The Worcester County district attorney and the former head of the State Police allegedly violated the Massachusetts conflict of interest law when they ordered a trooper to alter the arrest report on a judge’s daughter, according to the state Ethics Commission.
The commission found reasonable cause to believe that District Attorney Joseph D. Early Jr., former State Police Colonel Richard McKeon, First Assistant DA Jeffrey Travers, and State Police Captain Susan Anderson violated the law by using their positions to help a Dudley District Court judge, Timothy Bibaud. His daughter was arrested in October 2017 and charged with operating under the influence of alcohol and drugs.
Early, the commission wrote, asked McKeon to order the trooper who arrested Alli Bibaud to sanitize his report by removing Bibaud’s admission that she had traded sex for heroin. Early also wanted to erase her rant that her father, a judge, would be furious about her arrest. The others allegedly helped carry out the plan.
“Early, Travers, McKeon, and Anderson allegedly violated the law,” the Ethics Commission wrote, because they offered a favor to a judge that “would not be properly available to other people in similar situations.”
The episode, dubbed Troopergate, led to the abrupt retirements of McKeon and his second-in-command, Francis Hughes. Several months later, two other top State Police officials also retired. It was the first in a series of scandals that have roiled the force since 2017.
The five-person Ethics Commission voted in December to find reasonable cause that Early, Travers, McKeon and Anderson had violated the conflict-of-interest laws.
While most complaints before the commission are dismissed or resolved privately, the panel was unable to settle the charges against the four, an Ethics Commission spokesman said, and issued “orders to show cause,” which begin a hearing process.
The commission will hold a public hearing on a date to be announced within 90 days. The hearing officer, a member of the commission, will send his or her findings to the full commission, which will decide what action to take.
Each of the four faces civil penalties of up to $20,000
The details of Bibaud’s arrest and the efforts to water down the police report came to light after the trooper, Ryan Sceviour, filed a federal lawsuit, alleging that he was reprimanded for including the controversial details in his original arrest report. The discipline was later rescinded.
Three days after Sceviour filed suit in early November 2017, then-State Police superintendent McKeon, along with the second-in-command, Francis Hughes, resigned.
A federal judge dismissed Sceviour’s original lawsuit, but he filed a second suit, in state court, in June 2018, adding Early as a defendant.
That case was settled in November 2019. The state paid Sceviour $35,000 and issued a letter to him, signed by then-Colonel Kerry Gilpin, saying he had acted in accordance with his training. He was also reassigned to a barracks closer to his home. Early paid Sceviour an additional $5,000.
On Wednesday, Early said he won’t settle the case with the Ethics Commission because he did nothing wrong and said he’s looking forward to a public hearing. He said his actions “fit squarely within the rules of professional conduct that bind us as prosecutors.”
“As DA, I am supposed to take steps to prevent the law enforcement officers with whom we work from making statements that will be publicly disseminated in the media that hold defendants up to ridicule and affect their right to a fair trial,” Early said.
Roy Bourgeois, who represents Travers, said his client also looks forward to a hearing.
“Some of the facts alleged are simply not what happened,” he said. Travers, Bourgeois explained, was simply instructed to take the amended police report and place it in the court file, which he did. He never attempted to replace the first report with the second.
Travers did not have anything to do with the decision to issue a second report, he said.
State Police spokesman David Procopio declined to comment. A lawyer for McKeon did not return a phone call from the Globe.
Lenny Kesten, who represented Sceviour, said the trooper “has a strong moral compass. He always knew the right thing to do, and did it. He has now been completely vindicated.”
The Ethics Commission launched an investigation in 2018 following a five-month probe by Attorney General Maura Healey., who declined to bring criminal charges. She said she didn’t find evidence that officials were seeking to derail or undermine the case against Bibaud.
But Healey asked the Ethics Commission to review the case for possible conflict-of-interest violations.
A separate review, conducted by an outside investigator at the request of the State Police, found that McKeon used “flawed judgment” when he ordered Sceviour to alter the police report.
McKeon and the command staff “eroded confidence in the management abilities of the [State Police,] both within the organization and among the public,” a former state public safety secretary, Kevin P. Burke, wrote in his report. He called McKeon’s actions “unprecedented.”
Public hearings before the Ethics Commission are unusual but not unheard of, spokesman Gerry Tuoti said.
Of about 800 complaints filed in a year, almost all are closed with either no action or informal investigations that end with private letters to the subjects. Last year, the commission sought public hearings only three times.
Andrea Estes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.