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Villamaino bolts from Board of Selectmen

Date: 8/27/2012

By Chris Maza

EAST LONGMEADOW —The fallout from the resignation of Board of Selectmen Chair Jack Villamaino included the declaration of a resident's candidacy and the announcement of a request for a federal investigation into the town's voter registration fraud situation.

With his name placard missing from the Board of Selectmen's table prior to the meeting serving as an ominous sign, Villamaino's resignation was announced, effective at 4 p.m. on Aug. 22.

Villamaino, who had not missed a meeting since March 27, was not present to tender his resignation, instead opting to send a letter to Town Clerk Thomas Florence, which he also copied to Town Administrator Nick Breault, that was read aloud into the record by Selectman James Driscoll, who led the meeting as the chair of the Board of Health.

"Due to matters of a personal and familial nature, I am at this time unable to dedicate to the Board of Selectmen the time and effort which it deserves . It has been both my pleasure and my honor to serve the town of East Longmeadow," the letter read.

Driscoll and Federici then voted unanimously to accept Villamaino's resignation.

While there has no official statement from any government or law enforcement agency has been made regarding Villamaino's involvement in the alleged voter registration fraud that occurred in July, the three-term selectmen's name and likeness have been included in multiple media reports and his resignation only fueled speculation among members of the public and media who packed the media room at the Pleasant View Senior Center.

District Attorney Mark Mastroianni's office is currently conducting an investigation into possible criminal activity stemming from nearly 450 absentee ballot requests received by the Town Clerks' office for the Sept. 6 primary between Villamaino and Longmeadow Selectman Marie Angelides for the Second Hampden District's seat in the Massachusetts House of Representatives, the majority of those requests being made on behalf of unknowing registered Democrats.

A call to Villamaino's mobile phone regarding his resignation and the investigation went directly to voicemail and a message requesting comment was not returned as of press time.

Driscoll said he was not surprised by Villamaino's resignation and stated that more than anything, it provided "relief and a little bit of closure"

"It will allow the town to start the healing process," he said, declining to say whether or not he felt Villamaino's resignation was an admission of guilt.

Federici said the resignation did catch him by surprise, and while he also refused to draw any conclusions regarding a correlation between the investigation and the resignation, he said also felt it was healthy for the town to move on.

"I didn't know about it until I got here," he said. "I don't really want to infer anything from it because until someone is standing in front of a judge, I'm not going to be the one to cast aspersions on them because if I was in the same spot, I would want the same consideration from the people around me."

Federici continued, "Obviously it makes our task easier because we know how we're going to need to go forward and at least in that regard, he had the consideration for the town in not stringing this along from the selectmen's perspective. Other than that, I don't have any opinion I'd like to share right now. I'd like to see what shakes out with the investigation."

Peter Punderson, former chair of the Planning Board, took the opportunity to state publicly that he plans to run for selectman in the next election and asked the board if there was any kind of schedule for filling Villamaino's seat. Driscoll replied that more time would be needed to formulate a plan and that the board was not presently prepared to discuss that matter. Federici said he expected, however, that those discussions would happen in the near future.

Larry Rinaldi, a resident of the town, questioned the board as to whether or not Villamaino would have been suspended had he not resigned, to which Driscoll replied that the town does not have any recourse for rescinding an elected official.

Federici added that the board would not assume anyone's guilt prematurely.

When further pressed on the issue, including the reported administrative action of a town employee who may have also been involved, Driscoll distinguished the difference between a town employee and an elected official.

The employee allegedly in question, who also has not been officially named by law enforcement, was not a member of the town clerk's staff, according to Florence.

"She is employed by another town department and is a town of East Longmeadow employee, but not an employee of the clerk's office," Florence told Reminder Publications. "She did volunteer on a limited basis one or two days a week from 11 [a.m.] to 1 [p.m.] to cover lunches or while shorthanded."

District Attorney Mark Mastroianni said on Aug. 17 that multiple search warrants were executed on Aug. 16 and new evidence was found, however he declined to name any suspects, stating only that with new information received, an announcement could be made in the near future.

Reminder Publications was on hand at the East Longmeadow Town Clerk's office, a location at which one of the warrants was served on Aug. 16.

In an attempt to learn more about the nature of the warrants, this newspaper spoke with three separate clerks' offices Springfield Superior and District Courts and Palmer District Court each of which said that they had no record of any affidavits or returns on any search warrants.

Returns on any search warrant must be made within seven days, or five business days, of the execution of the warrant.

When copies of the affidavits and any returns on the search warrants were requested, a representative at the Springfield District Court Clerk John Gay's office referred the inquiry to Palmer District Court. A representative from Palmer District Court Clerk Brian St. Onge's office said there were no records there of any warrant applications.

After two separate inquiries that were made with Superior Court Clerk of Courts Brian Lees' office turned up no results, Reminder Publications spoke with Lees directly on Aug. 22, who explained that it would be unlikely that his office would receive any search warrant applications or returns on those warrants.

"That wouldn't come to my office until there was some kind of indictment by the grand jury, " he said. "We don't have it yet."

Ronda Wainwright from the Massachusetts State Police, speaking on behalf of Mastroianni, said that the contents of the search warrants have been impounded, meaning a judge sealed them and therefore they are not public documents. She had no further information.

However, Lees said that even if the information was impounded, meaning sealed by a judge, there should be some record of their execution.

"But even if they were impounded, there should be something that at least says that there were [search warrants]," Lees said.

Requests to Mastroianni's office through Wainwright for more information regarding the clerk's office at which the warrant applications are currently located were not returned as of press time.

St. Onge was not available for comment, as he was in court, according to a staff member who answered the phone in his office on Aug. 22 and a message was not returned.

Mastroianni has also asked the town of East Longmeadow to halt the internal investigation requested by the Board of Selectmen into the happenings in the clerk's office, which it had began in conjunction with Secretary of State William Galvin pending the conclusion of his office's investigation.

"In the course of that investigation, before we were able to complete it, the Secretary of State determined that he was going to forward his investigation notes to the district attorney for investigation for appropriate action to be taken under the statutes," Town Counsel James Donahue said. "At that point, recognizing that an on-going administrative investigation and a criminal for the same situation historically creates potential problems with enforceability of some of the charges against those who might be involved in the criminal investigation, I spoke with District Attorney Mastorianni by phone indicating the situation and our ongoing investigation and he indicated that he prefer that the town not go forward with its administrative investigation until he has completed [his]."

In addition to Mastroianni's investigation, Rep. Brian Ashe, whom the winner of the primary between Villamaino and Angelides would face, said at the Board of Selectmen's meeting that he has requested a federal investigation be launched by the United States Attorney's office.

"This is a presidential election and anytime there is a presidential election, there are federal bylaws, federal laws, federal regulations that need to be looked at," he said. "With the presidential election, I think shouldn't just be state and local authorities looking at it, so I've also asked the U.S. Attorney's office to also take a look at this. If a felony had happened and it's a federal law that has been broken, [the U.S. Attorney's office] would be the ones who would have to investigate, they're the ones who would have to have the outcome that the state and local authorities couldn't. I think it's important to have all three authorities work together."

Ashe said he has not heard whether or not the U.S. Attorney's office is indeed investigating.

Christina Dilorio-Sterling, public affairs officer for the U.S. Attorney's office, said she had no comment.

In a press release, Angelides criticized Ashe's announcement, calling it an attempt to "politicize" the issue.

"The District Attorney's investigation is ongoing. I have complete faith in our local law enforcement agencies and the District Attorney's office. I am disappointed that others have politicized this process and called for federal authorities to become involved. A complete investigation is already underway and I await the results of the investigation," she said.

She also questioned Villamaino's ability to stay in the race for state representative.

"It is not my place to ask my primary opponent, Mr. Villamaino, to withdrawal from the race. However, I believe that he should seriously consider the viability of his candidacy in the race for state representative in the Second Hampden District. Our district is facing serious issues. We need to focus on these issues in this election, not voter fraud," she said.