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For Springfield official, a public fall from grace

Republican, The (Springfield, MA) (Published as Sunday Republican (Springfield, MA)) - April 6, 2003

Author/Byline: JACK FLYNN; BARRY, STAFF, Sunday Republican (Springfield)


Edition: ALL
Section: News
Page: A01
The city's former top civilian law enforcement official is now a target in a corruption probe.
The holiday spirit is long gone at the cottage Gerald A. Phillips owns near Crescent Lake in Enfield.
Outside the house last week, a 4-foot plastic Santa Claus was sprawled on its back. The Christmas lights were tangled in the dirt, next to
an overturned trash barrel. Up on the deck, a couch stood in the rain, looking out toward the state prison just down the road.
For the past few months, the summer cottage has been a second home for Phillips - a haven from the public corruption investigation back
in Springfield, where he was the police commission chairman and $111,000-a-year director of a city job training center.
If anyone needed refuge, Phillips did. With each new subpoena, with every phone call or visit from an FBI agent, he seemed to look more
gaunt, more haunted.
He lost weight, began taking anti-anxiety medication, and hired a high-priced defense lawyer. He spent hours huddled with friends at the
Tavern, a South End bar and restaurant, and weekends holed up at the Enfield cottage. A neighbor called it a "party house," but quickly
added the parties were always quiet, well-mannered and usually family-oriented.
All that ended March 21 when FBI agents arrested Phillips, making him the first defendant in a wide-ranging corruption probe that has
targeted more than a dozen current and former officials in the state's third largest city.
It was a spectacular reversal of fortune for Phillips, who is not only a close friend of Mayor Michael J. Albano, but also was Springfield's
top civilian law enforcement official. For six hours, he was a federal prisoner: handcuffed, fingerprinted, photographed and paraded into a
hearing in U.S. District Court for allegedly intimidating a witness in the probe.
By the time Phillips hustled out of court that afternoon, passing photographers and television cameras, prosecutors had portrayed him as
a predator who extorted sex from two women employees - including one who was a 16 years old at the time - at the job training center.
Ten days later, Phillips pleaded innocent to the intimidation charge and seven corruption indictments, including allegations that he gave
one no-show job in exchange for sex, and another to an accused loan shark in the Genovese crime family. Prosecutors say Phillips could
also face federal civil rights charges in connection with the sexual extortion allegations.
Phillips' lawyer, David P. Hoose of Northampton, has accused the federal prosecutors of trying to humiliate his client with the
uncorroborated testimony of two troubled women. "After investigating my client for a year, this is what they come up with?" Hoose said.
Now, free on bail and living with his mother in Springfield, Phillips' life has been transformed in ways that even his political detractors
could not have imagined just months ago. While the City Council and the mayor tangle over whether Phillips should remain on the city
payroll, both his friends and enemies are asking a more basic question: Who, exactly, is Gerry Phillips?
In political circles, Phillips - 48, a former state bingo inspector and four-term School Committee member - has not won many popularity
polls. His brash and sometimes abrasive personality, his taste for bare-knuckle politics, and his fierce loyalty to Albano made him a
magnet for resentment, especially among city employees who earned less than his $2,145-a-week paycheck.
Not that Phillips seemed to care what people thought: In his first year on the police commission, he voted to promote Neal J. Maloney, the
best man at his wedding, to sergeant over several officers with higher test scores. Of the 11 candidates on the promotion list, Maloney
ranked last.
Similarly, Phillips ordered two on-duty detectives to escort an ambulance carrying his seriously ill father on a trip from Cape Cod back to
Springfield in 1997. Phillips later reimbursed the department $234 - roughly half the total cost - after the trip became public.
The undisguised glee some expressed at Phillips' plight surfaced last week in a bumper sticker: "This Gringo Loves Bingo." Gringo was a
reference to a birthday card, signed "Love, gringo" Phillips allegedly left for one of the Hispanic employees following a sexual encounter;
bingo referred to the bingo-inspecting post he held until 1997, when Albano plucked him, despite his lack of executive management
experience, to run the city's $5 million-a-year Massachusetts Career Development Institute.
Still, even his enemies cringed over the raw revelations - including details of his physical anatomy, the medication he was taking to calm

his nerves and descriptions of "savage and brutal" sex - offered up by prosecutors during the bail hearing attended by Phillips wife,
Cheryl, and several family friends. Whether out of sympathy for his wife, a School Department employee, or fear over their own futures,
few people will publicly discuss Phillips' personal life or make predictions about his future.
"The feeling is: Why kick the guy again when he's already down," said School Committee member Kenneth E. Shea, who had mixed
dealings with Phillips during his terms on the School Committee.
Added one Springfield defense lawyer: "Nobody wants to say anything, because nobody knows who's going to be next" to be charged by
federal authorities.
To be sure, Phillips is hardly the only public official to find his personal life under the microscope. During the past 18 months, two female
City Hall employees were questioned by a grand jury about sexual relationships with top Albano administration figures. The women - one
of whom received more than $20,000 in pay raises - either denied the relationships or insisted they were consensual, according to people
familiar with the probe.
Nor is Phillips lacking public supporters, despite the tawdry allegations.
A former MCDI student and employee, Tamaris Parker, said Phillips helped to get her medical care, insurance coverage, housing and a
job.
"He helped me meet people who could help me, to network, I guess. And I really learned a lot at MCDI," said Parker, 28, who now works
as a caseworker at Dunbar Community Center in Springfield.
Phillips never expected anything unseemly in return, she said.
"I never got that vibe from him. Never," Parker said.
In a display of loyalty, two of his best friends, Maloney and East Longmeadow Selectman Gary M. DeLisle, escorted Phillips from the
courtroom March 21, trying to block him from view of television cameras. Maloney is now under investigation by police officials for leaving
his post to support Phillips in court.
Still, with its mix of sex and politics, Phillips' case is the biggest shock to the city's political system since state police Lt. John J. Mace tried
to kill an assistant district attorney who caught him stealing money from a courthouse in 1989. Mace, a self-confessed gambling addict,
pleaded guilty to attempted murder and served a 9-year prison sentence before being paroled in 1999.
For Phillips, the sudden notoriety comes a decade after his brother, former city Parking Clerk Stephen J. Phillips, pleaded guilty to tax
evasion in a state corruption probe that snared then-City Councilor Francis G. Keough III and former School Committee member Edward
D. Friedman. Besides ending two political careers, the case shattered a close friendship between Gerald Phillips and Keough, who remain
bitter enemies today, friends say.
Keough, who runs a Worthington Street homeless shelter, did not return a call for comment last week.
Whatever its outcome, the current corruption investigation could test the loyalty between Phillips and Albano, whose two-decade
friendship has all the elements of a political buddy movie. Several city officials believe federal investigators may pressure Phillips to give
up potentially damaging information on Albano, who has not been publicly identified as a target of the investigation.
Already, Albano is paying a price. The City Council voted 8-1 Thursday to pressure the mayor to suspend Phillips without pay until his
trial, a move Albano has so far resisted.
The council's vote put Albano in an awkward position. In 1996, Albano terminated the pay of a city auditor who was accused - and
ultimately cleared - of sexually harassing two women employees. And Phillips himself fired two MCDI employees linked to an organized
crime probe five months before their indictments in December 2000.
More recently, Phillips called for the firing of two police officers who admitted having sex on duty with a woman in the back of a cruiser.
On the day the commission voted 5-0 to fire the officers, Phillips met with the woman to offer an official apology.
Kevin B. Coyle, a lawyer for the police union, said it was too early to judge the criminal case against Phillips. But, Coyle added, "if he is
convicted, people might see hypocrisy" in his handling of the police sex case.
For his part, Albano said he wants the city to review the allegations against Phillips before making any decisions.
Breaking weeks of silence over his old friend's predicament, Albano spoke about their 25-year friendship Friday, but not about a more
pressing issue: Did Phillips use the job Albano gave him to exact sex from students and underlings?
"I'm not answering any questions about that," Albano said.

Albano acknowledged that his friendship with Phillips is every bit as tight as people say, starting when the two were members of the
Young Democrats in the mid-1970s and solidified by decades of political campaigning for various candidates and each other.
Albano recalled a bittersweet evening the two shared in 1995 at Tilly's bar after Albano won his first bid for mayor and Phillips lost out on
a fourth term on the School Committee.
"He was bitterly disappointed, but he still wanted to be a member of the administration," Albano said.
In Albano's eyes, Phillips is the epitome of generosity: raising more than $100,000 for a dead friend's widow and children; giddy as a child
around the Christmas holiday; and fiercely committed to his allies.
"Gerry Phillips has helped more people than anyone I've met in public life," Albano said, also conceding that Phillips has a stubborn
streak. "He pushes the envelope to the absolute limits before he'll compromise on anything."
His uncompromising nature often contributed to political and personal clashes, both friends and detractors say, especially his ongoing
feud with Springfield Police Chief Paula C. Meara. The discord occasionally took a toll on the alliance between Phillips and the mayor,
friends say.
Meara said their frequent clashes boiled down one thing: politics.
"We had different goals. My agenda was never political," Meara said.
Friends say one of Phillips' most winning traits is a mischievous, if sometimes unpredictable, sense of humor. Friedman, for instance, said
he endured an evening of frat boy antics when he joined Phillips and Albano on an overnight trip to New York City in search of more
information on former Superintendent of Schools Peter J. Negroni, who won the post in 1989 with the backing of the mayor and his friend.
Friedman said the two ran out on a bar bill at the Manhattan comedy club Dangerfield's, leaving him to pick up the tab.
"It was all in good fun," Friedman said.
For all his rough edges, Phillips could be cool and efficient inside the second-floor police hearing room at 130 Pearl Street where, as
chairman of the five-member commission, he often wielded his power to promote, discipline or fire officers.
"He was professional in the way he conducted the disciplinary proceedings. He was responsive to both the union and the chief's office,"
said Melinda M. Phelps, a politically savvy Springfield lawyer who served on the commission with Phillips for more than two years.
It was in the police hearing room that Phillips' public and private lives finally collided two weeks ago.
On March 20, Phillips withdrew from a disciplinary hearing for Sgt. John F. Brock moments after it began. Phillips offered a simple
explanation: He supervised Brock's ex-wife at MCDI, and wanted to avoid the appearance of a conflict.
But Phillips' motives may have been more complex.
Moments before, Raipher D. Pellegrino - Brock's lawyer and one of Phillips' political enemies - had presented him with a letter demanding
that Phillips withdraw for two reasons: Pellegrino not only represented one of the female witnesses against Phillips in the MCDI probe,
and Brock himself was a potential witness in the case.
Sitting at the commission's table, Phillips' face grew flushed as he scanned the letter. A few minutes later, Phillips withdrew from the
hearing, effectively keeping Pellegrino's allegations from becoming public.
It was his last act as a police commissioner. Sixteen hours later, FBI agents arrested Phillips at MCDI. He resigned from the commission
the next day.
Jack Flynn can be reached at jflynn@repub.com
Stephanie Barry can be reached at sbarry@repub.com
Caption: (COLOR PHOTO 1) Gerald A. Phillips stands outside the Massachusetts Career Development Institute in 1998. He was recently
arrested in a public corruption probe. (PHOTO 2 - Page A22) Gerald A. Phillips smiles broadly at a pep rally he arranged for the
Massachusetts Career Development Institute in 2001 following negative publicity over an organized crime probe that prompted him to
suspend employees. At the far left is Mayor Michael J. Albano and former City Councilor Brian A. Santaniello. PROBE CHARGES The
following people have pleaded innocent to charges brought in a federal probe into suspected corruption in Springfield: Gerald A. Phillips,
48, of Springfield Position: Police Commission chairman; executive director of Massachusetts Career Development Institute Work status:
Resigned from Police Commission; on paid vacation leave from MCDI post Charges: 1 count conspiracy to commit wire fraud; 3 counts of
wire fraud, 3 counts federal program fraud, 1 count threatening witness (Federal investigators also said Phillips may face charges of
violating the civil rights of a person in connection with alleged sexual relationships he had with women under his supervision) Giuseppe
Polimeni, 53, of Springfield Position: President, MCDI Inc. Work status: Retired last June Charges: 1 count conspiracy to commit wire

Inc. payroll administrator Work status: On vacation leave; scheduled to return to work Charges: 1 count conspiracy to commit wire fraud; 3
counts wire fraud; 3 counts federal program fraud; 2 counts obstruction of justice Luisa Cardaropoli, 48, of East Longmeadow Position:
MCDI Inc. bakery (alleged no-show job) Work status: No longer on payroll; soon to open Dolce Notte, a Worthington Street coffee house.
Charges: 1 count conspiracy to commit wire fraud; 1 count wire fraud; 1 count federal program fraud; 1 count obstruction of justice James
W. Asselin, 42, of Springfield Position: Director of Hampden County Employment and Training Consortium; co-administrator Greater
Springfield Entrepreneurial Fund Work status: Resigned Charges: 1 count conspiracy to defraud the United States; 20 counts theft from
organization receiving federal funds; 1 count making a false statement; 20 counts money laundering James F. Krzystofik, 46, of
Springfield Position: Co-administrator HCETC; manager of GSEF lending programs Work status: Resigned Charges: 1 count conspiracy
to defraud the United States; 20 counts theft from organization receiving public funds; 7 counts making a false statement; 3 counts
making false entries in a federal report; 30 counts money laundering; 2 counts making transactions in criminally derived funds Cornell W.
Lewis, 49, of Springfield Position: Member, GSEF board of directors Work status: Resigned as board member Charges: 1 count
conspiracy to defraud the United States; 2 counts theft from an organization receiving federal funds Salvatore Anzalotti Jr., 69, of
Springfield Position: Certified public account for GSEF; American International College professor Work status: No longer accountant for
GSEF Charges: 1 count conspiracy to defraud the United States; 3 counts making a false statement Penalties: Maximum sentences upon
conviction range from five years and $250,000 in fines for each fraud count to 10 years and $250,000 in fines for each intimidating a
witness and obstruction counts.
Index terms: FEDERAL; INVESTIGATION
Record: MERLIN_2232068
Copyright: Copyright, 2003, The Republican Company, Springfield, MA. All Rights Reserved. Used by NewsBank with Permission.