FOX25 Investigates 'pay to play' allegations at Suffolk County Sheriff's Office

25 Investigates 'pay to play' allegations at Suffolk County Sheriff's Office

BOSTON — FOX25 Investigates has uncovered allegations of a “pay to play” culture at the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department that rewards officers for donating to the sheriff’s political campaign.

Former and current officers who spoke with FOX25 Investigates over the past several months allege they were encouraged – and even pressured – to donate to Suffolk County Sheriff Steven Tompkins’ re-election campaign in order to get ahead on the job.

Two former employees – along with current workers who asked not to be identified for fear of retribution – told FOX25 that Tompkins fosters a “pay to play” culture in which officers are rewarded for campaign donations.

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“What happened to me and other officers is just not fair,” said Arthur Bacon, a former corrections officer who served in the honor guard. “Everyone who is close to the sheriff – they know the deal. It's about money.”

Aiyana Spencer, another former officer, said the “pay to play” culture is an unwritten rule at the sheriff’s department.

“The more you donate, the better off you're going to be at the job,” Spencer told FOX25 Investigates. “I wanted to be a sergeant. I wanted to be a lieutenant. And they said, ‘Well, if you want to make these things happen, prepare to do the parades, be prepared to donate.’”

Tompkins called the allegations that there is pressure to donate to his campaign “utter nonsense.”

“All I ask from my labor force is to come to work and put in a good day's work for a good day's pay,” said Tompkins. “You don't have to contribute to my campaign. You don't have to hold a sign for my campaign. You don't have to do anything for my campaign.”

Employees donate to the sheriff

But FOX25 Investigates found that more than a third of all donations to Tompkins’ re-election campaign have come from his employees – and that figure doesn’t include the donations flowing in from his workers’ relatives.

Critics point to top donors receiving promotions at the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department, including Richard Bloom and Patrick Joyce, who were both recently promoted to sergeant.

FOX25 Investigates found Bloom has given $2,290 to Tompkins since he took office in 2013. Joyce has contributed more than $1,900 to the sheriff during that same time period. Both men have appeared on the Sheriff’s Facebook page holding campaign signs.

Neither Bloom nor Joyce responded to requests for comment, but Tompkins insists their campaign work was strictly on a volunteer basis and all promotions are based on merit.

When asked whether Bloom or Joyce have benefitted from a “pay to play” culture, Tompkins said, “Well, what about all of the other people that have been promoted that haven't contributed one dollar?”

Fired workers say donations could have saved jobs

Both Bacon and Spencer insist they are coming forward to expose the culture at the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department – not because they were fired.

Aiyana Spencer told FOX25 she was fired last year without an explanation but said she thinks her job might have been spared if she had donated to Tompkins’ campaign.

Bacon, who has donated $100 to Tompkins in the past two years, told FOX25 Investigates he thinks he also may have kept his position if he had given more.

Both former employees shared with FOX25 Investigates the positive performance reviews they received as proof they were good workers.

Tompkins questioned those reviews and said their terminations were justified but would not provide FOX25 with any documents to back up that claim.

Bacon and Spencer have filed complaints with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination and those cases are still ongoing.

Ken Cosgrove, an associate professor of government at Suffolk University, told FOX25 that the practice of taking donations from employees creates potential conflicts.

“It's one of those things when people bring this up, you think, yeah, that's how it works in Massachusetts – always has,” said Cosgrove. “There are laws about this at the federal level – political activity for employees – and it seems like that would be a good thing to bring here.”

This is not the first time Tompkins has come under fire.

Tompkins was appointed by former Gov. Deval Patrick in 2013 – despite criticism he had no law enforcement experience. The State Ethics Commission later fined Tompkins for asking eight business owners to take down campaign signs for his opponent during the race for Sheriff in 2014.

Tompkins faces a primary battle against fellow Democrat Alexander Rhalimi. Voters head to the polls Sept. 8 to decide that race.