Mike Beaudet & Producer Kevin Rothstein
DEDHAM, Mass. (MyFoxBoston.com) -- It's noon at the height of summer, and a state-owned car emblazoned with the MassWildlife logo eases into a parking spot in a run-down section of Providence, Rhode Island.
MassWildlife deputy director Dr. Robert Deblinger, second only to the head of of the department, emerges. But it's soon clear he is after a different kind of wild life as heads into a strip joint called Club Fantasies.
It was a scene FOX Undercover witnessed over and over this summer: weekday trips in a marked state car to Club Fantasies, drinking beer at an upstairs bar for hours, then heading for home. In all, we saw the MassWildlife official visit Providence strip bars on nine different days during July, August and the beginning of September.
"Dr. Deblinger?" FOX Undercover reporter Mike Beaudet asked him as he left Club Fantasies on Sept. 2. "Just wondering what you're doing here? I assume you're not here on business. Shouldn't you be at work, sir?"
The deputy director said nothing,
"Where do the people at work think you are right now?" Beaudet asked, but again got no answer.
Our investigation started with a tip from a viewer who noticed something unusual: a marked Massachusetts state vehicle regularly parked on Sims Avenue in Providence, across the street from Club Fantasies. That's where FOX Undercover found the car on July 18th at 1 p.m., and where we saw a man we soon identified as Deblinger.
Through sporadic surveillance during the summer, FOX Undercover identified the driver as Dr. Deblinger, and found a regular pattern.
We found him arriving at MassWildlife's temporary field headquarters in West Boylston a little before 8 a.m. After three hours of work, he hit the road at around 11 a.m., making the drive to Providence in about an hour. After spending three or four hours inside, he would return to his state-issued car and drive home, arriving at a condominium in Shrewsbury just before 5 p.m.
There were some surprises.
On July 28th, Dr. Deblinger left Club Fantasies after spending two hours inside. We followed him to a Home Depot in Providence, but he wasn't after two-by-fours. He walked across the parking lot and into another strip club, The Cadillac Lounge. We saw him stop at the Cadillac Lounge twice during the nine days we saw him at in Providence.
Sometimes, the doctor actually put in a full day at work. On July 30th, just before 8 a.m. and stayed for the day, leaving at 4:40 p.m.
But plenty of other days were spent at the club.
On July 29th, our hidden camera recorded him at the bar drinking several beers, chatting with the bartender, even helping her open a bottle of wine. He stayed inside for three hours, from 12:15 to 3:15 p.m.
When the calendar flipped to September, we decided it was time to see what Dr. Deblinger had to say.
"How often do you come here?" Beaudet asked. "Should the taxpayers really be paying for you to sit at a strip club and drink beer? I'm just curious about your job, is it not demanding? Is that why you have time to come here? What's a manager from MassWildlife doing at a strip club in Providence, Rhode Island? Day after day? Sir, anything to say? We just want to get your side of the story. Are we missing some information?"
Dr. Deblinger didn't respond to any of our questions, but our cameras drew the attention of nearby workers who had been curious about the MassWildlife car parked in front of their office.
"How often do you see this car?" Beaudet asked Tom Galloway, one of the workers.
"At least once a week, maybe," Galloway replied.
"For how long?" Beaudet asked.
"Oh, I don't know, six months," Galloway replied.
Others told us they'd seen the car outside Club Fantasies for as long as a year.
Doctor Deblinger may have had the perfect job to disappear from the office. Until we caught up with him, he was the deputy director for field operations at MassWildlife, a position that paid him a $106,484 annual salary. In turn, he was responsible for the sprawling field operations at MassWildlife, a $13.6 million dollar agency with district offices, fish hatcheries and 200,000 acres of wildlife lands spread out across Massachusetts.
"But no reason for him to be in Providence, Rhode Island?" Beaudet asked Wayne MacCallum, director of MassWildlife and a colleague of Dr. Deblinger's for more than 20 years.
"Absolutely not," replied MacCallum.
"I've seen a lot of crazy things in this state but I honestly can't believe we're having a conversation about this. How does this happen?" Beaudet asked.
"I can't explain how it happened," MacCallum said. "It was not at all unusual, and part of his job was to be traveling, and traveling a fair amount of time in the course of those duties."
"He was traveling, all right. To strip clubs," Beaudet said. "Where did you think he was all those days when he wasn't in the office?"
"Well, I was in regular contact with him and I could always reach him," MacCallum replied.
"I think this raises a fair question, what kind of supervision was this guy getting?" Beaudet asked.
"I wasn't following him around but he certainly was doing everything that (he) was being asked to do and expected to do," MacCallum replied.
"People are going to hear about this story and think, 'How critical is his job if he's able to go out to strip clubs multiple times a week, week after week after week?'" Beaudet asked.
"I am reviewing and going to review all of our oversight procedures," MacCallum said.
"Do you need to do a better job supervising your employees?" Beaudet asked.
"I believe the outcome of this review will indicate where our weaknesses are and we'll be making whatever changes are appropriate to tightening that up," MacCallum said.
The first thing that MacCallum did to tighten things up was to place Dr. Deblinger on unpaid leave the day after FOX Undercover called MassWildlife to ask for an interview about our findings.
Later that day, Dr. Deblinger resigned.
Cox Media Group