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Nicholas Mavroules, at 74; served 7 terms in US House

Nicholas Mavroules, the son of Greek immigrants who was Peabody's mayor for a decade and won seven consecutive elections to the US House of Representatives before being voted out of office during a corruption scandal that sent him to prison, died early yesterday at Salem Hospital. He was 74.

 

The veteran Democrat with only a high school diploma began his career working in a Sylvania Electronics factory. After marrying his Peabody High sweetheart, Mary, he was elected in 1958 to the Peabody City Council. Earning a reputation for his charisma, he was elected mayor in 1967.

He was mayor until 1978, but had endured a tough political fight in 1973, when he defeated City Councilor Peter Torigian in a close and acrimonious race.

Shortly after a bruising battle to win his second term in Congress in 1980, when he narrowly defeated Republican lawyer Thomas Trimarco of Beverly, he came under scrutiny by federal investigators. An FBI informer had claimed that he gave Mr. Mavroules a $25,000 bribe to help secure a liquor license, but federal investigators declined to prosecute the case.

As a congressman he gained a reputation for bringing jobs home and reining in wasteful defense spending. During the 1980s, he helped lead the attack against President Reagan's plans to build advanced nuclear missiles and develop a space-based defense against such weapons. He also led a congressional investigation into the 1983 bombing of a barracks in Beirut that killed 241 Marines.

He was chairman of the subcommittee on investigations. In that position, he gained the respect of his peers for helping to expose major cost overruns on Navy aircraft and shed light on the deadly 1989 explosion on the USS Iowa.

"It's no accident that Massachusetts ranks ninth nationwide in defense and aerospace spending," said Representative Edward Markey, a Malden Democrat, at the time. "As an armed services subcommittee chairman, Nick can take a lion's share of credit."

Raymond L. Flynn, a former Boston mayor, said Mr. Mavroules had a keen grasp of issues affecting urban America because of his tenure as mayor of Peabody, and he took that experience with him to Congress.

"He had a very effective record and always had an open door for people who were looking for help or support," he said last night. "Mavroules really knew the importance of dealing with people firsthand, and he got that training as a mayor."

Flynn said Mr. Mavroules was a strong voice in Congress for economic development in New England and worked assiduously to secure federal support for such Boston area projects as the Ted Williams Tunnel and the Boston Harbor cleanup.

Mr. Mavroules's career ended in 1992 after federal prosecutors launched a 22-month investigation into his alleged misuse of his office for private gain.

Ultimately, Mr. Mavroules pleaded guilty to 15 charges. A federal judge sentenced him to 15 months in prison and fined him $15,000 for, among other infractions, not reporting as income the receipt of free lease cars from a North Shore auto dealer and of a beach house from a developer. More serious charges of running his congressional office as a criminal enterprise were dropped.

"This was not a minor violation; it was an abuse of public trust," US District Senior Judge A. David Mazzone told Mr. Mavroules at the time.

In court that day in 1993, Mr. Mavroules apologized to his family "who have endured enormous pain" and to friends and constituents "for any hurt I have brought upon them."

In addition to his wife, he leaves three daughters, Deborah Gerakaris, Brenda Brophy, and Gail Everson.

Funeral arrangements were not complete yesterday.

Globe correspondent Martha Bartle contributed to this report.

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