Suffolk sheriff pays ethics fine, but says people were just trying to help

Suffolk County Sheriff Steven Tompkins has agreed to pay a $12,300 civil fine for violating the state's conflict of interest law.

The Massachusetts Ethics Commission said the violations include creating a paid position in the Sheriff’s Department for his niece and repeatedly asking subordinates to do his personal errands. The commission said Tompkins waived his right to a hearing and signed an agreement admitting to the violations. Tompkins said he disagrees with the Commission's determination.

The commission found that Tompkins created a $45,000 a year position for his niece in the Sheriff's External Affairs Office. His niece held the position for almost two years, after moving into Tompkins home in 2016 to help care for his minor children after his wife died, the commission said.

"The Division’s chief had not requested that any such position be filled, nor had she interviewed Tompkins’ niece or reviewed her resume," said a press release from the Ethics Commission." Until resigning at the end of 2018, Tompkins’ niece routinely left work during normal business hours one or two times per week with his approval to transport one of his children."

But Tompkins said there was an available position in the External Affairs Office and his niece is a marketing and communications professional who was qualified for the job.

"It wasn't like she came here to get some no show job," Tompkins said. "That's the furthest thing from the truth."

The commission also found that between 2014 and 2022, Tompkins asked other Suffolk County Sheriff's Department employees to help care for and transport his children, and do other personal errands during their paid work hours. It found that "Tompkins’ actions would cause a reasonable person to conclude that his niece and the other subordinates who did his personal errands during their state work hours could improperly influence him or unduly enjoy his favor as Sheriff."

Tompkins said he was grieving after his wife died and many people offered to help. He said he explained that to the Ethics Commission, but it found the violations of state conflict of interest laws.

"I disagree with their interpretation," Tompkins said. "If they have a policy or law that says people in my situation shouldn't accept help from friends or colleagues, then that's the case."

In 2015, Tompkins paid a $2,500 fine and signed an agreement with the Ethics Commission for using his position as Sheriff to request that store owners remove his election opponent's campaign signs.

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Deborah Becker Host/Reporter
Deborah Becker is a senior correspondent and host at WBUR. Her reporting focuses on mental health, criminal justice and education.



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