move forward with it,” he said. “My feeling is, let due process take its course. That serves the public.”
Cauley said the issue was passed to the Ethics Commission by the Northwestern district attorney’s office, but he declined to say how the prosecutor’s office became involved.
The commission has no ability to pursue criminal charges, and Cauley said he does not know of any town plans to file criminal charges.
The commission said Hyde’s son, employed as an on-call firefighter from 2007 to 2012, benefited from his father’s ability to control the department payroll. Town documents show the younger Hyde is a 24-year-old student who lives with his father at 157 Middle Road.
According to the commission’s investigation, the former chief falsified 17 payrolls he submitted to the town from January to November 2011 so that his son was paid at least $50 for time he did not work.
The town’s on-call firefighters are compensated when they work at the station or show up to fires, accidents or other calls based on “call sheets,” on which the fire chief checks off the names of firefighters who are present so they get compensated.
“Hyde checked his son’s name on call sheets indicating that his son worked 346 hours of station duty, which his son did not work, resulting in his son being paid approximately $6,356,” the commission’s statement says.
Nine times from April to August 2011, he also checked his son’s name on call sheets for fire or ambulance calls to which he never responded, getting the town to pay him another $225 he did not earn, according to the investigation.
If he falsified the documents to pay his son, Hyde violated a section of the Conflict of Interest Law that prohibits a municipal employee from knowingly “presenting a false or fraudulent claim to his employer for any payment or benefit of substantial value,” as well as another section that prohibits knowingly “using or attempting to use his official position to secure for himself or others unwarranted privileges or exemptions which are of substantial value.”
The commission also argues that Hyde’s use of the generator at his home violated the latter section regarding securing “unwarranted privileges.”
The state agency alleges that in late 2009 or early 2010, Hyde took home a new generator worth at least $2,000 from the Fire Department.
“Hyde did not have authorization to use the generator at his home for any purpose, nor did he pay for the generator,” the press release said. “Hyde did not return the generator to the town until July 2012, when his fire chief contract expired.”
Hyde said that after he was ousted, he called then interim fire chief William B. Kaleta to come and get the generator and other Fire Department equipment he had at his home. He had several chain saws, he said, which he was attempting to fix in his garage.
Now that the commission has released its findings, Hyde has 21 days to file an answer to each claim in the order “admitting, denying, or explaining material facts,” according to the division’s procedures listed on its website.
The commission will schedule a public “adjudicatory hearing” within 90 days, when Hyde can present evidence and testify on his own behalf. After the hearing, the commissioners will issue a decision about whether the law was violated and, if it was, what the penalty will be.
Cauley said it has been a long time since Hyde was ousted and he had mostly forgotten about the investigation until the announcement crossed his desk Monday.
John C. Workman, 52, a former Belchertown fire captain, began work as the town’s new fire chief on Oct. 15. The board signed a $70,000 contract with him earlier this month after choosing him from a pool of 28 applicants.
Cauley said it’s a promising time for the town’s Fire Department with new leadership. “I think this has worked out well for the town,” he said.
Hyde worked on the Southampton Fire Department for 32 years, and said in past interviews that he dedicated himself to improving the department and making sure emergency calls were answered.
In his last nine years on the department, he was involved in several conflicts with colleagues and other town officials. He applied to be chief in 2003 and then sued the town for age discrimination because the Select Board appointed Robert Barcomb, then 32 and the son of the retiring fire chief, William Barcomb, as chief instead of himself.
A rift in the fire department followed and Barcomb resigned in 2004. Hyde was appointed acting chief, but in May 2005, about half of the firefighters signed a letter stating they had no confidence in him. When he was appointed chief in 2006 after a long search process, five firefighters resigned in response.
Before working as fire chief, Hyde owned a car repair business.
Rebecca Everett can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.