Everett city clerk Sergio Cornelio spent three hours last month telling an FBI agent as well as an assistant US Attorney how Everett Mayor Carlo DeMaria allegedly muscled his way into a development deal and demanded payment of $97,000 — even though he had done nothing to deserve the money, Cornelio’s lawyer said.
Cornelio, who has been embroiled in a bitter public dispute with DeMaria since his allegations first became public in September, agreed to meet with authorities, who reached out to him after the story appeared in the Everett Leader Herald.
“They seemed very interested in the material and evidence we gave them of alleged improper activity,” said Cornelio’s lawyer, Joseph J. Machera, who was at the meeting. “From what I know of the US Attorney’s office, they’re going to leave no stone unturned.”
DeMaria, who was re-elected to a new four-year term on Tuesday, has strongly denied that he improperly pressured Cornelio for money. He has filed a defamation suit against the Leader Herald and Cornelio, saying Cornelio owed him the money as part of a real estate deal.
It’s unclear whether the authorities will launch a full-scale investigation based on the charges made by Cornelio. A spokeswoman for acting US Attorney Nathaniel R. Mendell declined comment. However, the office has a history of aggressively investigating public corruption allegations.
Cornelio’s attorney Machera said an IRS agent was also present during the Oct. 6 interview, which covered a variety of subjects related to DeMaria’s personal conduct. Among other things, Cornelio told the law enforcement officials that DeMaria may have received substantially more — tens of thousands of dollars, if not more — in city bonuses than he was legally entitled to.
Deanna Deveney, director of communications for Everett, said the payments, given under a “longevity bonus” program for mayors, were proper and approved by others in city government.
The prosecutor who met with Cornelio, Kristina Barclay, has investigated allegations in Everett before. She prosecuted the three men who were charged with hiding convicted felon’s Charles Lightbody’s partial ownership of the land sold to Wynn Resorts for the Everett Boston Harbor casino. They were afraid disclosure of his past would kill the deal.
A federal jury acquitted the three men.
DeMaria could not be reached for comment. But John Pappalardo, a lawyer who has represented DeMaria in the past, said “I can’t imagine it will go anywhere,” referring to a possible federal investigation. “There is no evidence of any wrongdoing by the mayor,” he added.
He accused the Herald Leader and its editor Josh Resnek of allowing themselves to be manipulated by DeMaria’s political enemies.
Replied Resnek, “The Everett Herald Leader tries to do the right thing for the residents of Everett when it comes to honest leadership.”
Cornelio and DeMaria were close friends until the deal to develop 43 Corey St. fell apart.
Cornelio alleges that DeMaria broke his promise to contribute half the downpayment on the $900,000 property and help develop the property, forcing Cornelio to cover the mortgage and other carrying costs for nearly two years.
Finally, feeling financially drained, Cornelio decided to sell the property earlier this year. DeMaria, he says, demanded 45 percent of the profits and, under intense pressure and afraid for his job, Cornelio agreed.
“If you’re a partner, you share in liabilities and assets,” said Machera, Cornelio’s lawyer. “I’ve never heard of a partnership in which one partner does nothing and shares in almost half the profits.”
DeMaria disputes Cornelio’s version, saying the men were partners and under their agreement he was fully entitled to the money he received. DeMaria’s defamation lawsuit against Cornelio and the newspaper calls the story a “complete fabrication” designed to hurt him in the weeks before the Nov. 2 election. Cornelio struck back on Friday, filing his own suit for defamation and violation of his civil rights.
DeMaria, who has been in office since 2008, played a lead role in attracting the Encore Boston Harbor casino to Everett, which has become a major local employer and taxpayer. But he has also been embroiled in controversy. In 2014, the Globe reported that several women said they had been subjected to unwanted advances by the mayor.
He has survived, but this year, won by only 210 votes.
At his victory speech Tuesday night, DeMaria had harsh words for Cornelio and others who raised concerns or made allegations against him, though he did not name them.
“There were [people] who worked with us on a daily basis that we considered friends who tried to sandbag us in the days before the primary and the days before the general election. It hurt us, but in the long run it’s going to hurt them, “ DeMaria said.
“Let me tell you — I raised a lot of money and I’m going to go after a lot of people. My focus will be on that and on improving our city one day at a time.”
Andrea Estes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.