BOSTON — Following days of House Ethics Committee hearings believed to be focused on him, state Rep. John Fresolo of Worcester resigned Wednesday, effective immediately.
As his former colleagues listened on and showed little in the way of reaction, House Clerk Steven James read a short communication from Fresolo formally announcing his resignation at about 1:40 p.m. during a House session.
“I am currently unable to effectively serve my district and regretfully submit my resignation, effective immediately, hoping that a prompt special election will be held to fill the balance of my term,” Fresolo, a Democrat, wrote in his one-sentence letter to House Speaker Robert DeLeo without any explanation for the reasons behind his resignation.
The committee, chaired by Rep. Martin Walsh of Dorchester, has been holding lengthy meetings in recent days, taking hours of testimony last Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and again on Monday as court officers lined the first floor hearing room with velvet ropes to keep visitors away. Rep. Jason Lewis, a Winchester Democrat who shared an office suite with Fresolo, told the News Service last week that he had offered testimony to the 11-member panel. Fresolo attended those committee meetings with legal representatives.
According to rules, a majority of the Ethics Committee can vote to recommend a reprimand, censure, removal from a chairmanship or other position of authority or expulsion of another member for ethical violations and refer the matter to the full House.
In that case, a report on the allegations would be filed with the House clerk and made public. If the committee finds insufficient evidence of wrongdoing, no public disclosure must be made. Fresolo’s resignation obviates the need for his colleagues to act on a committee recommendation, if one were made.
As he has in recent days, Walsh, citing confidentiality rules, declined to comment to the News Service when approached Wednesday about the committee’s investigation and findings, but House leaders were said to be consulting with their legal teams to find out what, if anything, could be disclosed publicly.
DeLeo in March confirmed that his office had conducted a preliminary review of “serious allegations” brought against a member of the House by an employee and had asked the committee to conduct an investigation. The House voted in April to grant the committee temporary subpoena power to compel witness testimony.
Though there has been rampant speculation as to the nature of the allegations brought by a legislative staffer against a member of the House, several sources have indicated at least part of the inquiry relates to Fresolo’s per diem travel expenses. Another source indicated the committee was exploring possible ethical breaches on multiple fronts.
House Minority Leader Brad Jones called on the Ethics Committee to “forward any information or findings from their investigation to the appropriate agencies and entities for further consideration.”
“The necessary but overdue resignation of Representative Fresolo is an appropriate course of action given the circumstances. The residents of the Sixteenth Worcester District and the taxpayers of Massachusetts deserve representatives and a governing body that is held to the highest ethical standard,” Jones said in a statement.
It remains unclear whether the Ethics Committee found sufficient evidence to warrant a reprimand or more severe disciplinary action, and whether any information will be released publicly now that Fresolo has resigned.
Confronted about the allegations and rumors that he was planning to resign, Fresolo told the News Service in March, “I’m going to be state rep for a long time,” but declined further comment on advice of counsel.
Fresolo was a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, the Joint Committee on Housing and the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development.
Fresolo’s departure means the House will need to schedule a fifth special election to fill a vacant seat.
Former Rep. Stephen Smith of Everett resigned at the start of the session in connection with his guilty plea in an absentee voting fraud case. A special election was held to fill the seat held by former Rep. Joyce Spiliotis, who died from a battle with cancer and after winning re-election last November. Special elections are also underway to fill seats held by former Rep. Martha Walz of Boston, who left the House for a job at Planned Parenthood, and former Rep. David Sullivan, who stepped down for a job at the Fall River Housing Authority.
Matt Murphy contributed reporting