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Former Rockland, MA Superintent of Sewer Dept.,
USFilter Regional Manager accussed of embezzlement

By Patrick J. Cronin / pcronin@cnc.com
Friday, October 3, 2003

Officials investigating Trees For Kids fundraiser

A forensic audit on the Rockland Sewer Department reveals more trouble for former Rockland Sewer Superintendent Gregory Thomson and also for USFilter, the company hired to run the town's sewer treatment plant.

According to sources close to the investigation, the auditor has uncovered wrongdoings in USFilter's annual Trees for Kids Christmas tree fundraiser.

The new allegation adds to the already existing accusation that Thomson, along with Michael R. Sause, a regional district manager of USFilter, allegedly embezzled more than $370,000 from the town's sewer department.

Officials from the Rockland Sewer Department and those from USFilter conducted the annual fundraiser from 1997-2002.

Officials said USFilter started the fundraiser as a way to give back to the community. At the time, the company agreed to foot the bill to purchase the trees in order to sell them at a marked up price to residents in town. All the profits were then supposed to be donated to local charities.

While the fundraiser did benefit local charities, sources close to the investigation said not all the money went to where it was supposed to go.

"The figures just don't add up," said one source.

Sewer employees would sell the trees throughout the holiday season and also solicited donations from businesses to pledge $25 so they could give away free trees away to needy families in town.

According to the Rockland Annual Town Report, the sewer department raised more than $10,000 the first year it conducted the fundraiser. In 1999, Trees for Kids raised $11,000 and in 2002 it raised more than $14,000.

The fundraiser came to a halt after Thomson was indicted for embezzling from the town's sewer plant in 2002.

Officials said an audit report which has not been released yet reveals the town purchased the Christmas trees, not USFilter.

According to the report, the money to purchase the trees was taken out of the town's maintenance account. The account was a part of the contract between USFilter and the town to run the sewer plant.

Questions surrounding the maintenance account was one of the reason officials decided to conduct a fraud audit in the first place. Officials wanted to know exactly what money was spent by USFilter and what money, if any, should have come back to the town.

Officials said under the first contract, the sewer department gave USFilter $50,000 for preventive maintenance and repair and $100,000 each year for equipment replacement and facility maintenance.

They added under the second contract, the sewer department gave the company $75,000 for maintenance and repair, and $100,000 for equipment/capital replacement.

According to both contracts, "At the end of each fiscal year, all unexpended funds from the allowances shall be returned to the sewer department."

Officials said they were unaware the town was footing the bill for the trees and noted the money should have come back to the town as part of the contract with USFilter.

Sources close to the investigation also revealed Thomson used a Rockland/USFilter credit card to purchase gift cards at Home Depot.

A spokesperson from the Plymouth County District Attorney's office said no new charges have been filed against Thomson, but that could change.

Currently, Thomson is awaiting trial on one count of embezzling by a municipal county officer.

The newest indictment issued two months ago added three additional charges of embezzlement against Thomson, the dates of his alleged offenses ranging from 1997-1999. Thomson became sewer superintendent in 1997.

Investigators concluded the scam began in 1997 and continued up until 2002.

Officials said Thomson would ask USFilter for projected related expenses and Sause would approve the money transfers. Instead of using the money for project-related expenses, Thomson and Sause allegedly deposited the money into their own personal bank accounts.