MORE QUESTIONS RAISED IN MEREDITH NILAN HIT-‘N-RUN CASE … WE THE PEOPLE DEMAND FAIR AND HONEST TREATMENT, WITH NO FAVORITISM, NOTHING MORE AND NOTHING LESS … plus WE HEAR THE REAL REASON WHY DER WUNDERBARRETT WAS BROUGHT IN TO BERKSHIREWORKS
By DAN VALENTI
PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary
(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, THURSDAY, JAN. 13, 2012) — Regarding the Meredith Nilan hit-and-run case, here’s the hot question swirling around the city: Has she received — and, if so, will she continue to get preferential treatment? The public pressure on the courts to see that this doesn’t happen is, will be, and should be enormous. Justice must be served, impartially and without consideration of the connections of Ms. Nilan’s father.
A Blizzard of Items to Consider in this Dicey Case
* Nilan’s father is Central Berkshire probation chief Clifford “Cliffy” Nilan. THE PLANET considers instructive this piece of recent local history: When Nilan learned that his buddy, then president of Greylock Federal Credit Union Angelo Stracuzzi, had been arrested in July 2005 on consecutive days, charged by Biddeford, Maine, police with four counts involving the molestation of teenage boys, Nilan said and did nothing, either as an officer of the court or as a member of the Greylock board. Nilan said nothing. We know this from the testimony of Greylock VP John Bissell. Bissell said when the story broke and — as far as we know, continues to to say — that for five years, the Greylock Board had no idea their chief had become embroiled in scandal. Did Nilan use his influence to obtain favorable treatment for a friend?
* As probation chief, Nilan apparently looked the other way when the Maine courts transferred Stracuzzi’s probation to Central Berkshire. There’s no indication Stracuzzi was required to serve his probation or in fact did. There’s no indication that he received court-ordered psychological counseling. Did Nilan use his position to allow favorable (and borderline criminal) treatment for a friend?
If the answer is “yes,” Nilan did pull strings to usurp justice, what does that say of the man’s character? What does that suggest in this case, where the accused is not merely a friend but his own flesh and blood? To what lengths would a man like this use his considerable influence to make a mess “go away”? This isn’t an accusation. It is, though, a fair question. Because we don’t know the answer, every public constiuency — citizens, police, and the courts — must press for the assurances of an honest answer.
Now, ladies and gentleman, consider these facts:
* Pittsfield Police have linked Ms. Nilan to the Dec. 8 hit-and-run accident involving Peter Moore, who was struck while jogging near the intersection of East and Winesap in Pittsfield.
* Police issued a criminal citation for two misdemeanors: leaving the scene of a personal injury accident and negligent operation of a motor vehicle.
*Moore lost a large amount of blood, a broken leg, broken vertebrae, bruises, trauma to the left side of his body, a concussions, and cuts all over his body. In short, he suffered catastrophic injuries. This was no brush-by, oops, sorry, see ya’ later. A man was almost killed.
* Though Ms. Nilan was the driver, her father owns the car.
* The citation was not issued against Ms. Nilan until Jan. 10, one month and two days from the accident.
* A Pittsfield detective source tells THE PLANET that “charges could be coming against [Cliff Nilan].” Ms. Nilan’s lawyer, Tim Shugrue (former candidate for District Attorney), admits that his client and her father went back to the scene of the accident, looking for evidence. Fair question: Did they remove, alter, hide, or in any other way tamper with evidence?
* Ms. Nilan was cited with two misdemeanors. A clerk magistrate will conduct a hearing to determine if there’s enough evidence to charge Ms. Nilan. Clerk Mag of the Central Berkshire District Court (Superior Court) is none other than Chris “No Show” Speranzo. As you recall, this was one of the scenarios outlined as a concern when No Show quit as state rep to walked into a stacked vote to receive his lifetime $110,000 job: That he would be a GOB friend on the inside for just such situations, that is, if the GOBs needed a favor from inside the courts. THE PLANET is not suggesting that Speranzo is incapable of making an honest and fair judgment. He should understand, though, that all eyes will be upon him to render justice, not inside favors, for the daughter of a GOB’s GOB. The magistrate will determine if there is enough evidence to send it to trial. If not, it just goes away, no harm, no foul.
Here are some of the outstanding questions:
* If this this case involved Mary Jane Kapanski and not Meredith Nilan, would the police and the courts handled it any differently? Are there two sets of laws? One for Them and the other for us?
* The perception of favoritism is ripe, and perception often trumps reality, unfortunately. A man is almost killed. To date, there are no criminal charges filed, only a hearing before a magistrate to see if the case should continue or dropped outright. The magistrate is heavily connected to the Pittsfield GOB, who pulled strings to get him the job. Tell me you’re confident there will be fair and impartial treatment.
* The date of that hearing is not being made public. Why? Is that standard treatment?
* The hearing, apparently, will not be open to the public. Why? Is that standard treatment?
* Was there alcohol involved? It has been reported that Ms. Nilan’s speeding, northbound car “swerved” into the southbound lane. Is “swerve” code for DUI? That same evening, Dec. 8, Berkshire Young Professionals, a sub-group of the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce, had a “Networking Social” at Allium Restaurant in Great Barrington. Was she drinking? The social has listed hours of 5 to 7 p.m. The accident occurred that night at about 8:15 p.m. Have police interviewed people who were there?
* Have police checked her cell phone records to see if Ms. Nilan was on the phone at the time of the accident?
* Why did Nilan’s lawyer refuse the police when they wanted to inspect his damaged Suburu? Why did he force them to go south for a warrant? What happened to the car in the meantime?
* Why has Meredith Nilan‘s Linked-in Profile disappeared? Two days ago, her profile listed much information about here. Yesterday, nothing. Linked-in, when up and running for the woman, said she is employed by Berkshire Bank as, get this, a “risk assessor.” It would seem to be a quality that can come in handy right about now.
SOME OTHER OBSERVATIONS ABOUT THE DAUGHTER OF CLIFFY
* Shurgrue has described his client as “a great kid.” Aren’t they all? And since when is a 24-year-old “a kid”?
* Police Sgt. Mark Trapani wrote up the search warrant. It’s not entirely clear when and how thoroughly police were able to search the damaged Nilan vehicle before it was tidied up, if it was tidied up. Police apparently did an initial, cursory investigation of the vehicle the day after the accident. When they came back for a second, closer look, Shugrue denied them access to the vehicle. Police finally got the warrant, and they probed further. There was a lot of time in between to do the old Golden Nozzle cleaning of the vehicle, not that we’re suggesting such was done, of course.
* As reported by the Berkshire Eagle, photos of the vehicle showed a head-sized hole in the windshield and dents in the hood.
* Nilan called police at 9:30 on the night of Dec. 8, 90 minutes after the accident. He told them his daughter hit “either a dog or deer.” Why did he make that phone call? Ms. Nilan is of age. She holds a responsible job. She’s an adult. Why didn’t she get on the blower to speak to the police? Was she too discombobulated? Was she too upset? Was she too inebriated? Was she too used to daddy cleaning up her messes? Was it something else?
* The police account of the accident and Ms. Nilan’s differ in many respects. She says it occurred at 9 p.m. Police say 8:15. She says it took place on East Street and McIntosh Road. Police found no evidence there. Moore, the victim, said it happened at the corner of East and Winesap. There, police found lots of blood and some dog fur. Who is telling the truth?
There is much more to be staged before this latest melodrama involving Nilan gets swept under the velvet curtain. Let there be no rush to judgment, but also, let judgment be fair and impartial.
DER WUNDERBARRETT CHECKS IN: ‘I WAS BROUGHT IN TO PUT OF ANOTHER FIRE’
THE PLANET got in touch with BerkshireWorks‘ interim director John Barrett about yesterday’s Letter to the Editor that claimed Barrett’s job was a no-show appointment. Der WunderBarrett begged to differ.
One of the qualities we admire most from public figures is when they respond to coverage, especially anything critical, with communication. Jimmy Ruberto, John Krol, Mike Ward, Kevin Sherman, Melissa Mazzeo, Joe Nichols, and Dan Bianchi are a few that come quickly to mind. They don’t always agree with THE PLANET’s pronouncements in writing or on the air, but good or bad, agree or not, they don’t stop communicating, as far too many of their colleagues do, who get rattled, take their football, go home, and pout. They naively think if they don’t speak to THE PLANET, we won’t get the story.
Those who can take a punch have a measure of thick skin and a balanced attitude regarding their position as argumentative public figures. They show what we would call a political maturity.
John Barrett would be on of that list. We’ve known Barrett for a long time, and the only thing that did not usher in Armageddon prior to Dec. 21, 2012, is that he served for a million years in North Adams as mayor and THE PLANET toiled as a scribe and talk show for the same amount of time. Our collisions would have been epic and for the Ages. He was the immoveable object.
We were the irresistible force. Alas, we didn’t cross paths professionally until Ruberto brought him into Pittsfield to straighten out a DPW that had grown soft under Bruce Collingwood. We lost count of the times we called him on his cell or dropped in unannounced at his office in City Hall. He never refused a call. He never refused a meeting. He was always available. There aren’t too many public figures for which THE PLANET can use the word “always” when it comes to availability. Most will run and hide when we come a calling.
Riberto brought Barrett aboard to bail BerkshireWorks out of a might mess that almost took the agency down. FOr the first time, we explain the mission.
Barrett: Putting in the Time, Cleaning up the (Legal) Crime
Barrett says his job directing BerkshireWorks has been anything but no-show. He says he puts in about “35 to 40 hours a week.”
In many ways Barrett is larger than life and a cipher, but we know one thing about him, dating back to his long tenure as North Adams mayor and more recently confirmed by his consulting stint with the Pittsfield PPW: The guy’s a worker, not a slacker. He’s a Type A personality who wouldn’t pull a No Show Speranzo. It’s not in him. Say he’s a bull in a China shop, but at least you will find him in the China shop.
Barrett jokes of the BerkshireWorks’ gig: “It’s the first job I’ve ever done where they liked me, because I don’t have to deal with the unions.” As Freud said, there’s no such thing as a joke.
Barrett is slated to reamin interim boss at BerkshireWorks until the end of the year. He says Mayor Ruberto brought him on board “to straighten out a big problem.” Asked the nature of the problem, Barrett chose his words carefully: “I can’t delve into it. I can say there was a conflict of intereset involving staff. We were out of compliance, and BerkshireWorks had received a ‘High Risk’ designation [from the state]. That’s when the Department of Labor began its investigation. I came aboard in May with the intention of addressing the issues. I did that. By September , the ‘High Risk’ designation went away. In October, I received a letter saying that all assurances we were in full compliance with [our charter and the law]. The auditors completed their work in December and gave us a clean bill of health.”
Barrett defines his job this way: “I’m here to see that our policies are adhered to, to make sure they’re following the rules.”
So what was the mess he had to clean up? Barrett wouldn’t say, holding to confidentiality agreements. Knowing there’s more than one way to hit the ocean with a shotgun, THE PLANET began making inquiries of those who would know.
Source Alleges Nepotism and a Fat $38,000 Severance Check … and Say It was all Legal!
While Barrett wouldn’t speak of what the “big problem” entailed, THE PLANET found other sources, familiar with the situation, who told us a previous BerkshireWorks employee had hired his daughter and put her on the BerkshireWorks payroll. He also had hired someone who was running a business on the side. Since the office runs on a combination of federal and state money, it literally made it a federal case. A whistleblower dropped a dime, and suddenly BerkshireWorks found itself in the deep muddy. That’s when Ruberto brought Barrett in, to clean house.
Our sources agree: Ruberto gave a full briefing to Mayor Dan Bianchi, so that the new mayor would know the full story of Barrett’s appointment. Asked if Barrett’s hiring by Ruberto amounted to a political appointment, our source said, “No way. They had a mess there. John came in and cleaned it up. He’s not exactly shy. He’s not a wallflower.” In fact, it seems more accurate to say that if Barrett hadn’t come in and stripped the walls of its sullied paint, there would be no BerkshireWorks today, and the legions of unemployed would have one fewer resource to tap in their search for work.
Sources said no charges were filed. Apparently, the former employee unilaterally changed the rules, allowing him to receive full pay for unused sick time at age 60 and not 62. Though not ethical, the move was technically legal. He not only walked away with a $38,000 check but he also filed for, and received, unemployment benefits. Again, sources said all of this was legal. What a city! What a state! What a country! Sources said that Barrett and the staff worked through the contract language to make sure taxpayers wouldn’t get ripped off like this again. They also worked their tails off to get back into federal and state compliance.
Say what you will about Der WunderBarrett. His reform of DPW did make “the trains run on time.” It also appears he cleaned up a heap big mess that almost shut down BerkshireWorks. THE PLANET admires the bulldog in John Barrett. Others may quake when he enters the room. We smile and know that at least you’re getting a guy who’s “Yes” is Yes and whose “No” is No. We much prefer that to the fixed, frozen-masked smiles of the insincere.
THE PLANET gives you an update on Melissa Mazzeo’s pledge to take up the case against GE and for We The People. Did she make a hollow campaign promise, or is she committed to doing something about reopening the Consent Agreement, getting Silver Lake cleaned, and removing Hill 78? Find out tomorrow.
Also, if you missed the Wednesday Night Fights, a.k.a., the most recent School Committee meeting, you’ll want to get the inside scoop on Kathy Amuso‘s hissy fit when Chairman Alf Barbalunga announced subcommittee assignments. You won’t believe it unless you remind yourself that this is Pittsfield, where kangaroos fly and little pigs poke their heads out of pouches.
WE DO FEEL THAT’S ENOUGH FOR ONE DAY, THOUGH WE HAVE MANY MORE STORIES PERCOLATING. TILL THEN, O MY BROTHERS AND SISTERS,
“OPEN THE WINDOW, AUNT MILLIE.”
LOVE TO ALL.