The Massachusetts State Ethics Commission took closing arguments in the matter over Aquinnah select board member Gary Haley under advisement during a Thursday, Sept. 8, meeting. Haley was in Boston for the closing arguments.
In May 2021, the ethics commission accused Haley, a master electrician, of allegedly overbilling the town of Aquinnah for electrical conduit work in 2018 at Aquinnah Circle. The commission also alleged that Haley approved the payment to himself and two assistants, which was placed in the town’s expense warrant. Witnesses, including town officials, were called to testify before the panel during a commission hearing in June. During his testimony, Haley said he was attempting to help the town, not make money, when he worked on electrical conduit at Aquinnah Circle. During testimony the next day, two witnesses contradicted some of the claims Haley made during his testimony.
Attorneys Candies Pruitt, staff counsel for the commission’s enforcement division, and Richard Gross, representing Haley, each gave their closing arguments for the case.
Gross went first. He asserted that Pruitt “failed to prove any of the four counts” against Haley, adding in his argument, “No contract, no knowledge, and no proof.”
“There was no contract between Gary Haley and the town of Aquinnah,” Gross said. Rather, Haley was volunteering “to respond to an emergency.”
“That emergency was created by Comcast and Verizon’s failure to coordinate with Eversource, which was opening a trench on the road around Aquinnah Circle to install underground conduits in order to bury the overhead utility wires,” Gross continued. “Without any coordination between the three utilities, this trench would have remained open, presenting a dangerous situation to the multitude of visitors and tourists having to cross it to get to the shops and the lighthouse at Aquinnah Circle.”
Gross said this emergency was confirmed by several witness testimonies. Haley pursued payment after the work went on longer than expected, according to Gross. Gross placed that blame on another contractor — Paul Bettencourt. Gross said since there was no “consideration” for payment at the start, there was no contract, citing Massachusetts blackletter laws and the Hanson Agreement.
As for signing the town warrant that had an expense line to pay Haley for the conduit work, he had no knowledge of it being there, Gross said. Gross said the town accountant admitted she should have notified Haley about it.
Gross also said the invoice Haley received “fairly reflects the time he and his two workers worked on the project.” Gross also said Pruitt provided evidence against only the female worker and not the male worker. He also pointed out that the witnesses Pruitt brought in said that Haley did the work with two workers. Gross said the “great hostility” Pruitt’s witnesses, namely Bettencourt and John Dumas, showed made them biased, and their testimony “can’t be trusted.”
Gross called for the commissioners to dismiss the case.
Pruitt began her closing argument by asking the commissioners, “Why does this case matter?”
“This is a case about self-gain, self-enrichment, and fraud,” Pruitt said, answering her question. “It’s about Aquinnah selectman Gary Haley, a master electrician, using his selectman position to make money off the town, overcharge the town, and then to try and cover it up.”
Haley “anointed himself town coordinator” of the town’s beautification project to bury utility wires at Aquinnah Circle. According to Pruitt, this was known thanks to “a moment of candor” from Haley.
Pruitt said Haley actually wanted a contract for the work, which was known because he “told his friend, selectman [Juli] Vanderhoop.” Pruitt said when neither Comcast nor Verizon offered Haley a contract, he went to the board for approval to install the conduits, and gave an estimate of between $2,000 and $3,000 for the work.
“He has an answer for everything,” Pruitt said, regarding Haley’s defense for his actions.
Pruitt said there was actually no emergency surrounding the conduit work, and discussions about it “have been ongoing for eight to 10 years.” She pointed out that even if there was an emergency, Bettencourt, who is a self-employed electrician, was “able and available to do the work.” Pruitt said the estimate Haley gave to the board showed he did not plan to do this work on a volunteer basis, adding he charged the town $17,445. Haley’s position on the board and the process in which he did the work and was paid showed “he had a contract,” and broke conflict-of-interest laws, according to Pruitt.
As for Haley’s ignorance that he was “approving payment of his invoice,” Pruitt asserted, “It was his job to know.” She also said Haley’s claim that the town accountant usually places “sticky notes on expense warrants” to board members is “pure fiction,” based on the town accountant’s testimony.
Haley’s invoice charged the town for time he did not work, and failed to show certain locations he worked for the project, Pruitt said. She also said the town was charged for workers where there is scrutiny over their identities, based on the testimonies of two police officers and discrepancies between Haley’s claim about them and the direct email communication Pruitt had. Pruitt said the workers were actually Haley’s relatives. Pruitt said Haley “created an elaborate tale” about the workers to cover up their identities.
Pruitt asked the commissioners to hold that Haley violated conflict-of-interest laws.
The commission went into deliberations over the closing arguments during the executive session on Thursday, and may continue at another meeting, according to commission public information officer Gerry Tuoti. Once a decision has been reached, it will be published on the commission’s website within 30 days.