Federal prosecutors sent a grand jury subpoena related to two high-level town employees in Hingham under investigation for double-dipping allegations, the NBC10 Boston Investigators have learned.
A copy of the subpoena, obtained via a public records request, indicates the U.S. Attorney’s Office sent it several weeks after the NBC10 Boston investigation published on April 30.
That report uncovered evidence that appeared to show Town Engineer Roger Fernandes and his assistant engineer, Harry Sylvester, working in Quincy for Fernandes’ private consulting company in 2018 during hours they would normally be on the clock for their full-time government jobs.
On several occasions, town records show Sylvester took a sick day while working for Fernandes’ private company. Those same records also indicate Fernandes reported working a full shift in Hingham on the same day he billed for at least eight hours of consulting work in Quincy.
Federal prosecutors sent the subpoena to the City of Quincy on May 23. The NBC10 Boston records request for the document was initially denied, but the City of Quincy provided it on Tuesday after an appeal to the state’s public records division.
“Pursuant to an official investigation being conducted by a federal grand jury in the District of Massachusetts of suspected violations of federal criminal law, you are directed to furnish to the grand jury the documents described in the attached subpoena,” stated a letter from Assistant U.S. Attorney Evan Gotlob.
The subpoena asked for any and all records about Fernandes, Sylvester and BRL Construction, Fernandes’ private consulting company.
“This is pretty serious. You never want the U.S. Attorney looking closely at your activities,” said Michael Coyne, dean at the Massachusetts School of Law. “There’s an old adage that a good prosecutor can get a ham sandwich indicted by a grand jury.”
Sources also tell NBC10 Boston that FBI agents have started speaking with potential witnesses about the case.
Sylvester retired days before the published report and never responded to questions about the allegations.
Fernandes denied any wrongdoing when NBC10 Boston approached him outside the Department of Public Works in April. Town leaders placed him on paid administrative leave the day after the investigation aired.
According to payroll records released on Tuesday, the town engineer has received more than $24,000 to stay at home since May 1. He has also continued receiving an $800 monthly vehicle allowance.
The Town of Hingham hired a private firm to investigate the allegations and has said it won’t be commenting until that probe has concluded.
NBC10 Boston requested copies of any subpoenas the Town of Hingham received, too.
“It is our understanding that federal subpoenas are considered confidential documents and as such we are not permitted to comment on whether or not any such document exists,” responded Assistant Town Administrator Michelle Monsegur.
As previously reported, the Massachusetts Office of the Inspector General has also requested payroll and other financial records related to the allegations.
Even though the controversy is playing out at the town level, the details can spark interest from federal authorities, explained Cory Flashner, a former federal prosecutor who now works as a white collar defense attorney at Mintz law firm.
“Any time public employees are potentially violating the public trust, that is something that will catch the attention of the U.S. Attorney,” Flashner said.