The committee for the Carver, Marion, Wareham Regional Refuse Disposal District (CMWRRDD) announced on April 15 that it was dropping its civil lawsuit against the surviving defendants involved in the Ray Pickles embezzlement case.
The CMWRRDD filed the lawsuit on June 22, 2018, alleging that the former executive director for the trash district, Ray Pickles, age 85 at the time, defrauded the CMWRRDD of $838,000 between 2012 and 2017, while also listing Pickles’ wife, Diane Bondi-Pickles, 67, and former CMWRRDD committee chairman and Carver Health Agent Robert Tinkham, Jr., 58, as defendants.
A Grand Jury on March 18, 2019, indicted Pickles and Tinkham on criminal charges. Pickles faced six felony counts of Grand Larceny for allegedly stealing $675,000 from the CMWRRDD, and Tinkham was charged with one count of Larceny and one count of Presentation of False Claims for allegedly accepting unauthorized payments totaling $35,000 issued by Pickles and backed by phony invoices for services not rendered.
The trash district’s civil lawsuit was temporarily suspended while the plaintiff awaited the outcome of the criminal trial that was scheduled to begin February 24, 2020.
Pickles died on December 20, 2019, at the age of 86, resulting in the dismissal of those criminal charges against him and Tinkham.
The CMWRRDD committee maintained the option to continue its civil lawsuit against Bondi-Pickles and Tinkham to try to recover its losses, but according to a statement issued by CMWRRDD Chairman Stephen Cushing the committee voted on April 9 to drop the civil lawsuit against all the parties involved.
“The difficult decision was made after the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office recently dropped its criminal case against all defendants following the death of… Ray Pickles, the primary suspect in the case,” stated Cushing.
Cushing continued, “Due to these factors, the committee was advised by its legal counsel that the cost of continued civil litigation against the remaining defendants would cost more than the district would likely be able to recover if the lawsuit was successful.”
What sparked the events that led to the civil lawsuit and subsequent criminal charges came in March of 2017 when Pickles issued the Town of Marion a bill for waste disposal for $25,000, the town’s first bill since 2012. As a district, the three towns would owe a total of $153,000 despite the full reimbursement of the district’s operating costs by SEMASS and income from the district’s two transfer stations.
The CMWRRDD committee had rarely met regularly during the years in question, with the exception of the odd postings of a few meetings taking place in restaurants. A newly constituted committee started reviewing the financials for the trash district in January 2018, finding various irregularities and transactions without supporting documentation.
The committee fired Pickles on January 29, 2018, and began to meet regularly as it sought a forensic financial audit of the last six years of Pickles’ tenure.
Pickles had been the executive director for the trash district since its formation in 1973, while also serving as the executive secretary to the Marion Board of Selectmen from 1972-2001.
When the civil lawsuit was filed, the complaint alleged that Pickles had cashed checks he wrote to himself totaling nearly $113,000, made unauthorized cash withdrawals totaling $150,000 from secret bank accounts he allegedly opened under the CMWRRDD, collected $31,000 in mileage reimbursements, and used over $13,000 in district funds to fuel his private boat.
Upon retirement from his position as executive secretary in 2001, Pickles began receiving his salary under the name Moss Hollow Management, a corporation that listed Bondi-Pickles as the president, Pickles’ son Christopher Bondi-Pickles as director, and Pickles himself as secretary. The civil complaint named Moss Hollow Management as a defendant, accusing Pickles and Bondi-Pickles of further embezzling another $281,000 in unauthorized payments exceeding Pickles’ regular salary from 2012 to 2018.
Pickles pleaded not guilty to the charges and blamed his age and the CMWRRDD committee’s lack of oversight for the alleged financial discrepancies.
Pickles was still the elected town clerk for the Town of Marion when the civil case and subsequent criminal case was first introduced. The Marion Board of Selectmen asked Pickles to resign during its April 19, 2019 meeting, and then just weeks later Town Meeting voted to de-fund the town clerk’s salary line item for the fiscal year 2020 budget.
Pickles officially resigned as town clerk on September 3, 2019, citing his diminishing health.
Since 2018, the future of the CMWRRDD had never been more uncertain as the December 31, 2020 expiration of the district’s contract with SEMASS loomed. The CMWRRDD committee in December 2019 hired a new temporary, part-time executive director, Jeffrey Osuch, to guide the committee as it considered its options and to oversee the transition should the committee decide to dissolve the district.
Marion was the first town to initiate the withdrawal process from the district upon Marion voters’ acceptance of the motion during the October 2019 Fall Special Town Meeting, which kicked off negotiations between Marion and the district for an equitable exit. In February of this year, the committee voted to call it quits on the CMWRRDD, and voters during the three towns’ 2020 annual spring town meetings will vote to accept the dissolution agreement.
The dissolution agreement will include granting the Town of Marion ownership of the Benson Brook Transfer Station, one of two district-owned transfer stations.
By Jean Perry