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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Fired Police Chief May Go to Jail

Should fired Stoughton Police Chief Manuel J. Cachopa go to jail?; take online poll
A 2004 recall election returning Manuel J. Cachopa as Stoughton police chief may have set tone that led to corruption - The Enterprise by Allan Stein - February 25, 2009

STOUGHTON, MA — It was a moment to rejoice. On Nov. 3, 2004, police supporters in Stoughton hoisted Manuel J. Cachopa to their shoulders and carried him around Club Luiz DeCamoes as they celebrated the voters’ recall of two town selectmen who had refused to renew Cachopa’s contract as police chief. It was also the beginning of the end, some say. Stoughton’s recall election was a show of support for Cachopa, who was widely known for his loyalty to friends and fellow officers. Out were selectmen Chairman Gerald Goulston and member Robert Mullen Jr., who had opposed extending Cachopa’s contract as chief. Goulston said the department was “poorly run” and had “no chain of command.” In were John Kowalczyk and Richard Levine, who joined with selectmen Antonio Sousa and Scott Carrara to reinstate Cachopa, who had been demoted to lieutenant. 

But that reinstatement, some observers say, ultimately proved his downfall because Cachopa ended up being the person in charge of the 55-officer department when allegations of public corruption erupted — allegations that implicated Cachopa and led eventually to his conviction on a felony corruption charge. Cachopa, 57, will be sentenced Thursday in Norfolk Superior Court. He could be sent to prison for up to seven years and stands to lose his pension. “As far as I am concerned, his friends did him in,” Goulston, one of the recalled selectmen, said when contacted at his vacation retreat in Puerto Rico. “If the chief had gone back in as lieutenant, under contract, and left the chief that we appointed, Joseph Saccardo, I think all of those issues would have gone away,” Goulston said. On Jan. 23, a Norfolk Superior Court jury convicted Cachopa of the crime of being an accessory after the fact to attempted extortion by a subordinate officer, Sgt. David M. Cohen, who is in jail on related charges. A third officer indicted in the scandal was acquitted. For nearly four years since his March 2005 indictment, Cachopa remained on paid administrative leave at his full yearly salary of $139,000 while awaiting trial. That ended with his firing on Feb. 13.

Unsavory tale of attempted extortion

Cachopa’s indictment came less than four months after he was reinstated to the top cop job following the divisive recall election. He was accused of trying to block a criminal probe involving then-sergeant Cohen. The case against Cachopa and Cohen stemmed from three-year-old allegations that Cohen, also an attorney, tried to pressure Timothy A. Hills, a Canton businessman, into repaying a business debt. In 2002, Hills complained he had been the victim of false arrest. Hills claimed that Cohen approached him at his office, attempting to collect $10,000 that Stoughton resident Peter Marinilli claimed Hills owed from a soured business deal. Marinilli had been to the police station to lodge a complaint about the bad debt. Cohen was on duty at the time and allegedly spoke to Marinilli about his complaint. Hills claimed Cohen initially approached him claiming to be Marinilli’s attorney, an allegation Cohen denied. At some point in the meeting, Cohen was alleged to have switched hats from lawyer to policeman, placing Hills under arrest and, for a brief time, cuffing Hills’ hands behind his back. Bad check charges against Hills were later dropped. A short time later, Hills brought his complaint to Stoughton police. When the allegations against Cohen first surfaced, Cachopa launched an internal investigation. A second probe by an independent investigator was also commissioned by the town. Both concluded without any action against Cohen. Grand jury probes corruption allegations

In June 2004, Cachopa was demoted to lieutenant after his contract as chief was not renewed. His temporary replacement, Lt. David Chamberlin, reopened the complaint and, at some point over the summer, turned the investigation over to the Norfolk County District Attorney’s Office. The DA appointed attorney George Jabour as special prosecutor, and Jabour presented evidence to the grand jury, which indicted Cachopa in March 2005. The case dragged on for nearly four years, with Cachopa finally going on trial last month. During the trial, former Stoughton police internal affairs investigator Lt. Michael Blount said in his testimony that Cachopa told him to “get rid of” Hills’ complaint of criminal misconduct against Cohen. Cachopa referred to Hills as a “nut” and later accused Blount of “digging too deeply” in the case, Blount said. Cachopa asked Blount, “Why are you trying to (expletive) this officer?” according to Blount. Blount also testified that Cachopa denied his request to bring his investigation before an assistant district attorney and to subpoena Cohen’s phone records. On Jan. 23, the jury found Cachopa guilty of the accessory-after-the-fact charge, a felony. The jury found him not guilty of a lesser corruption charge.

Back in 2004, had Cachopa stayed on as a lieutenant, most likely he would have retired unscathed by criminal charges and a possible jail sentence, Goulston said this month. “It’s a sad thing. I don’t think anybody should have to finish their career that way,” Goulston said. “In spite of everything, Stoughton has a lot of good police officers. We still have a fine police department.” The Stoughton saga will not end with Cachopa’s sentencing on Thursday. The town has been entangled in five civil lawsuits filed by police officers in connection with the scandal. In one of the lawsuits, a jury recently awarded Sgt. Robert Welch $164,000 in damages. He claimed he was removed as supervisor of detectives and harassed because he refused to participate in the 2004 recall election. The other four suits are pending. Town Manager Mark S. Stankiewicz has said taxpayers will end up paying legal costs from the five lawsuits not covered by the town’s insurance policy.

  • October 1984: Future police Chief Manuel Cachopa is hired as a patrolman. 
  • February 2001: Selectmen appoint Cachopa as chief after he had served as acting chief for 16 months.
  • June 2004: Selectmen deny renewal of Cachopa's contract as chief and demote him to his Civil Service rank of lieutenant.
  • July 2004: Special prosecutor George Jabour is asked to lead an investigation into alleged misconduct by Stoughton police officers. He begins to present evidence to a Norfolk County grand jury. 
  • September 2004: Sgt. David Cohen placed on paid leave. 
  • Oct. 26, 2004: Former state trooper Joseph Saccardo is hired as the town's new police chief, signs three-year contract.
  • Oct. 30, 2004: Town Manager Mark Stankiewicz places Cachopa, Sgt. Daniel McGowan and patrolmen Robert Emmett Letendre, John Owens, Lino Azul and Brian Holmes on administrative leave, claiming they were blocking the grand jury investigation. 
  • Nov. 2, 2004: Recall election ousts selectmen Gerald Goulston and Robert Mullen Jr. John Kowalczyk and Richard Levine, both supporters of Cachopa, are elected.
  • Nov. 24, 2004: Selectmen reinstate Cachopa as chief. 
  • Nov. 25, 2004: Cachopa resumes chief's position. 
  • March 4, 2005: Cachopa and Cohen are indicted.
  • March 18, 2005: Officer Robert Emmett Letendre, president of the patrolmen's union, and Cohen faced new charges stemming from the 2000 arrest of Randolph resident Jerard Viverito.
  • July 30, 2007: Cohen found guilty on four police corruption charges. Co-defendant Robert Emmett Letendre was acquitted.
  • Aug. 10, 2007: Cohen fired by the town.
  • March 20, 2008: Cachopa was found not guilty on two charges of civil rights violations.
  • Jan. 23, 2009: Cachopa convicted of felony corruption charge.
  • Feb. 13: Cachopa fired.
  • Feb. 26: Cachopa to be sentenced.

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