A Trump supporter from Braintree, whose business background includes bankruptcies, tax-takings, and foreclosure notices, has been appointed to a federal job in the Small Business Administration that will pay him more than $131,000 a year to advocate for New England businesses.
A Quincy-based tree-removal firm owned by both Joseph M. DiStasio and his wife, Jill, faced charges in 2010 that it had cheated its workers out of their salaries, while his partner in another firm claimed he committed “embezzlement and larceny” by siphoning off their company’s funds for personal and luxury expenses.
DiStasio landed the federal job after failing in his aggressive push to get a position in the administration of Governor Charlie Baker. The businessman had played a bit role in Baker’s failed 2010 gubernatorial campaign, when he appeared at a press conference with the Republican to denounce then-Governor Deval Patrick’s impact on small businesses — only to have his business past later revealed.
DiStasio’s appointment to the plum political position came as a surprise to the state’s GOP leadership, which had not supported Trump’s candidacy and has little influence with the Trump administration on hiring. DiStasio was a Trump delegate to last year’s GOP convention.
As the regional advocate, DiStasio is responsible for helping New England’s small-business owners work with state and local government official and agencies, particularly on regulatory issues. There are advocates in each of the SBA’s 10 regions, reporting directly to the chief counsel for advocacy in the agency’s Washington, D.C., office.
Despite the allegations of business fraud that have dogged DiStasio and his wife, the SBA’s acting chief counsel for advocacy in Washington, Major Clark III, has touted DiStasio’s business credentials, saying his background made him a good fit for the job.
“His experience as a small-business owner will allow him to immediately contribute to the Office of Advocacy’s role as the government office that stands between small-business owners and unnecessary or overly burdensome government regulations,” he said.
SBA officials in Washington declined to comment further, despite repeated requests for information on how DiStasio was chosen for the job, who arranged the appointment, and whether the agency performed a background check on his business career.
When contacted late last week, DiStasio initially said in a voice mail message that he was willing to talk to the Globe, but never followed through. He has declined to return a series of phone calls this week.
Although DiStasio has long been active in Massachusetts Republican circles, Baker and his staff were not swayed by his employment requests. To his frustration, he was never offered a job, according to a person with direct knowledge of his job-seeking activities. The administration would neither confirm nor deny DiStasio’s job requests, saying it does not discuss personnel decisions.
At the press conference he attended during the 2010 gubernatorial campaign, DiStasio denounced Patrick, a Democrat, saying his administration imposed onerous regulations and tax increases that drove DiStasio’s businesses into bankruptcy. Baker was using him as an example of his theme that Patrick had created an antibusiness climate.
But the campaign tactic backfired on Baker when it turned out there was much more to DiStasio’s story.
The Globe reported at the time that, in a pending lawsuit, his partner in the tree-cutting business, Mark P. Bogan, claimed DiStasio had siphoned company funds for his personal use, including leasing a Rolls-Royce, a BMW, and several Mercedes. The lawsuit was never litigated because DiStasio declared bankruptcy for himself and his two companies, one of which was also owned at times by his wife, who herself declared bankruptcy.
DiStasio, in a countersuit, denied the charges, claiming it was Bogan who used company funds for personal use, citing the leasing of a Corvette and rental of a $9,000-a-week Cape Cod summer home, a charge the partner strongly denies. Bogan said the Corvette was for DiStasio and that the rental was for five families, including DiStasio’s.
One of the issues that came up during DiStasio’s bankruptcy was his heavy personal spending just before he filed with the US Bankruptcy Court in Boston. American Express, in a petition in the case, claimed DiStasio charged $40,537 on his personal card just weeks before the January 2010 filing. These charges included $7,043 at Best Buy and a $980 charge for a two-day stay at a chic San Diego hotel.
Even with his petition before the court, DiStasio seemed to be enjoying a lifestyle that showed no signs of financial stress. He was leasing, at a cost of $796 a month to the company, a 2008 RS 60 Porsche Boxster, a sporty two-seated convertible.
Also during the proceedings, Bogan’s lawyers charged that DiStasio had conducted a series of highly questionable and at times illegal business moves. For example, they charged, he filled out an application for a $1 million bank loan in which he claimed to own 100 percent of the tree company that the two had formed in the late 1990s — when in fact Bogan was a 50 percent owner of the firm.
They also said DiStasio was living a lavish lifestyle, in good part by using company funds for expensive vacations and leasing luxury goods.
“The systematic and deliberate diversions of company cash and assets for the personal use of DiStasio, constitutes embezzlement and larceny,’’ Bogan’s petition to the US Bankruptcy Court in Boston stated.
The attorney general’s office issued a citation in July 2010 against one of DiStasio’s tree services, claiming it cheated workers out of more than $268,000 in wages. His firm was ordered to pay a $97,500 fine. The firm appealed the citations to the state’s Division of Administrative Law Appeals, which vacated the order.
But the workers sued Jill DiStasio and obtained a court-ordered attachment in the amount of $536,239 in 2011 on the DiStasio home at 80 Canavan Drive in Braintree. The bankruptcy court gave them $10,000.
Since the 2010 bankruptcy filings, DiStasio and his wife have begun operating another tree- removal firm, Green Tech, which is located in Holbrook. Land records show property he owned in that town and Quincy faced foreclosure issues for failing to pay taxes.
In recent years, he earned a bachelor’s degree in economics, with a minor in business management, from Harvard University’s extension services, graduating cum laude.
Frank Phillips can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.