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Former state lawmaker’s fraud scheme relied on elected office — until indictment ended his career

Massachusetts state Representative David Nangle, center, left the federal courthouse in Boston after his initial appearance on Feb. 18, 2020.
Massachusetts state Representative David Nangle, center, left the federal courthouse in Boston after his initial appearance on Feb. 18, 2020.Tanner Stening/Mass.live via AP

During the first week of February 2016, the days dawned surprisingly warm, the Massachusetts House marched ahead at its deliberate winter pace, and little about David Nangle’s legislative business seemed notable.

That Wednesday, state Representative Nangle voted in line with House leadership on five proposals: no, no, no, yes, yes. On Thursday, the longtime Democratic state lawmaker from Lowell stood before the chamber to move a host of routine matters down the legislative assembly line: liquor licenses for Beverly and Westborough, a property rehabilitation fund for Athol, city clerk appointments in Gardner.

But when the sessions gaveled out and the suits left the chamber, Nangle turned from his public duties to his private vices. That same week, he logged 333 miles in an Enterprise rental car, crisscrossing New England from his home in Lowell to his office on Beacon Hill — and making side trips to casinos in multiple states, according to a 2020 federal indictment.

That Tuesday, Feb. 2, he withdrew $2,000 cash from an ATM. On Thursday, he visited a New Hampshire casino and a Massachusetts casino, where he withdrew another $300.

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Nangle was already deep in debt, but weeks like this offered myriad opportunities to make some money. In addition to any casino winnings, Nangle was double-dipping into political and state funds, billing the Commonwealth for his travel to Beacon Hill even as his campaign donors funded the rental car, prosecutors say.

This was the way Nangle fed his gambling habit through much of his two decades of public office. For years, federal prosecutors say, he scrambled for money wherever he could find it, tapping into his campaign account, borrowing from friends and family, securing bank loans under false pretenses, and cheating on his taxes.

The scheme leaned precariously on his role as an elected official — until a February 2020 indictment effectively ended it.

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The former state lawmaker in February 2021 pleaded guilty to 23 criminal charges, including using campaign funds for personal purchases, as well as lying to banks and the Internal Revenue Service. Prosecutors say he fattened his political account with fund-raising appeals so he could tap the money for personal expenses, and double-dipped by charging the state for many of the same costs.

Charges by federal prosecutors, as well as a Globe review of public records and more than a dozen interviews, detail the life swathed in shadows that led to his public disgrace, a life little known to friends and family, and, of course, to the voters who elected him. They show an increasingly desperate public servant using every financial resource at his disposal to finance his gambling and to pay for personal expenses ranging from golf club dues to contracting work on his home. Nangle accepted consulting income for work he didn’t do, and accepted contracting services on his home without paying for it, instead proffering his state representative business card and claiming he’d help the contractor secure other business, prosecutors said.

Still, many close to him, including close friends, his ex-wife, and his pastor, say they had no idea of the extent of his troubles. And he remains beloved by many in Lowell, a community where people say he served them well from Beacon Hill.

“People that have different illnesses — addictions like this — they don’t reach out to anybody,” said John Cox, a former state representative from the Lowell area who said Nangle remains a dear friend. “It’s very private. And it turns into a very private hell. And that’s what happened here.”

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Nangle’s attorney, Carmine Lepore, declined to make his client available for an interview before his sentencing hearing, which is scheduled for June.

In a statement, Lepore said that for decades, Nangle “was a hard working and dedicated legislator who cared very deeply for his constituents and always acted in their best interests.”

“Of course he is also human and he struggled with some personal issues that led to him making some mistakes,” Lepore said. “He has accepted responsibility for those mistakes and is working towards putting this chapter of his life behind him.”

“Errors, oversights, and omissions”

A moderate Democrat who backed Republican Governor Charlie Baker in 2014 and 2018, Nangle was elected to his Lowell-area seat in 1998 and rarely faced challengers for reelection. Nangle, who wears rectangular-framed glasses and keeps his dark hair in a neat side part, rose to serve on the leadership team of former House speaker Robert A. DeLeo. But he was better known for constituent service than for major policy initiatives.

Prosecutors say state Representative David Nangle leaned on his on role as an elected official to feed his gambling habit.
Prosecutors say state Representative David Nangle leaned on his on role as an elected official to feed his gambling habit.Associated Press

“The saying around here was that if you got a flat tire on Route 3, you don’t call Triple A, you call Dave Nangle,” said Jim Campanini, a friend of Nangle’s and the longtime editor of The Lowell Sun. “That’s what he was to constituent services.”

Beneath the sunny veneer and helpful attitude were financial troubles and questionable ethical practices. Public records and interviews reveal Nangle had had money problems and faced questions over the legitimacy of some of his campaign disclosures for almost two decades before his indictment. Though he had not had an opponent since 2012, he raised hundreds of thousands of dollars from campaign donors — money prosecutors say he illegally funneled toward personal expenses.

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As far back as 2000, Nangle failed to properly report multiple campaign contributions on his finance reports — though the criminal charges would not come until decades later. In 2001, the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance asked him to correct his reports, and Nangle responded with a handwritten letter addressing the problems.

But errors in his campaign reports continued for years, with audits or reviews from OCPF in 2007, 2009, 2010 and 2016, according to the indictment. In 2011, he met with Michael Sullivan, the head of OCPF, to discuss “errors, oversights, and omissions” in his campaign finance reports.

“Please know that I take this situation extremely seriously and that we have taken corrective steps to ensure that future reports are filed with utmost accuracy,” Nangle told Sullivan in a letter that September.

But subsequent reports also proved flawed, even after Nangle hired a campaign finance specialist to handle them.

Prosecutors say Nangle inflated mileage expenses and charitable contributions to reduce his tax bills and ensure he received a refund each year. At CVS and Rite Aid, he spent thousands of dollars from his campaign account on Visa gift cards, claiming the expenses were for staff gifts or supplies. Instead, he used the cards to buy himself shoes, clothes, and rounds of golf, according to the indictment.

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Even as these activities went on behind closed doors, Nangle was an active member of the state House of Representatives, often spotted standing on the rostrum, introducing bills and speaking in their favor. Ironically, in 2014, as longtime Beacon Hill lawmakers prepared an orientation for newly elected colleagues, it fell to Nangle to introduce the session on the State Ethics Commission and OCPF.

Representative Patricia Haddad; Nangle, then the vice chair of the House Committee on Ethics; and Representative Garrett J. Bradley addressed the media in 2014.
Representative Patricia Haddad; Nangle, then the vice chair of the House Committee on Ethics; and Representative Garrett J. Bradley addressed the media in 2014.Barry Chin/Globe Staff

“He was as harmless as it gets,” said one former legislative staffer. “He wasn’t a big player. It was all about Lowell.”

Steve Panagiotakis, a former state senator from Lowell for whom Nangle worked as an aide before launching his own political career, said Nangle was incredibly devoted to his district.

“It wasn’t politics to him,” Panagiotakis said. “If someone called his office, he knew it was the most important thing to them and, because he represented them, it was the most important thing to him. He agonized if he couldn’t help someone.”

US Representative Lori Trahan, whose district encompasses Lowell, said that “the Dave Nangle I and many of us knew was a very different person than the one outlined in the criminal charges he pleaded guilty to.”

“It’s disappointing that he violated the trust his constituents placed in him, and I pray that he gets the help he needs to treat his addiction,” she said.

Money problems

As a state lawmaker in the leadership role of second division chair, Nangle earned about $90,000 in 2017 and 2018; he earned less in years when he wasn’t in such prominent roles, prosecutors said. The cost of his lifestyle sometimes outmatched that public servant salary.

Nangle told those close to him that his money problems stemmed from his 2002 divorce. Nangle’s wife, Debra, initiated the legal proceedings, calling their 17-year union “irretrievably broken.”

“Due to the husband’s high profile job,” she chose “not to list any facts which would harm his career as a public servant,” but reserved the right to do so privately, according to court documents. But her attorney did report that David Nangle had drawn down $40,000 against their home equity loan for personal expenses ranging from $400 to $5,000 over a period of several years.

The legal proceedings dragged on for several years. When it was over, Nangle complained, that the costly divorce battle had left him “‘in the poor house,’” a person who grew up with him in Lowell recalled him saying.

Debra Nangle, his ex-wife, said they have remained amiable co-parents of their daughter, and she praised his work as a state representative.

“Our breakup wasn’t due to gambling issues. It had nothing to do with any of his gambling problems,” she said. Asked about why he cited the divorce in explaining his financial troubles, she said, “I’m sure David would be the last one to blame me.”

In early 2015, David Nangle’s money problems came to a head at home even as he earned a chairmanship at the State House, a promotion that came with a $7,500 raise to his base salary of about $60,000. He wanted to buy a house in Lowell, but knew his debts wouldn’t look good on the mortgage application — so he omitted them, the indictment says, and lied in numerous other parts of the application.

In the mortgage application, Nangle blamed his ex-wife for his poor credit, claiming the reason he’d missed car payments was that she had failed to repay a loan on time. But Nangle hadn’t lent her money; instead, thousands of dollars had flowed into casinos in New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Connecticut, prosecutors say. His credit score dipped as low as 593, considered “poor” or “fair” on the 300-850 scale.

To show additional income to the bank, Nangle submitted consulting contracts with a Billerica company, claiming he had performed $27,000 of real estate consulting services, starting in 2014. But Nangle hadn’t done any work — at least not at the time the company paid him, according to the indictment. He used the money toward the down payment on his $212,500 house.

Nangle also lied to the bank by failing to disclose on his mortgage application tens of thousands of dollars in debt, including $87,000 owed to his cousin, Mike Lenzi. Nangle spent more than $108,000 from his political account for political events and meals at Lenzi’s restaurant over the last two decades — but Lenzi insisted that wasn’t Nangle’s way of paying back the loan.

“There is no way that Dave Nangle took advantage of me, or I took advantage of Dave Nangle,” Lenzi said.

“Over his head?”

Late on Wednesday night, May 2, 2018, Nangle was playing a slot machine at Mohegan Sun when the display lit up.

The $1,221 jackpot was a decent windfall, but it presented a problem: Winnings over $1,200 had to be reported to the Internal Revenue Service. So Nangle paid someone else to cash his winnings, collecting them later.

It might have been a perfect scheme if not for the casino’s video surveillance.

Now, the evening is commemorated in the detailed federal indictment against Nangle, one incident that stands in for the gambling habit that prosecutors say pushed him into numerous illegal financial schemes.

Some who knew Nangle said they had little or no idea about the gambling. Others were aware of the habit, but not the extent.

Lenzi said he and his wife often joined Nangle and his girlfriend at casinos, where he said Nangle was a “$10 and $20 bettor.”

Lenzi didn’t think Nangle needed help kicking the problem, he said.

“It’s like somebody who drinks a lot — when do you say, ‘You drink too much’?” Lenzi said. “I think only you can be the judge of that.”

But the federal charges have made Lenzi look back on childhood memories with a different lens.

When they were kids, their grandfather often took them to Rockingham Park, where they’d eat hot dogs at the picnic benches and bet on the racehorses. It was a tradition — something to do on a Sunday afternoon.

“Did that set the wrong tone, and get Dave into a situation where he was in over his head?” Lenzi questioned. “I never thought so.”

“Guilty”

Nangle was indicted in February 2020, just weeks before the coronavirus would upend life in the United States.

Shortly after his arrest, he stepped down from leadership posts and assignments in the Legislature, including his post on the House Committee on Ethics. He said he was not guilty and would fight the charges.

Nangle sought reelection despite the indictment, perhaps hoping decades of service would outweigh the criminal allegations in the eyes of his constituents. He lost to Vanna Howard in the Democratic primary.

“Nobody puts their name on the ballot thinking they’re going to lose. The conventional wisdom was he had a good shot at reelection,” said Teddy Panos, who hosts a morning talk show on WCAP 980 AM radio and interviewed Nangle twice after the indictment. “A lot of folks may have said they supported him but acted differently at the ballot box.”

Months later, Nangle changed his plea to guilty. His plea agreement did not include a sentence recommendation from prosecutors.

Since the indictment, friends said, Nangle has sought help for gambling.

It will be months before his sentence is known. In February, Nangle initiated the process by changing his plea in a virtual federal courtroom.

Sitting beside his lawyer for the Zoom hearing, wearing a black suit, a blue tie, and a resigned expression, Nangle issued a series of “Yes, your honor” responses when asked whether he’d indeed committed this or that crime, defrauded this bank or that creditor.

How do you plead? US District Judge Rya Zobel finally asked.

“Guilty,” he said with a firm nod. Then he raised his right hand to swear to it.


Emma Platoff can be reached at emma.platoff@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @emmaplatoff. Andrea Estes can be reached at andrea.estes@globe.com.