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Mass. senator dinged in ethics inquiry forms legal defense fund

Senator Dean A. Tran.Sam Doran/State House News Service

State Senator Dean A. Tran, a Fitchburg Republican accused by his colleagues of using his state-funded staff for political gain, launched a special fund this month to help pay legal bills, an indication he’s readying for any potential fallout from an internal Senate probe.

Tran, who was first elected to the Senate in 2017, was stripped of his leadership post in the Senate’s GOP caucus last month after a Senate Committee on Ethics investigation found he assigned his taxpayer-funded staff campaign tasks and asked them to help with fund-raising work.

The expectation to help Tran’s political efforts was so great within his public office, according to the 15-page report, his campaign manager had threatened at least one Senate staffer with being fired if the employee didn’t work on Tran’s 2020 reelection campaign.


Tran has denied the allegations and called the report “libelous.”

The ethics committee determined that Tran not only violated Senate rules but also likely violated state campaign finance and conflict-of-interest laws. The Senate referred its findings to the Office of Campaign and Political Finance and the State Ethics Commission.

State law directly prohibits officials from using public resources, which includes staff, for campaign purposes.

Simon Cataldo, an attorney representing Tran, said in a statement Tuesday that the lawmaker opened a legal defense fund with the political finance office "in order to obtain legal services should any be required.”

But he said the office “has not otherwise made any inquiries” in connection with the Senate ethics report, nor has the State Ethics Commission contacted Tran. Both agencies generally do not publicly confirm or deny they are investigating someone.

“Senator Tran intends to cooperate with any impartial inquiry by either office, should there ever be one,” Cataldo said. “He is committed to upholding the highest standards of integrity and ethical conduct, as he has done throughout his 15-year career as an elected public servant.”


Unlike his personal campaign account, Tran’s defense fund can take donations from individuals beyond the $1,000 annual limit imposed on political candidates. The defense fund can also take contributions from businesses. Tran, who had been the Senate’s assistant minority whip, opened the account on April 6, but has yet to report any donations, according to state records.

Tran had $55,914 in his personal campaign account as of the end of March.

“Notwithstanding the creation of the legal defense fund, Senator Tran remains wholly focused on serving his constituents and meeting their urgent needs during this critical and difficult time,” Cataldo said.

Matt Stout can be reached at matt.stout@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @mattpstout.