BOSTON — Just days after 25 Investigates reported that the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner [OCME] failed to respond to a public records request from April, the top official at the center of the request has been removed from her position.
A spokesperson for the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security [EOPSS], which oversees the OCME, confirmed to 25 Investigates that Chief Administrative Officer Lisa Riccobene “is no longer employed at OCME.”
25 Investigates requested emails related to purchases made by Riccobene on her state-issued computer as well as communications between her and a male co-worker after anonymous tips to our newsroom indicated that she was engaging in questionable and possibly “unethical behavior.”
The emails obtained on Friday show Riccobene made a series of luxury purchases on company time. Most of the items were gifts for male co-worker nearly 30 years younger than her.
During a four-month period, she sent 31 emails to the co-worker detailing order and shipping information. Among the items ordered were a $150 Versace t-shirt, nearly $400 worth of designer hoodies, an $83 balaclava, a face mask from the rapper Drake’s clothing line and holiday decorations.
Part of one email said: “respond if you did not receive the items from Nordstrom’s….and Neiman Marcus.”
In another email she told the male co-worker to pick out wreaths from Winston flowers for himself and family. “[I]f you would like 2, one for home and one for office, or even a 3rd for your grandmother,” she wrote in the subject line.
Greg Sullivan, the research director at the Pioneer Institute and a former Massachusetts Inspector General, said that state employees can buy high-value gifts for subordinates as long as it’s for a special occasion.
“The records that you have uncovered here, in my opinion, show two problems,” Sullivan said. “It’s not okay for a state employee to be doing personal work, such as shopping, buying gifts, during business hours.”
He said the state ethics law is clear on what purchases are acceptable.
“It is possible for an employee to give a gift to another employee for a birthday, for a wedding, for religious holidays, etc. But the records you found here don’t seem to fit that,” Sullivan added.
Riccobene has been the subject of past Boston 25 News and other media reports. In 2018, the Boston Globe reported that she was demoted amid questions of fabricating her degree. At the time Governor Baker expressed support for Riccobene to MassLive calling her “valuable” despite misrepresenting her credentials.
Then, in 2019, a Dorchester mom told 25 Investigates Riccobene mistreated her during the nearly three-year wait for her baby boy’s death certificate.
Multiple sources told 25 Investigates the redacted emails we received reveal only a portion of Riccobene’s efforts to engage the younger employee. They claim she sent numerous inappropriate texts from a personal cell phone. Text messages sent by public employees, however, are not public record when sent on private phones.
Riccobene was ousted last Wednesday. Two days later, the OCME sent 25 Investigates the emails in response to our April public records request, and Thomas Turco, the secretary of EOPSS, announced his retirement. The next day, Saturday, July 31, Turco’s retirement became official.
The OCME falls under EOPSS.
In a statement emailed to 25 Investigates, Riccobene’s lawyer called her one of the hardest working people in state government.
“Lisa Riccobene has been one of the hardest working people in state government for decades. Most recently, Lisa performed critical but largely anonymous work for the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. Nevertheless, Lisa has been the subject of unusual media interest. Her 24/7 work ethic is what has drawn admirers from families and others in law enforcement. That is what should be reported. This unfair interest and the lack of protection from her employer has taken a deep toll on her mental health. Now, the Commonwealth has lost one of its most productive and dedicated public servants,” wrote Patrick Hanley, Riccobene’s attorney.
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