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    Kickback scheme alleged in Lawrence

    The State Ethics Commission is accusing a former ­Lawrence High School teacher of paying kickbacks to School Depart­ment employees so they would steer contracts to his small business.

    “I am innocent,” Algird ­Sunskis, 65, of Lanesborough said Monday night. “I have great difficulty believing that the people in authority and respon­sible positions at ­Lawrence public [schools] would be forced to destroy me with their lies. I just don’t know what they fear.”

    According to an order the commission made public on Monday, Sunskis, while teaching at the high school, paid two School Department employees a total of about $2,600 in 2008 to obtain contracts for Wellington House Publishing Inc., a business he co-owned.

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    The contracts were worth a total of about $11,000 to provide timesheets, pocket folders, and a folding machine to the Lawrence schools.

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    On Monday night, Sunskis insisted that the two employees, who are no longer with the School Department, lured his company into the contract arrange­ments under false pretenses and that the alleged kickbacks were payments for expenses that he believed were tied to school operations.

    He said that he and his co-owner at Wellington unwittingly stumbled into a web of corruption at the School Depart­ment and that officials retaliated against him for his efforts to reform school practices and expose sexual harassment of a teacher.

    The two former employees in question, John Laurenza and Charles Birchall, settled their cases with the Ethics Commission by agreeing to pay fines of $4,536 and $8,449, respec­tively.

    A working phone number for Birchall could not immediately be located. Laurenza did not return a message seeking comment late Monday night.

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    The commission said in a statement that it will schedule a public hearing for Sunskis within 90 days.

    Sunskis contends that he was fired by the Lawrence schools, but that could not be confirmed late Monday night.

    A spokesman for Lawrence schools said Sunskis taught at the high school from 2003 to 2009, but declined further comment because the department does not discuss personnel matters.

    Travis Andersen can be reached at tandersen@
    globe.com
    . Follow him on
    Twitter @TAGlobe.