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Suffolk sheriff fined for asking shops to remove opponent’s signs

Suffolk County Sheriff  Steven Tompkins
Suffolk County Sheriff Steven Tompkins(John Tlumacki/Globe Staff)

Suffolk County Sheriff Steven Tompkins has agreed to pay a $2,500 fine for improperly flashing his official identification at eight Roxbury stores two years ago and asking the shop owners to take down campaign signs for an opponent.

In a settlement with the State Ethics Commission, Tompkins acknowledges he violated a conflict-of-interest law that prohibits state employees from using their office to secure anything of “substantial value” that is not available to other “similarly situated individuals.”

“It is unreasonable to think that any shop owner in this situation would have felt comfortable denying what appeared to be an official request from a law enforcement official,” said Karen L. Nober, executive director of the ethics commission, in a statement. “Under these circumstances, the requests made by Sheriff Tompkins were an inherently coercive use of his official position to aid his candidacy, and therefore were prohibited by the conflict-of-interest law.”

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Tompkins acknowledged the wrongdoing in an interview Wednesday.

“If that’s the rules, that’s the rules,” he said. “I’ve learned from the experience, and I’ve moved on. . . . It won’t happen again.”

Tompkins, in the settlement, acknowledged walking into several shops in Egleston Square in August 2013, identifying himself as sheriff, and flashing his identification before requesting the removal of “Vote for Sheriff Bennett” signs.

Tompkins, according to the settlement, claims he asked for the removal because the placards incorrectly implied that his opponent, Douglas Bennett, was the incumbent sheriff.

The signs posted in the shops were small and professionally produced. But Bennett is best known, perhaps, for the large, hand-painted, green-and-white signs he put up all over the city, months before the election.

Bennett said Wednesday he is pleased Tompkins is paying a penalty. “He shouldn’t be in power,” Bennett said. “It’s an abuse of power. He was scaring those shop owners.”

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Tompkins was appointed interim sheriff by former governor Deval Patrick in January 2013, after Andrea Cabral stepped down from the post.

He defeated Bennett and Jeremiah F. Goodwin Sr. in the Democratic primary last year by wide margins, before coasting to victory in the general election, setting him up to finish out Cabral’s term.

He will be up for election next year for a new, six-year term of his own. And he’s got at least one opponent already. Bennett told the Globe Wednesday that he will challenge Tompkins in 2016.

“At least I know next year,” Bennett said, “he won’t be stealing my signs.”


David Scharfenberg can be reached at david.scharfenberg
@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @dscharfGlobe.