Hingham Town Engineer Resigns Amid Double-Dipping Probe - NECN

Hingham Town Engineer Resigns Amid Double-Dipping Probe

Roger Fernandes had been on paid leave since May following an NBC10 Boston report that described his side business in Quincy

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    Hingham Town Engineer Resigns Amid Double-Dipping Probe

    Hingham Town Engineer Roger Fernandes resigned Friday after an investigation launched by the town found he was paid for private consulting work in Quincy during his regular business hours in Hingham. (Published Friday, Sept. 27, 2019)

    Hingham Town Engineer Roger Fernandes resigned Friday after an investigation launched by the town found he was paid for private consulting work in Quincy during his regular business hours in Hingham.

    The probe, spurred by reporting from the NBC10 Boston Investigators, also found evidence that Fernandes used his town-issued computer for private work. The discovery came after town staff restored gigabytes of data that were purged from Fernandes' computer, uncovering invoices he prepared for his private consulting business that were later deleted.

    Fernandes had been on paid leave since May following an NBC10 Boston report that described his side business in Quincy, where Fernandes secured contracts through his company, BRL Construction, to oversee more than $22 million worth of road work for the city.

    Read the town's investigation:

    On a number of occasions, Fernandes and his assistant, Harry Sylvester, were paid for working a full shift in Hingham on the same day they also worked at least eight hours in Quincy, the NBC10 Boston Investigators reported.

    Sylvester retired days before the station aired its report and has not responded to questions about the allegations.

    Fernandes denied any impropriety, saying at the time that all private consulting work occurred on nights, weekends and holidays. He also said town officials were aware of his consulting work and had no problems with the arrangement.

    "We would never, ever double dip or hurt this community in any way," he said in April.

    Hingham selectmen scheduled a closed-door meeting Friday to discuss the findings of the town's inquiry. Town officials hired the firm Matthews & Matthews to investigate whether Fernandes and his assistant worked side jobs while being paid by Hingham.

    Fernandes told investigators he did relatively little work through his private venture before landing the contracts in Quincy last year. Work on the Quincy jobs began in August and lasted through October 2018, according to his statements to investigators.

    Sylvester, who worked as Fernandes' assistant in Hingham, told investigators he approached Fernandes when the projects began and asked if Fernandes needed help, leading Fernandes to hire him to oversee on-site construction and paving, according to the investigator's report.

    The town's investigator concluded that on two occasions, Sylvester used sick time in Hingham when he was working at the private job in Quincy.

    Sylvester admitted to using eight hours of sick leave on Sept. 14, 2018 — a day he worked from approximately 7 a.m. until 4 p.m. in Quincy — but denied the second allegation, according to the investigator's report, saying he intended to use a vacation day, and that an office administrator made a clerical error in her payroll submission.

    Fernandes signed off on Sylvester's payroll sheets on both days.

    When he was interviewed at Hingham Town Hall, Fernandes said he believed salaried employees in Hingham have leeway to adjust their hours and take time off during normal business hours if they work longer stretches earlier in the week.

    Fernandes told investigators that a former human resources staffer for the town told him several years earlier that for every hour above 40 hours he worked, he was entitled to take 1.5 hours off, according to a summary of his interview.

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    Fernandes acknowledged that he was never directly authorized to take time off as compensatory time, but explained that he frequently worked long hours for the town, sometimes starting work around 8:30 a.m. and staying as late as 9 p.m.

    "There is no other employee in the town of Hingham that put in the hours that I did," he said, according to a transcript of the interview.

    Hingham's investigator ultimately concluded that Fernandes was "less than candid or credible in his answers and explanations of how he conducted his private business in relation to his obligations and employment with the Town of Hingham."

    The investigator cited the fact that Fernandes initially denied having using a town-issued phone and computer to keep records of his private work in Quincy, but later acknowledged he may have done so after records from his private business were recovered from his town computer.

    Town staff recovered three backups of data from the computers used by the engineering department dating to Dec. 3, 2018; April 15, 2019; and May 27, 2019. On Fernandes' computer, they found "significant work product" related to his private company in the version from December 2018, including documents related to BRL work for projects in Bourne and Quincy, and for Cardinal Health in Peabody and Briggs Engineering.

    They also found evidence that Fernandes prepared BRL Construction invoices on his Hingham computer and emailed them to his personal or private company email addresses.

    The Investigators: Double Dipping

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    (Published Monday, June 3, 2019)

    Those documents were missing from the backups dating to April and May of this year, and the amount of data on Fernandes' computer drive had shrunk by more than 15 gigabytes.

    The data was removed some time after NBC10 Boston submitted a Dec. 7, 2018 request seeking extensive records related to Fernandes.

    "It appears that the BRL Construction Services information was purged from Fernandes' computer," the investigative report reads.

    The town's investigation also explored boxes of material that Fernandes removed from his office around the time the NBC10 Boston investigation aired. Fernandes said the items included personal clothing, manuals and books he had accrued. The investigators concluded they were unable to determine what items and files were removed.

    As town engineer, Fernandes was a salaried employee making about $130,000 per year, according to the town manager. He resigned effective Friday.

    His lawyer, Philip Beauregard, said Fernandes signed a reciprocal release with town officials, in which both parties agreed they would not bring legal claims against each other related to Fernandes' employment.

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    (Published Monday, May 13, 2019)

    Beauregard said his client "unequivocally" denies that he double dipped.

    "If somebody suggests that, they would be on very tenuous ground," he said.

    In a resignation letter, Fernandes wrote that his 15 years working as town engineer were a period of "great productivity, quality and accomplishment for both the Town and myself professionally."

    "I take this action for what I believe to be the best interests of my family, The Town of Hingham and myself," he wrote.

    Federal prosecutors have also opened an inquiry into the circumstances. A subpoena sent to officials in Quincy earlier this year requested any and all records about Fernandes, Sylvester and BRL Construction.

    The request was made "pursuant to an official investigation being conducted by a federal grand jury in the District of Massachusetts of suspected violations of federal criminal law," according to a copy of the document obtained by NBC10 Boston through a request made under the state public records law.

    Town Employees Accused of Double-Dipping

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    (Published Wednesday, April 1, 2019)

    Ryan Kath can be reached at ryan.kath@nbcuni.com. You can follow him on Twitter or connect on Facebook.

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