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Jail union accuses sheriff Cousins of using inmate to fix home
By Jill Harmacinski
Staff writer

MIDDLETON - A county correctional officers' union yesterday called for Sheriff Frank Cousins' resignation, claiming they have proof the sheriff used an inmate for plumbing jobs at his home in Newburyport.

But Cousins, who won re-election to the sheriff's seat in November, yesterday vehemently denied that any inmate ever worked at his home. He described the union's allegations as "moronic, asinine and ludicrous" and said a small group of disgruntled correctional officers is behind a campaign to "defame him."

"This is the height of desperation from 10 to 15 correctional officers who have disliked me since the day I started here," Cousins said yesterday.

Cousins said there is also an internal affairs investigation underway at the jail after an inmate claimed he was pressured in October by correctional officers to say he had done work at Cousins' home. The inmate refused to cooperate with the officers and complained to jail officials about the way he was treated, Cousins said.

Jerry Enos, president of the Essex County Correctional Officers Association, yesterday fired off a letter to Gov. Mitt Romney asking for "an immediate and thorough investigation ... regarding possible improprieties involving Frank G. Cousins."

Enos said Attorney General Thomas Reilly's office has already launched an investigation. "And if this is substantiated, we expect the sheriff to resign," Enos said.

Spokeswoman Beth Stone said Reilly's office has been contacted about the matter. But, as a routine practice, the Attorney General's Office does not confirm or deny if an investigation is underway.

The allegations arose after the union hired a private detective from Cambridge, David Prum, to investigate the sheriff in early 2004. Cousins, an eight-year incumbent, was headed into a re-election campaign. His opponent was William Murley, an Essex County correctional officer and a member of the union.

Prum said he was hired to conduct "a very complex" investigation into Cousins' financial and political dealings as well as his "use of inmates as labor." He would not say how much the union paid him.

Inmate accuses sheriff

As a result of Prum's investigation, the union accuses Cousins of having Daniel Priday, an inmate who was a licensed plumber, work at his home on an unknown date. Prum said he interviewed Priday about the alleged work he did for Cousins while he was in jail.

Prum said Priday told him he worked, without pay, for one day on a shower and a bathroom at Cousins' home. He could not remember when.

"He had no exact memory, but it occurred sometime while he was an inmate," Prum said.

In his interview with Prum, Priday describes Cousins' home as a "large Victorian near the ocean."

Cousins' home is located in a congested neighborhood south of downtown Newburyport. It is not a Victorian, Cousins said. He also owns his parents' former home on Water Street, which is a Greek Revival. Cousins said a tenant lives there, and no inmates have ever worked there, either.

Priday, who was convicted of assault and battery on a police officer, was an inmate at both Middleton Jail and the Lawrence Correctional Alternative Center for 21/2 years. He was released from jail in February 2002, according to a report Prum prepared for the guards' union.

Priday did not return a phone call yesterday.

Prum said he did not interview any other inmates who claimed to have worked on Cousins' home.

Prum said he believed the union had reported its allegations to the Attorney General's Office, which then asked him to stop his investigation. He said he did so, and that he believed the attorney general was looking into the allegations.

In an interview yesterday, Cousins said he has never used any inmate or former inmate for jobs at his home.

"It's completely untrue. This is clearly nothing but a set-up," he said.

Cousins said there was an incident last July in which inmates in a work-release program were taken to a private home in Newburyport. The inmates, supervised by owner John Jalbert, were supposed to be working at the Methuen Motor Mart. But when Jalbert didn't have anything for the inmates to do, he took them to his girlfriend's Toppan's Lane home where they worked on odd jobs for one day.

The incident was investigated by a jail administrator who oversees the work-release program.

"It was addressed immediately when he did that," Cousins said. "We didn't want things like that going on, and we stopped that practice."

Staff reporter Jill Harmacinski can be reached at (978) 338-2652 or by email at [email protected].
 
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