Not much slips past US District Court Judge Douglas Woodlock. Former Chelsea Housing Authority director Michael McLaughlin certainly didn’t. On Wednesday, the judge sentenced McLaughlin to three years in prison for concealing his outrageously inflated $360,000 salary from federal housing officials. As part of McLaughlin’s plea agreement, federal prosecutors had recommended a softer sentence, between 12 and 18 months. But Woodlock wasn’t buying it, for McLaughlin’s crimes were hardly victimless. As the judge noted, McLaughlin lined his pockets and fattened his pension “while picking the pockets of the people of the Chelsea Housing Authority.’’ Justice in this case will be further served if the Chelsea Retirement Board ensures that McLaughlin never collects his pension.
The prosecution’s light sentence recommendation for four felony convictions hardly seemed commensurate with the damage McLaughlin inflicted on the public’s trust. But federal prosecutors tend to save their big weapons for elected officeholders: The higher the office, the higher the sentence recommendation. McLaughlin preferred to corrupt obscure agencies, such as the Chelsea Housing Authority and Middlesex County Commissioner’s office. Indeed, that’s how he hid from the light for so many years. Deterring others from exploiting out-of-the-way parts of government is a good justification for his tough sentence.