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Former Melrose fire chief fined by ethics commission

The state Ethics Commission last week fined former Melrose fire chief John O’Brien $1,500 for accepting tickets to a Boston Bruins game worth $350 two years ago from the city’s ambulance contractor.

O’Brien admitted to receiving tickets in November 2010 from Cataldo Ambulance, which provides advanced life support services in Melrose, according to the Oct. 4 decision.

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The commission determined, and O’Brien agreed, that O’Brien knew or had reason to know he received the tickets because of his status as a public official, which violates state ethics law, according to the commission’s decision.

The gift came two months after O’Brien, along with a panel of other city officials that included Mayor Robert Dolan, evaluated Cataldo’s bid for the city’s ambulance contract. Cataldo was awarded a three-year deal with Melrose, set to expire in 2013. O’Brien retired in June, and is now an assistant fire chief in Hudson, N.H.

In a statement, Dolan said the decision to hire Cataldo as the ambulance provider was his alone. “Cataldo was selected because they were, and remain the best emergency medical services provider for the citizens of Melrose,” the mayor wrote.

“My decision was also based upon the tremendous resources, training opportunities for the Melrose Fire Department, the overwhelming support of the captains of the Melrose Fire Department, the support of the Melrose Fire Fighters Association, and Cataldo’s exemplary track record of serving the citizens of Melrose since 2008,” Dolan said.

The ambulance company receives the tickets through a separate contract it maintains with TD Garden, said vice president Dennis Cataldo.

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The company receives season tickets to Celtics and Bruins home games, with the majority of the seats distributed to charities and good causes that use the tickets as raffle items to raise money.

“There was no ill intent,” Cataldo said, adding that the company cooperated in a six-month investigation that ultimately found no violation of state law by Cataldo employees.

The tickets O’Brien received were originally given to a Cataldo employee, but that employee couldn’t attend the game and offered the seats up at the last minute, Cataldo said.

“We don’t place a high value on [the tickets], there are so many of them available to us. We use them for what we think are good causes,” Cataldo said.

The ethics panel issued a similar ruling on two pairs of Cataldo-owned tickets given to Revere Fire Chief Eugene Doherty. In that case, Dennis Cataldo said he personally handed the tickets to Doherty at a community function, knowing he is a Bruins fan.

Cataldo said the tickets Doherty received would have been disbursed to a company employee, but most who work for the ambulance service were attending a company-wide golf tournament in New Hampshire to benefit cancer research.

The golf tournament fell on the same day that the Bruins would face the Tampa Bay Lightning in the fourth game of the Eastern Conference finals, according to Cataldo and a 2011 press release announcing the tournament. The tickets were valued at $600, the ethics commission said.

“We’ve been a provider for ambulance services in Revere for the better part of 15 years,” Cataldo said. “I’m certainly not going to try to sway someone’s opinion with a set of tickets we couldn’t use.”

Matt Byrne can be reached at themattbyrne@gmail.com

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