Nurse faces up to 10 years in prison, tampered with patients' morphine

A Haverhill nurse faces up to 10 years in prison after entering a guilty plea last week in federal court on charges she tampered with patients' morphine doses while working at health care facilities in Amesbury and Danvers.

Brianna Duffy, 32, appeared before United States District Court Judge William Young in Boston last Monday and pleaded guilty to one count of tampering with a consumer product and one count of acquiring a controlled substance by fraud or deception, according to a press release from U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling's office. She was indicted for the crimes in July 2019.

Duffy will be sentenced on Sept. 14.

According to court records, Duffy was working as a registered nurse at Hunt Nursing and Rehab in Danvers when she tampered with morphine sulfate prescribed to an 89-year-old hospice patient on March 18 and March 19, 2019. In an attempt to avoid detection, Duffy diluted the morphine using another liquid, so that it contained just 26% of the prescribed concentration, records show. The patient was given the diluted dose and suffered unnecessary pain, according to the statement from Lelling's office.

Duffy worked as a registered nurse at Maplewood Care and Rehabilitation in Amesbury and, according to court documents, diverted morphine from two bottles intended for a 68-year-patient from December 2016 to July 2017. Authorities say Duffy removed the potent pain reliever from the bottles and diluted the remaining medication with another liquid so that only 1/2% to 2.5% of the original concentration remained.

The nurse tested positive for the drug on July 18, 2017, according to investigators.

Duffy faces up to 10 years in prison for the crime, according to Lelling's office. She could also face three years of supervised release and a fine of $250,000.

— Allison Corneau


Neighbors across city complain about fireworks

A typical year has people in Haverhill neighborhoods lighting off illegal fireworks for a week or two before the Fourth of July, and maybe for a few days after the holiday.

It's a nuisance residents have learned to tolerate.

But this is not a typical year. The fireworks nuisance started earlier than normal this year, and often brings late-night noise, causing neighbors to call police.

Police responded to 24 complaints of fireworks across the city on a recent weekend, according to police records. A total of 41 fireworks-related calls were made to the 911 dispatch center over the period of a week, the records show. Most of the calls came in after 8 p.m., according to police logs.

Fireworks are causing more than a noise nuisance, police said. A vehicle on inner-city Fountain Street was damaged Monday night of last week after what appeared to be a bottle rocket caused a tire to smoke, police said.

Police spokesman Capt. Stephen Doherty said a neighbor saw smoke coming from the wheel well of the car and alerted the owner of the vehicle.

The owner called police to alert them to the damage just after 11:30 p.m., Doherty said. When officers arrived, the car owner said he heard fireworks in the area just prior to the vehicle being damaged. A bottle rocket type of firework was found on the ground nearby, Doherty said.

— Allison Corneau


Court upholds permit denial to Crystal Springs developer

In the latest legal battle over construction of homes at Crystal Springs Golf Course, a state Appeals Court has upheld the city's denials of building permits sought by developer Michael Maroney.

The court also reversed a previous judgment by another court against Maroney that ordered him to pay fines totaling $970,206 including interest, according to court paperwork.

Although Associate Appeals Court Justices John Englander, Sydney Hanlon and Dalila Wendlandt ruled the city did not follow proper procedures when notifying Maroney of its plan to fine him, the judges upheld the building permit denials because Maroney has no legal interest in the property. That is because he lost it to foreclosure in 2018, the judges said.

Maroney was appealing a 2018 Superior Court ruling that he did not comply with city regulations when building a 13-acre residential subdivision at Crystal Springs Golf Course, which he owned at the time. Maroney initially purchased Crystal Springs, an 18-hole, 137-acre course off North Broadway, in 2010 for $3.7 million. He filed for bankruptcy in July 2016, and the course was sold at a foreclosure auction in January 2018 for $960,000 to Sterling Golf Management Inc.

Maroney first brought suit against the city in 2015 when Haverhill officials refused to grant him building permits for more units in the development unless he built a water booster pumping station. In February 2018, a Superior Court judge found Maroney was not entitled to city permits related to the subdivision, on which he intended to build a total of 50 homes, 29 of which were already built and sold. Court documents showed the subdivision plan required Maroney to build the booster station prior to the construction of later phases of the project. Once he moved ahead with construction of additional houses before building the booster station, a Superior Court judge halted the issuance of further permits.

"Maroney does not contest he violated both state building code and city bylaws by building on the lots without the required permits; rather he challenges the procedure by which the fines were imposed and calculated," the Appeals Court decision said.

According to court documents, the city's building inspector issued Maroney two cease-and-desist letters, one in July 2015 and the other in August 2016. The letters did not indicate a specific fine amount nor did they state that the fines would be imposed for actions the builder had taken before the letters were issued. The letters included the phrase "(I)f you ignore this order and continue work on these lots, ... additional penalties in the form of monetary fines will be sought against you...,'' according to the Appeals Court decision.

After sending the letters, the city building inspector did nothing further until the counterclaim lawsuit was filed nearly a year later, according to court documents.

In a memorandum of law filed on July 30, 2018, it was disclosed by the building inspector that he sought $687,000 in fines. According to court paperwork, the fines were calculated at the state level ($1,000 per day per violation) and city level ($300 per day per violation). Fines were sought from the time Maroney commenced construction to the dates of the cease-and-desist letters, according to court documents.

Maroney opposed the city's assessment and said the city had not followed the correct procedures to impose the fines.

The Appeals Court ruling said the city did not adhere to state law when issuing the letters. At the local level, "a counterclaim in a civil action was not the proper method to impose civil penalties under a local zoning bylaw," the ruling said. Using Burlington Sand & Gravel as case law, the court said the city should have either pursued the case in district court or pursued Maroney criminally.

The letters submitted to Maroney were not considered official notices because they did not mention the district court and did not indicate that fines were to be imposed for actions that had already occurred, the Appeals Court ruling said.

— Allison Corneau


Men sentenced in federal fraud linked to Haverhill, Groveland companies

Two local men — one from Groveland and one from Kingston, New Hampshire — and a Georgia man have been sentenced for conspiracy to defraud the United States and mail fraud in a scheme to obtain government contracts, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

The scheme involved a company in Haverhill and another in Groveland, investigators said.

Frank Apicella, 63, of Groveland, James Apicella, 37, of Kingston, and Michael Sforza, 59, of Alpharetta, Georgia, were sentenced last week by U.S. District Court Senior Judge Douglas Woodlock to two years of probation and two years of supervised release, according to U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling.

The three men were also ordered to each pay forfeiture of $300,000, Lelling said. In addition, Frank Apicella and Sforza were ordered to each pay a $300,000 fine, Lelling said.

The three men pleaded guilty in February 2020 to one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States and one count of mail fraud.

Beginning in 2011, the three men used Tactical Office Solutions, a company run by James Apicella, as a front to bid on government contract work that was set aside for Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Businesses and Historically Underutilized Business Zone (HUBZone) companies, Lelling said.

Although the contracts were bid on and awarded to Tactical Office Solutions through the veteran and small business programs, Tactical Office Solutions never performed the work, Lelling said.

Rather, the work was mostly performed by a company called FENS, which was owned and operated by Frank Apicella and Michael Sforza, and which was not eligible to compete for contracts through the government programs, Lelling said.

The website for FENS Associates LLC lists its location as 939 Salem St., Unit 3, Groveland, and says the company was formed in 1991.

"As a company that has been successful selling furniture, design, project management, installation, and other services to the federal government for twenty six years, we fully understand the government marketplace,” the company website says.

The website for Tactical Office Solutions lists an office at 80 Wingate St., Haverhill.

James Apicella’s LinkedIn page says he attended Pentucket Regional High School from 1995 to 1999 and holds a bachelor of science degree from Southern Vermont College.

— Mike LaBella


Canobie Lake Park to open in July

There will be laughs and screams coming from the roller-coasters in Salem this summer.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Canobie Lake Park had to delay opening for the season. However, the park announced recently that it plans to open on Thursday, July 16.

People who venture to the park will have a different experience than in past years. According to state guidelines, there will be no character meet-and-greets, employees and visitors over 3 years old must wear masks in public places where plausible, and increased sanitizing will happen across the park.

Visitors must also plan ahead by using a reservation system. The park plans to limit capacity by allowing one person for every 36 square feet. Capacity will gradually increase over the summer, in accordance with guidance from the state.

The park is also hiring in all departments, according to its website.

— Madeline Hughes


Governor files police reform package

Police officers would be licensed by the state under a plan filed by Gov. Charlie Baker in response to mass protests over the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police.

Baker's proposal, which he filed Wednesday of last week, proposes a statewide certification system for law enforcement officers that would be overseen by a new panel, the Police Officer Standards and Accreditation Committee. The committee would set minimum standards to determine when a police officer can carry a badge, and how they might lose it.

"The murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police has made it clear now is the time to get this done," Baker said.

Re-certification of police officers would be required every three years under the proposal, which will create a statewide process to review public complaints and discipline officers. Police departments in and outside Massachusetts would have access to candidates’ training and disciplinary records. Some of the information would be made available to the public.

Massachusetts is one of six states, including Rhode Island, that doesn't have the authority to revoke police officers’ licenses to serve, a process known as de-certification.

Advocates argue that de-certification is essential to building community trust in law enforcement, which has been shattered by recent police killings of black men and women.

The proposal follows weeks of protests against police brutality and racial prejudice that have raged across the country in response to the deaths of Floyd and other black Americans.

Baker said the plan emerged from weeks of discussions with the Legislature's Black and Latino Caucus on drafting a bill that would require police certifications.

"The daily injustices that people of color experience are not addressed easily or quickly with a single piece of legislation," Baker said. "We have lots of work to do."

Legislative leaders on Beacon Hill have already agreed to a raft of reforms, including the creation of an independent office to enforce policing standards.

A bill filed last week would set tougher standards for investigating police-involved deaths, in addition to banning the use of tear gas, choke holds and other tactics.

It would also penalize departments that don't comply by preventing them from seeking state grant money.

Baker said he opposes efforts to "defund" police by reducing department budgets or diverting money to social justice initiatives.

Dennis Galvin, president of the Massachusetts Association For Professional Law Enforcement, said the group representing current and retired police officers supports statewide oversight of policing, but that law enforcement wants a seat at the policy-making table.

"While reform is urgent, inclusiveness and transparency are absolutely essential for any credible effort," Galvin said in a prepared statement. "Representatives of the police service, minority communities, the legal community, recognized policing experts, and interested citizens at large, must all be given a fair and equal opportunity to participate in this discussion."

In Congress, lawmakers are weighing nationwide police reforms, but remain divided over Democratic and Republican plans that have been rolled out in recent days.

Last week, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that will establish a database tracking police officers with excessive use-of-force complaints in their records.

Trump's order, which he signed flanked by law enforcement officials, made no mention of the national debate over racism sparked by the police killings.

Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Trump's order "falls sadly and seriously short of what is required to combat the epidemic of racial injustice and police brutality."

— Christian M. Wade


Lawyer drops fee for gas disaster victims


There's good news for Merrimack Valley gas disaster victims who were being asked to pay an 11% fee out of their checks from a $143 million class action settlement.

Attorney David Raimondo, who represented about 175 gas disaster victims, said last week he is waiving the 11% fee and his clients should soon receive their settlement checks.

Raimondo said he consulted with attorneys involved in the class action settlement and Attorney General Maura Healey's office regarding the fee.

He said he was glad the issue was rectified.

"Not that I'm not entitled to it, but I waived it," Raimondo said.

Residents and businesses in Andover, North Andover and Lawrence were affected by the Sept. 13, 2018, disaster.

A total of $26.1 million of the $143 million gas explosion class-action settlement was earmarked for payment of legal fees and administrative costs.

Some victims said recently that they were being asked to pay the 11% fee to get their checks, which are compensation for everything from spoiled food and property damage to lodging costs, mental anguish and other results of the disaster.

The first round of checks was recently issued with an average settlement payment of $8,000. Eleven percent of that payment is $880.

Lawrence Mayor Daniel Rivera, who has been publicly critical of lawyers' fees in the disaster settlement, said he was pleased to hear Raimondo's announcement.

"The goal always for this settlement money was to support the impacted families, not enriching lawyers," Rivera said.

Attorneys involved in the class-action lawsuit asked for the first $70 million in payments to be mailed out in late May due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which shut down parts of the economy. Payments were previously expected to start in July.

The gas disaster, caused by over-pressurized lines operated by Columbia Gas, resulted in the death of Leonel Rondon, 18, of Lawrence. Three firefighters and 19 civilians were hurt. Damages in Andover, Lawrence and North Andover are estimated at $1 billion.

About 50,000 people were forced to evacuate. Five homes were destroyed and 131 properties damaged, according to findings by the National Transportation Safety Board.

— Jill Harmacinski


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