FBI inquires about Hampshire County jail’s wood shop operation

  • Hampshire County Jail and House of Correction in Northampton. FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 9/22/2022 8:58:38 PM

NORTHAMPTON — An FBI special agent has interviewed a former inmate of the Hampshire County Jail and House of Correction about allegations involving the jail’s wood shop that were made in a recent letter to the editor published in the Gazette, according to the former inmate and his sister, city resident Lilly Lombard.

“I was approached by the FBI regarding an investigation into” the Hampshire County Sheriff’s Office, Lombard said. The agent from the FBI came to her home on Sept. 7, she said.

Lombard was not home when the agent stopped by, she said, but he left his business card and she spoke to him later on the phone. She showed the card to a reporter. The agent asked for help setting up an interview with her brother, she said.

The Gazette spoke to the former inmate and he confirmed that the interview took place last Thursday.

At this time, it is unknown if any particular person or group within the sheriff’s office, or past employee, is considered a target of an investigation.

An FBI spokesperson said that the agent is not allowed to comment and the bureau does not confirm or deny its investigative activities.

Hampshire County Sheriff Patrick Cahillane and the general counsel for the sheriff’s office, Charles Maguire, said they had not been notified, nor are they aware, of an FBI investigation. Cahillane provided a statement and asked the Gazette to print it in its entirety. The full statement can be found at the end of this article.

‘My brother had a gift’

Lombard said the FBI special agent had read the letter to the editor in which she alleged that her brother, who served two multiyear jail terms and was last released in October 2017, was tasked with building furniture in the wood shop for the personal use of staff and administrators. Her brother worked 40 hours per week and earned 15 cents per hour, she said, which adds up to $6 per week. His pay was not enough to cover his weekly coffee expenses at the jail’s commissary, she said.

 “[H]e made some pieces for the public good that make him proud — picnic tables at the courthouse, signposts at local conservation areas, a bookcase for the district attorney’s office,” the letter reads. “But as word spread that he was a gifted woodworker, my brother was asked to build things for jail employees, including high level administrative staff whom he could name.”

She said that taxpayers picked up the tab for her brother’s labor and the wood was provided, in part, through donations from a local lumber company.

“A kitchen table, a set of baker’s cabinets, custom countertops. He had photos of the pieces he’d made and texted them to me. There they were in full color with jail block walls in the background,” the letter reads. “[M]y brother displayed things he’d built, while in jail, for the sole benefit of his jailers.”

The Gazette has seen five of the photos, each showing different pieces of furniture, which Lombard alleges her brother built for the benefit of jail employees. The photos were shared with the FBI agent, she said.

“It would be really hard to deny that (the photos were taken) in the jail,” Lombard said in an interview.

Cahillane was elected in November 2016 after working at the jail in numerous capacities for 35 years, from corrections officer to deputy superintendent, and took office in early January 2017. He won the Democratic primary on Sept. 6 over two rivals as he seeks a second term. During at least some of the time in question, former Sheriff Robert Garvey ran the Hampshire County Sheriff’s Office.

Lombard described the situation as “staff enrichment using taxpayer money and basically leveraging inmates’ vulnerabilities.” She said her brother was afraid to speak up for years, but now that he has moved out of state, he is less worried about retribution.

“It happened over about a year and a half,” Lombard said. “He produced items for dozens of people, corrections officers on up. ... He has photographs of these items in at least one staff’s home.”

Cahillane said the woodworking program has been running for 50 years and this is the first criticism he has heard about it.

“Products made by inmates include signs which are donated to public entities,” Cahillane’s statement reads in part. “Other products, such as rocking horses and rocking chairs, are offered to the public for the cost of materials. The woodshop also offers chair recaning at cost. The HSO has never excluded officers or the staff from participation in this program.”

Asked for her response to the statement, Lombard said she views the situation as a conflict of interest.

“Has never excluded HSO staff? It’s just so inappropriate,” she said. “Anyone who doesn’t exclude staff from being personally enriched by incarcerated people, who have no power or can be perceived as personally beholden to correctional staff, has a really skewed and inappropriate view of the program.”

Lombard’s brother’s first period of incarceration was under former sheriff Robert Garvey. His second period of incarceration ended in October 2017, the year Cahillane became sheriff. Attempts to reach Garvey for comment were unsuccessful.

“They talk a talk about education and vocational training,” Lombard said, “but that woodworking shop could have been a training center. My brother had a gift as a woodworker and also as a teacher. And while he was there, no one was benefiting from those skills.”

Cahillane’s statement

The following is Cahillane’s statement in its entirety. It has not been edited in any way.

“I wish to confirm the representations made by our General Counsel, Charles Maguire, that the Hampshire Sheriff’s Office has not been notified, and is not aware of any investigation into any alleged wrongdoing that has been initiated by the FBI, or any other governmental entity. Nor has this Office initiated any internal investigations related to the operation of the Jail’s woodshop. Accordingly, I am neither in a position, nor am I inclined to respond to vague and unspecified claims covering a period of one and half years, and dating back to February 2015, nearly one year before I was sworn in as the Hampshire County Sheriff. However, in the interest of transparency I will tell you what I do know about our woodworking program.

“As part of its vocational rehabilitation program for the past 50 years the HSO has operated a woodworking program under previous Sheriffs John Boyle and Robert Garvey and continuing today under my administration. We all had the same goal: giving men in our care dignity while in their stages of recovery and giving them hope of success. This takes on many forms and people with woodworking skills or those who want to learn woodworking can have a focus on learning and healing. Participation is purely voluntary.

“Products made by inmates include signs which are donated to public entities. Other products, such as rocking horses and rocking chairs, are offered to the public for the cost of materials. The woodshop also offers chair recaning at cost. The HSO has never excluded officers or the staff from participation in this program. I believe that this program furthers the interests of inmate rehabilitation by providing the men that we serve with marketable skills. To my knowledge this is the very first criticism the HSO has received related to our woodworking program during its 50 years or more of operation. Based upon Mrs. Lombard’s concerns, I will be reviewing all aspects of the woodworking program.”

Brian Steele can be reached at bsteele@gazettenet.com.

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