THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Ethics inquiry not tied to resignation, pension, sheriff says

James V. DiPaola, 57, said he will step down as Middlesex County sheriff in January. James V. DiPaola, 57, said he will step down as Middlesex County sheriff in January. (Jodi Hilton for The Boston Globe)
By Sean P. Murphy and Andrea Estes
Globe Staff / November 23, 2010

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Middlesex County Sheriff James V. DiPaola acknowledged yesterday a State Ethics Commission investigation into the sheriff’s office, but said it had nothing to do with his decision to abandon plans to serve a third full term in office while collecting his $98,000 state pension.

DiPaola, who told the Globe Saturday that he would resign after being sworn in in January, said the Ethics Commission is investigating whether sheriff’s office employees were fund-raising for his political committee, which state law forbids.

“When it comes out, I am confident it will find no wrongdoing on my part,’’ DiPaola said. “Nothing happened under my direction.’’

DiPaola said he expected the Ethics Commission matter to be concluded in about a month.

Spokesmen for the Ethics Commission and the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance, which regulates fund-raising by political candidates, declined to comment yesterday, saying they could neither confirm nor deny any inquiries.

DiPaola, 57, a Democrat, quietly submitted his paperwork for retirement Oct. 28, to be effective the next day. But he continued to fulfill the duties of sheriff, informing neither his staff nor Middlesex County voters, who overwhelmingly returned him to office in the Nov. 2 election.

His original plan was to remain in office while collecting both his $123,000 salary and his $98,500 pension. Only because he was retired, strictly speaking, on Election Day could he receive both, a loophole Governor Deval Patrick has now vowed to close.

On Friday evening, when questioned about double-dipping by a Globe reporter, DiPaola defended his actions, saying it was legal.

But then he had second thoughts. On Saturday morning, he called back the reporter and said he would instead retire for real, effective Jan. 6, and take his pension.

Because continuing as sheriff would have paid him about $25,000 more annually than his pension, DiPaola concluded it was not worth it to remain in office, he said.

DiPaola also reacted yesterday to a report Sunday on Fox 25 that quoted an unnamed former employee as saying DiPaola pocketed campaign contributions and had employees use official vehicles to pick him up on occasions when he had been out drinking.

“That report had nothing to do with my decision to leave,’’ he said. “The pension thing hit me in the gut in a way that I knew it was time to get out.’’

The Fox report was based on the words of a former employee, who previously made the same allegations in a sworn deposition. That deposition was taken in a lawsuit brought by a former employee against the sheriff’s office.

DiPaola said the suit was settled before trial with the sheriff’s office paying some money to the plaintiff but with no findings of wrongdoing.

DiPaola declined to provide more details about the suit, citing a confidentiality agreement.

Corey Welford, a spokesman for Attorney General Martha Coakley, said the office launched an investigation yesterday into the allegations.

Sean Murphy can be reached at smurphy@globe.com. Andrea Estes can be reached at estes@globe.com.