Two witnesses contradict Haley during ethics hearing

Closing arguments will be made at a later date.

Testimony on Tuesday contradicted statements made by Aquinnah select board member Gary Haley. -MVTimes

Two witnesses who gave testimony Tuesday contradicted parts of what Aquinnah select board member and master electrician Gary Haley said during an ethics hearing on Monday.

The Massachusetts State Ethics Commission entered into its second day of hearings regarding Haley on Tuesday. The previous hearing on Monday was an all-day affair, calling in numerous witnesses, most of them Aquinnah town officials, to testify under oath in cross-examination sessions. 

As with Monday, commissioner Eron Hackshaw facilitated the hearing. Attorneys Candies Pruitt, staff counsel for the commission’s enforcement division, and Richard Gross, representing Haley, took turns asking the witnesses a series of questions. 

Eversource supervisor John Dumas and self-employed Aquinnah electrician Paul Bettencourt were called to testify before the panel. 

Dumas said he knew Haley from the 2018 conduit work at Aquinnah Circle. Dumas also knew Bettencourt because he was a “preferred contractor” for Eversource. Dumas told the panel he had no contact with Aquinnah town administrator Jeffrey Madison prior to the beginning of the project. 

A part of the testimony that did not line up with what Haley told the panel on Monday was the relationship with the assistants. Haley had said the assistants were from a previous project on Lighthouse Road. However, Dumas said when he asked who the assistants were, a young man and a young woman, Haley told him the two were his relatives. 

Gross asked Dumas whether he had ever called Haley a “liar” and “not a straight shooter.” When Gross pressed the issue, at times cutting off Dumas, the witness said, “I’m not going to take your attitude.” After Gross said Dumas had expressed a dislike of Haley in the past, the witness clarified he disliked Haley’s work practices, not the person. Dumas expressed that Gross was taking information “out of context” during the questioning.

“He’s twisting everything,” Dumas said. 

Hacksaw gave Gross a warning that it was “unhelpful to antagonize the witness.”

“It seems you are trying to get a different answer,” Hacksaw said to Gross after Pruitt objected, saying the same question was asked multiple times with different wording when an answer was already given.

“I’m withdrawing the question. I’m done with this witness,” Gross replied.

Bettencourt was also asked about his interactions with Haley, alongside the details relating to the work he did at Aquinnah Circle. 

On Monday, Haley expressed various reasons for requesting payment from the town, including negative interactions with a local contractor. This contractor turned out to be Bettencourt. 

Bettencourt’s testimony told a different story. He said Eversource hired him to install conduits in 2018, and Dumas stressed the need to finish the project by Memorial Day. Bettencourt said Haley slowed down the process, sitting on a nearby picnic bench “the whole time, pretty much.” Bettencourt said Haley did not try to interact with him or ask about the project. Bettencourt told the panel this delay was what led him to pursue being paid for the extra time by the town, which added up to $12,000. 

This testimony by Bettencourt put the cause of the negative work environment and pace on Haley rather than the other way around. 

During Gross’ questioning, Bettencourt also expressed displeasure with what he was asked. Bettencourt felt Gross was playing a “bait game” to catch him with a “gotcha question.” 

“This is a joke,” Bettencourt said to the panel. 

Gross and Bettencourt ended up in a competition to talk over each other, forcing Hackshaw to intervene. Gross was exasperated, saying he had never had a witness act like this. Recesses needed to be taken to deescalate the situation and Pruitt ended up taking a call with Bettencourt to remind him about proper decorum during ethics hearings. 

After the testimony, Gross made a motion to dismiss three of the charges against Haley  — that he was allegedly pursuing a contract with the town, had a financial interest in his actions with the town, and knowingly signed off on the payment to himself. Gross said there was insufficient evidence regarding the first two charges, and faulted “human error” for the third charge. 

Pruitt opposed the motion. She pointed out how Haley volunteered his services, until he did not, but had calculated how much the work would cost. Pruitt said Haley’s signing off on the invoice could not be listed as just human error. Additionally, she brought up the discrepancy in how Haley’s two assistants were described. Pruitt said the people Haley described were “phantoms,” and were not who he said they were, which added to the allegation that he fraudulently charged the town. 

Hackshaw denied both motions, which means the attorneys will need to make closing arguments. 

Both Pruitt and Gross notified the commission they intend to submit briefs prior to making their closing arguments. Hacksaw said September, which is when the commission meets next, is a possible day, but no date was finalized.

The ethics commission is empowered to impose up to $10,000 in fines for conflict of interest violations.