FBI probe centers on O.B. fire dept.

Department members have been subpoenaed by grand jury.

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Town administrator Robert Whritenour speaks to Fire Chief John Rose before a Sept. 10 executive session. Rose is suspended, Whritenour confirmed. - Gabrielle Mannino

Fire department employees have been subpoenaed to go before a federal grand jury in Boston on Jan. 21 as part of an ongoing FBI investigation.

A former fire department employee spoke with agents from the FBI last month concerning issues at the fire department, Eric Hatt, who is a friend of the person who was interviewed and the estranged husband of a former fire department employee, told The Times on Tuesday.

According to Hatt, the person was visited by federal agents at his home on Dec. 26, and spoke with them for over an hour regarding Medicare and Medicaid billing for the department’s off-Island transports. Hatt is employed with the Martha’s Vineyard Airport fire department.

“They were pretty much focused on the Medicaid/Medicare thing,” Hatt said, in reference to the federal billing issues with Comstar, the town’s ambulance billing company.

“I can’t comment on anything,” Fire Chief John Rose said when asked about whether he has been subpoenaed. “I’m on vacation right now, so I’m really out of the loop.”

Twice in the past seven months — June 19 and Sept. 10 — selectmen have met with Rose behind closed doors in executive sessions — once to discuss “the reputation, character, physical condition, or mental health rather than the professional competence of an individual, or discuss the discipline or dismissal of, or complaints or charges against, a public officer, employee, staff member, or individual” and later to talk about “strategy with respect to litigation.” The topics of those meetings have remained private.

Speaking to The Times by phone Wednesday, selectman Brian Packish said he and Whritenour contacted FBI agent Katherine Kelly on Friday at the FBI’s Lakeville office after they learned of the FBI’s presence in town.

“She was clear that when there’s an active investigation, they don’t provide any information,” Packish said. “That’s some of the challenges around this type of situation. It’s hard because a lot of citizens want to know, but we don’t have the ability to provide any context.”

Packish added that he has heard people have been subpoenaed, but reiterated that Kelly was consistent with her message.

Hatt told The Times that his estranged wife, Cynthia Hatt, had an affair with Rose while she was employed as Rose’s administrative assistant. Hatt and Cynthia Hatt are now in the middle of a divorce, but the topic of her having a relationship with Rose has come up previously, though town administrator Robert Whritenour said the allegations were investigated and proven false.

As part of the divorce, Hatt is trying to determine if Cynthia Hatt received a settlement from the town after filing a lawsuit.

“The bottom line is [Rose] has gotten away with this for so many years. This day and age with the ‘me too’ movement and everything else, isn’t he a liability to the town?” Hatt said.

Rose also declined to comment on Hatt’s allegations. “I don’t have any contact with them,” he said when asked about the divorce. “I don’t want to comment on that at all.”

In a complaint filed in Barnstable on July 19 and withdrawn a week later, Cynthia Hatt alleged the town refused to pay her overtime pay after she rejected sexual advances from Rose.

Cynthia Hatt, who currently resides in Sagamore Beach, was the office administrator for the Oak Bluffs Fire Department for the past five years. She was paid $27.44 an hour, plus benefits. Her primary duties consisted of processing payroll, managing Fire Department accounts receivable, and serving as Rose’s assistant. She left the department in April.

According to that July 19 complaint, Hatt’s overtime pay was taken away in 2017 after she rejected sexual advances from Rose. The complaint says Hatt regularly worked overtime hours, and is entitled to over $25,000.

“[Oak Bluffs] took Ms. Hatt’s ‘comp time’ away in 2017 after she rejected sexual advances from the [Oak Bluffs] Fire Department Chief,” the complaint reads.

The complaint also states that this and related sexual harrasment and discrimination allegations against Rose are currently pending with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD). A spokesperson with MCAD could neither confirm nor deny the existence of allegations against Rose.

“[The town] permitted, expected, encouraged, and/or instructed Ms. Hatt to work in excess of 4- hours per week without overtime compensation,” the complaint reads. 

Hatt’s lawyer, John Regan, said he and Hatt had no comment on the matter.

Whritenour also declined to comment on the lawsuit, but did direct The Times to the town’s lawyers, Boston-based Koppelman and Paige, who did not return a call seeking comment.

With regard to the July complaint filed by Hatt that was submitted and withdrawn a week later, Packish said he could not comment on litigation. “All I can say is any matters of litigation are bound by the laws of executive session,” he said.

Finance and advisory committee chair William Vrooman told The Times Wednesday afternoon he’d just returned from vacation when he encountered headlines about the FBI. He said he was “very” curious what they were investigating. “I can’t speak for the other members, but they haven’t contacted me,” he said.

Despite Eric Hatt’s comment, Vrooman doubted the probe centers on those Medicare and Medicaid payments. “I can’t believe the FBI would be here for this billing problem,” he said. 

Vrooman said he is meeting Whritenour Thursday, when he expects to broach the subject of the FBI. “I’m sure it’s going to be a topic,” he said. 

Rose is slated to come before the committee in February to discuss the next fiscal budget, he said. In the meantime, he said, a subcommittee is at work exploring how to plug an ambulance fund income shortfall presented by diminished reimbursements.

 

Editor George Brennan and reporter Rich Saltzberg contributed to this report.

 

8 COMMENTS

  1. 2nd mic drop in less than a week. Never met Eric Hatt before but he is speaking the truth. His ex-wife wasn’t the only female employee in the last 5-10 years involved with Chief Rose. Maybe Chief Rose should take a permanent “vacation”. And again he should take Whritenour with him since they are all part of this cover-up. As the late great Jim Morrison once said, “this is the end my only friend the end”. Hey islander64 I am anxiously awaiting your response. Ya know since I’m just a measly wash-ashore. Yikes!!!

  2. What is it with these men in a position of power???? It’s disgusting when some of our
    police departments and now fire department and I’m sure many other employees abuse the very power they were given to abuse and degrade women. So many peoples lives And families are being torn apart on this island by these men in “powerful positions”. These men in that are abusing their power are disgusting and need to be held accountable for their actions. Also, the tax payers should not be footing the bill for these lawsuits for the towns.

  3. This saga is harder for me to follow than a telenovela. Can’t y’all just go back to putting out fires and helping people and cats?

  4. Whoa. What a raging inferno. The smoke has been visible around the main characters in this conflagration for years. Town leadership assured us there was no fire behind the smoke, no need for alarms. Yet the FBI is blazing ahead. Who else will be consumed by the backdraft? I certainly hope we the taxpayers don’t get hosed. I can’t wait for the next chapter to drop on Jan 21.

  5. Just like my father used to say: “every dog has his day” and “what goes around comes around”. Can only cover things up for so long before the TRUTH comes out.. Follow the money trail.

  6. The tax payer ALWAYS loses when town officials act illegally and in bad faith. This is why voting for good, honest and smart people is so important.

Comments are closed.

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