Daniel Bennett, the veteran prosecutor who has overseen the embattled State Police and other agencies as Governor Charlie Baker’s public safety secretary, is stepping down from his post, marking the first major departure from the governor’s Cabinet since Baker won reelection last month.
Bennett intends to resign effective Wednesday and is expected to join the private sector, an administration source confirmed. Thomas Turco, the state’s current commissioner of the Department of Correction, will succeed him as secretary, the governor’s office said in a statement Tuesday evening.
Baker’s only public safety secretary since he took office, Bennett has overseen a sprawling bureaucracy that includes the State Police, the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, and the Department of Correction.
In a statement, Baker thanked Bennett for his service.
“Dan has shown steadfast leadership working across state and local government on critical issues like fighting the opioid epidemic, radically transforming Bridgewater State Hospital and working with the State Police to implement several important reforms,” he said.
Bennett’s tenure has been roiled by a string of scandals inside the State Police.
Investigations into a wide-ranging overtime fraud scheme have targeted dozens of troopers, with five pleading guilty to criminal charges, after McKeon’s successor, Colonel Kerry A. Gilpin, referred them to law enforcement for prosecution.
And the agency has acknowledged trying several times in recent months to destroy more than a hundred boxes of payroll, attendance, and personnel documents.
The widespread scrutiny spilled directly into Baker’s reelection campaign in the fall, when his Democratic challenger, Jay Gonzalez, called on him to “immediately fire” Bennett and Gilpin.
An administration official said Tuesday that the controversy inside the department did not play a role in Bennett’s departure.
The governor’s office credited Bennett for helping to pass reforms to “empower police officers to crack down on fentanyl and carfentanil traffickers,” installing a new chief medical examiner and leadership team at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, eliminating the State Police’s Troop E and activating GPS in troopers’ cruisers, and improving the state’s communications system.
Baker has acknowledged that his Cabinet could see turnover as he enters a second term.
“People are obviously going to use this as an opportunity to think about — you know, the old [The] Clash song — should I stay or should I go,” he told the Globe last month, adding that “we’ll play that out as it happens.”
Baker said he wouldn’t stand in the way of someone seeking their “dream job.”
“I don’t mind a little turbulence around this stuff, as long as everybody’s being honest and upfront about what they’re up to,” he said. “But if somebody says they’re going to stay, and 18 months from now, the dream job they’ve always wanted comes up, I would never want to hold somebody back from that, from taking it. I don’t think that’s good leadership.”
In the statement issued by the governor’s office, Bennett said he was “very proud of what we have accomplished over the past nearly four years working closely together with a wide range of partners to advance the mission of public safety in Massachusetts.”
A Harvard University and Suffolk University Law School graduate, Bennett joined the Baker administration after decades in the courtroom, serving as the senior first assistant district attorney in Worcester County, a prosecutor in Suffolk County’s gang unit, and two stints at the Middlesex district attorney’s office.
He spent nine years in private practice and was named prosecutor of the year in 2013 by the Massachusetts District Attorneys Association while serving in Worcester County.
Bennett was also the target of a 2011 murder-for-hire plot, in which prosecutors say Pernell Powell offered his cellmate $4,000 to kill Bennett after he recommended that Powell get up to five years behind bars in a drunken driving case. Powell was sentenced to nine years in prison in 2014.
Turco, Bennett’s successor, said he was honored to be appointed public safety secretary.
“I look forward to working with the administration, Legislature, and public safety officials across the state to make meaningful progress and improve public safety from the Berkshires to Cape Cod,” he said.
Turco began his career as a probation officer at the Florida Department of Corrections in 1988, according to a statement from the governor’s office. In 2003, he was promoted to chief probation officer for Worcester Superior Court.
Baker appointed Turco criminal justice undersecretary in 2015.
The next year, Turco was appointed commissioner of the Department of Correction. In that role, he was in charge of an agency that oversees more than 8,500 inmates, operates 16 correctional facilities, and has more than 4,500 staff and a $626 million budget.
Carol A. Mici, currently assistant deputy commissioner for the Department of Correction, will serve as acting commissioner for that department, according to Baker’s office.