Roger Fernandes stood in the street, donning an orange safety vest and helping direct traffic as oncoming vehicles navigated around the construction zone.
Nearby, Harry Sylvester wore an orange vest as he also observed the paving work.
That this duo would oversee a road project is nothing unusual. Fernandes has been Hingham’s town engineer for 15 years, while Sylvester has worked for the public works department for more than three decades.
What was different about this project? It didn’t happen in Hingham.
Instead, the road work actually took place along Washington Street a couple communities away in Quincy.
Even though this particular instance occurred on Columbus Day, a paid holiday, other examples uncovered by the NBC10 Boston Investigators raised questions about whether the public employees got paid for being in two places at once.
Tip Prompts Review of Payroll Records
The investigation started with a tip: Time-stamped photos provided to NBC10 Boston, depicting Fernandes and Sylvester working in Quincy on a variety of different days.
The work was part of a consulting contract awarded to Fernandes’ private company, BRL Construction.
After making a public records request, the NBC10 Boston Investigators obtained invoices from Quincy and payroll time sheets from Hingham, looking for overlapping dates.
Records show Fernandes billed the Quincy Department of Public Works for more than $61,000 of consulting work in 2018.
At the outset of the contract, much of the invoiced work was for short periods of time, like meetings at the DPW.
However, once road-paving work commenced in the summer, some of the consulting shifts surpassed nine hours or ten hours. On a number of occasions, Sylvester and Fernandes reported working a full shift in Hingham on the same day they also worked at least eight hours in Quincy.
“There’s a term for that. It’s called double-dipping. And it’s a crime, if it can be proven,” said Greg Sullivan, a former Massachusetts Inspector General. “These examples you are showing me are very serious in my view.”
Take Sept. 14, 2018, as an example.
Photos show Fernandes and Sylvester at a project in Quincy. The daytime work corroborated by police documents for officers seen working paid details in the images. Quincy city leaders also later confirmed the time and date of the project to NBC10 Boston.
At $125 per hour, Fernandes billed Quincy for nine hours of consulting work that day, but also reported a full eight-hour shift on his Hingham time card.
At an hourly rate of $98, Sylvester also tallied nine hours of consulting work. However, in Hingham, he recorded a paid sick day.
Fernandes, the head of the engineering department and Sylvester’s boss, signed off on the time sheet.
“How could his boss approve his employee’s sick day when he was working with him for his private company on the same day in another community,” Sullivan questioned.
Sullivan investigated and prosecuted cases of double-dipping during his tenure as Inspector General. He said a lack of oversight in public sector work can create vulnerabilities for potential abuse.
“This can be very easy to get away with if no one is looking,” Sullivan explained. “Unfortunately, for the engineer and his assistant, someone has looked, which is NBC10 Boston.”
Hingham Town Leader Promises to Investigate
After learning details of the NBC10 Boston investigation, Hingham Town Administrator Tom Mayo agreed to sit down for an interview.
He said town employees are allowed to have second jobs, as long as they don’t conflict with their municipal responsibilities.
As town engineer, Fernandes is a salaried employee making about $130,000 who is generally expected to be at the DPW building during normal business hours, according to Mayo. However, Mayo said he has a more flexible schedule because his responsibilities sometimes require night meetings at Town Hall.
On the other hand, Sylvester is an hourly employee who is eligible for overtime.
When asked if he knew about Fernandes’ private company and consulting work in Quincy, Mayo said he was not aware of it until the NBC10 Boston public records request last December, which required the station to pay several hundred dollars and took the town several months to complete.
“I guess in a perfect world, when someone is working in a situation where it could be a conflict, it would would be nice to know about it,” Mayo said.
The town administrator said he would reserve judgment until he had the opportunity to conduct an internal investigation related to the allegations. He did not react to specific instances like the Sept. 14 example, repeatedly telling NBC10 Boston he will take appropriate action.
“This will be a fair process,” Mayo said. “If there is any impropriety. If someone is misusing sick leave, that’s a problem. And we will address it. I’m not going to assume it happened until I have all the facts.”
Town Engineer Reacts to Allegations
After attempts to schedule a meeting with Fernandes through emails and phone calls, the NBC10 Boston Investigators approached Fernandes outside the DPW building as he arrived at work to ask him about some of the questionable shifts.
“That’s incorrect. I’m sorry,” Fernandes responded. “If that were the case, my current employer would have an issue with that and that did not happen.”
The town engineer insisted all the 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.
Records show Fernandes did not disclose that the employee he supervises in Hingham, Sylvester, was also working for his private consulting company until after NBC10 Boston made the public records request.
In a document filed with the State Ethics Commission on Dec. 19, 2018, Fernandes wrote that he was providing facts about the relationship to dispel the appearance of a conflict of interest.
“His work will not affect his current employment status with the Town of Hingham,” Fernandes said in the disclosure. “The arrangement would have been given to someone with the same knowledge and experience.”
However, Fernandes had no explanation for the six different instances discovered by NBC10 Boston when Sylvester used paid sick time in Hingham on the same days he worked for his boss’ private company in Quincy.
There were also no answers about the four times Fernandes billed for at least eight hours of consulting work in Quincy, while also putting in for a full shift at his day job in Hingham.
“We would never, ever double dip or hurt this community in any way. Never,” Fernandes said.
Quincy Cancels Contract
As the internal investigation continues in Hingham, city leaders in Quincy have already seen enough.
After reviewing invoices and payroll documents, Quincy City Solicitor Jim Timmins said legal staffers in his office verified the same information as NBC10 Boston. As a result, Quincy Mayor Thomas Koch instructed him to terminate the consulting contract.
“We aren’t going to tolerate it,” Timmins told NBC10 Boston. “We are in a position where we’ve been contacted by you and learned that there were things going on that we did not think should be going on. It’s very regrettable, but a very serious breach of public trust.”