Political Intelligence

Worcester Democrat could face House rebuke

A House panel is poised to act against Worcester Democratic state Representative John P. Fresolo, with the possibility of disciplinary measures being taken by the full body within days, according to an official briefed on the investigation.

The Ethics Committee is expected to recommend that the House move against Fresolo, the official said, though the severity of its recommendation was unknown on Tuesday afternoon. Also unclear, because committee members are sworn to secrecy, are the charges against Fresolo.

House Speaker Robert DeLeo’s office said in March that his office had reviewed allegations against an unnamed member of the House filed by a House employee and that DeLeo had instructed the committee to investigate. In April, the House voted to empower the panel with temporary subpoena authority.

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The committee has been meeting quietly in the State House, holding one session on Monday after a handful last week. Several members of the committee contacted for information said they were constrained by committee rules from discussing the matter, even with other lawmakers.

Fresolo, 48, did not respond to requests for comment left on his cellphone voicemail. Thomas Kiley, an attorney representing Fresolo, declined to comment.

The eight-term lawmaker has come under scrutiny in the past for ranking high on the list of members who file for per diem reimbursements, state payments that legislators are entitled to collect for commuting to and from the State House.

The committee could recommend a reprimand, a censure, or expulsion.

Neither House rules nor the state constitution lay out an express mechanism for expelling a member from the chamber, House parliamentarians said. If the House chooses to reprimand or censure a member, a simple majority of those members present and voting would be required. If the vote came on whether to expel, an absolute majority of 81 votes would be the threshold.

The last time a member of the state Legislature was expelled was in 1977, when then-Senate majority leader Joseph DiCarlo was removed from the chamber after taking bribes from the contractor building the University of Massachusetts Boston campus. DiCarlo, along with two other senators, was later convicted in federal court.

Members are leery of taking such drastic action against one of their own, fearful of setting precedent indicating that the will of the voters could be overturned by an overly aggressive legislative leadership.

Other Democratic state lawmakers facing ethics investigations in recent years have resigned rather than endure what can amount to a trial by peers.

In 2008, the Senate voted unanimously to urge then-Senator Dianne Wilkerson to resign and sent her case to its own Ethics Committee. Wilkerson resigned before the panel could take action against her, and later pleaded guilty to federal attempted extortion charges.

The same year, then-Senator James Marzilli resigned amid pressure from colleagues as he faced a range of sexual assault charges. Marzilli later pleaded guilty to charges that he accosted four women.

In 2010, then-Senator Anthony Galluccio resigned after he was ordered to serve a one-year jail sentence for violating terms of his house arrest by drinking alcohol, after pleading guilty to fleeing the scene of a car accident that injured a 13-year-old.

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