A botched financial transaction from nearly two decades ago has come back to haunt Abilio “Bill” Soares in his first bid for public office.
Soares, a brash, fast-talking fisherman-turned-businessman from Fairhaven, is challenging incumbent state Representative William M. Straus, a Mattapoisett Democrat who has represented the 10th Bristol District since 1992, in the Democratic primary election on Sept. 6. The district includes the towns of Fairhaven, Marion, Mattapoisett, Rochester, and now, after the latest round of redistricting, an additional three precincts in New Bedford.
In a recent interview with the Globe, Soares confirmed he was fined $20,000 by financial regulators in 1995 for buying stocks and not having enough money to pay for them. He said the problem arose from a transaction in which he had meant to order a small number of shares, but somehow an extra zero was mistakenly appended to his order.
Soares said he was “shocked” three days later when he discovered he’d purchased far more shares — worth more than $150,000 — than he had intended. He was fined $20,000 by the National Association of Securities Dealers and subsequently sued by the brokerage firm G.R. Stuart & Co. Inc., and a lien was placed against his house. But he said when his day in court arrived, no one from the firm showed up. He provided documents from New Bedford District Court showing the case was dismissed in 1998.
Soares said he never paid the fine because he was not going to renew his broker’s license. The group that levied the fine no longer exists as an entity, having merged with another regulatory organization in 2007 to become part of what is now known as the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority. Soares said he got out of the stock trading business and put the incident behind him.
“It was an honest mistake,” he said.
Not surprisingly, his political opponent sees it differently.
“Given . . . that he agreed that he knowingly bought more stocks than he had money for, the word ‘honest’ is not the first word that would have come to my mind,” Straus said in an interview last week. “As to the impact of this activity on his part, it’s ultimately a judgment that the voters will make in the primary in September.”
Soares said he had moved on after that botched purchase. The former scallop fisherman opened a computer repair business, which he continues to run today.
“I have nothing to hide,” he said. “That was almost 20 years ago.”
Now, at age 61, he said he is focusing his efforts on trying to unseat a lawmaker who has been on Beacon Hill for almost 20 years.
“The quality of life down here is horrible, and it’s no thanks to him,” said Soares. “He’s a career politician. . . . He doesn’t deliver.”
Soares pointed to the conditions of the beach at Fort Phoenix State Reservation in Fairhaven, just a few blocks from his home. There’s no snack bar there, no lifeguards, and no one bothers to go there, he said. He also said he is disappointed about the lack of commuter rail service in the district and the state of the local fishing industry.
“We have a fishing industry that’s being decimated, and we have no one speaking out about that,” he said, adding that he had voted for Straus in the past but believes it is “time for a change.”
Straus, 56, says he welcomes the challenge and stands by his record.
“I’m very proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish,” said Straus, who previously worked as an assistant district attorney in Bristol County and served on the Mattapoisett Conservation Commission and the Massachusetts Hazardous Waste Facility Site Safety Council.
Straus was the sponsor of the state’s “Do Not Call” list and currently is the House chairman of the Joint Committee on Transportation. He said his work as chairman led to 33 percent increases in road and bridge money for cities and towns, as well as increases in funding for regional transportation authorities.
He said he looks forward to being “regularly reviewed by the voters.”
“I generally have contested races, which has always been a helpful thing,” he said, adding he has claimed victory each election season. “Going door to door, getting around, and talking to people is what I’ve always done,” he said. “And it’s always worked.”
Straus said he isn’t familiar with Soares, and met his opponent for the first time in May or June. “Fairhaven is the kind of town where typically people are involved in any number of community activities. His name is a new one to me,” he said.
Soares describes himself as an “independent Democrat” who got his start in politics at age 15, when he worked for Endicott Peabody’s 1966 campaign for US Senate. More recently, he worked on retired state trooper Alan Garcia’s unsuccessful campaign for Bristol County sheriff three years ago.
“I’ve been involved in politics a long time,” said Soares.
But he says he knows he’s going up against a veteran lawmaker with a long career. “I still believe I can win,” he said. “Whatever the outcome is, I won’t be going away. . . .Win or lose, this should be a wake-up call for him.”
Soares said he’s been trying to schedule a debate with Straus, but “I can’t get this guy to debate me.”
Straus said he’s willing to debate Soares. If a nonprofit organization or newspaper wants to host a debate with a set format and ground rules, he said, “I’ll be there.”
No debate events had been scheduled as of last week.