Now that Michael McLaughlin has agreed to cooperate with prosecutors in hope of sparing himself some prison time, it is up to them to see that they get something worthwhile from the former Methuen town manager and Chelsea Housing Authority director.
McLaughlin, 67, of Dracut, pleaded guilty in federal court Tuesday to falsely reporting his salary in Chelsea Housing Authority budgets then reporting those false figures to state and federal regulators. McLaughlin reported his salary in 2011 was $160,415 when in fact his salary was at least $283,471 and his total compensation was $324,896. McLaughlin also under-reported his salary in 2008, 2009 and 2010.
McLaughlin faces a maximum sentence of 20 years, three years of supervised release and a $250,000 fine on each of four counts.
But under a plea agreement, McLaughlin will cooperate with law enforcement and, if he provides “substantial assistance,” prosecutors can recommend a more lenient sentence.
McLaughlin’s crime is serious and his greed in cheating the taxpayers who funded his salary was excessive. His cooperation will need to be “substantial” indeed to merit any leniency. U.S. District Judge Douglas Woodlock already has cautioned McLaughlin that he would not substitute the advice of defense counsel or prosecutors for his own discretion on sentencing, which is scheduled for May 14.
McLaughlin’s long tenure in the political trenches means he has plenty to sing about.
McLaughlin began his political career in 1970 when he was elected a state representative at age 24. He was investigated by the Middlesex District Attorney’s office for allegedly pressuring businesses to contribute to his campaigns. That case was dismissed.
He later served on the Middlesex County Commission and was called to testify before a grand jury concerning the selling of jobs. McLaughlin repeatedly pleaded the Fifth Amendment in refusing to testify about his approval of jobs for high-ranking members of the Boston mob. McLaughlin was never charged in the scandal.
McLaughlin ran housing authorities in Somerville and Lowell and lost a bid for the Lowell city manager job before coming to Methuen as town manager in 1990. McLaughlin’s tenure in Methuen was short and turbulent. He had a rocky relationship with the Town Council — members called him “power hungry” and “ruthless” — and resigned under pressure in 1992.
Prosecutors may be hoping to get more out of McLaughlin on his relationship with Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray. The Office of Campaign and Political Finance has investigated McLaughlin’s role in Murray’s fundraising — an investigation Murray had requested — and referred its findings to the attorney general.
Public employees are barred from political fundraising activities.
“In all my life in politics, from the Lowell City Council to the U.S. Senate, no one worries me more than Michael McLaughlin,” the late-U.S. Sen. Paul Tsongas once said.
After a long career of shady dealings, McLaughlin, as the old saying goes, knows where all the bodies are buried. It will be interesting to see what he has to tell prosecutors. If he expects leniency for his admitted crimes, the information had better be good.