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Selectman is guilty of tax fraud

Cheney to serve 3 years probation, fined $25K

By James F. Russell Correspondent

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Brimfield Selectman and Town Moderator Robert C. Cheney must pay a $25,000 fine and serve 3 years probation after pleading guilty to criminal tax evasion in Suffolk Superior Court yesterday, Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly's office said.

Mr. Cheney, 54, "pleaded guilty to four counts of filing a false tax return," Mr. Reilly's spokesman Beth Stone said yesterday. Judge Thomas C. Horgan presided in the case.

A joint statement released by the state Department of Revenue and the attorney general's office, which prosecuted the case, said Mr. Cheney understated his income by a total of $251,008 for the years 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2001.

"Due to this, Cheney owed the state $13,345 in taxes," said Mr. Reilly and DOR Commissioner Alan LeBovidge in the statement released after Mr. Cheney's plea.

"We are glad this is behind us and it is resolved," said Worcester defense lawyer Peter L. Ettenberg, who represented Mr. Cheney. "We came to a satisfactory agreement. He admitted to a misdemeanor crime."

According to Mr. Reilly's office, the maximum penalty facing Mr. Cheney was three years in prison and a $100,000 fine.

Mr. Ettenberg said it is his understanding Mr. Cheney may continue to hold public office.

"It would be up to the town," Mr. Ettenberg said.

First elected to the Brimfield Board of Selectmen in June 2001, Mr. Cheney has also been town moderator for more than 16 years.

Asked if he planned to remain in office, Mr. Cheney said: "Absolutely."

"If the residents of Brimfield tell me otherwise, I would have to rethink that," he said in an interview last night, adding that several department heads had urged him to keep his selectman and moderator positions.

Mr. Cheney declined to comment about whether he thought the fine and probation were fair punishment.

Diane M. Panaccione, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, and Brimfield Tax Collector Susan B. Hilker declined to comment yesterday.

Assistant Attorneys General Tina Smeaton and Marc Jones prosecuted the case. The DOR investigation was led by Tom Nowicki, along with state police assigned to the attorney general's office.
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