25 Investigates: Lawmakers charge taxpayers for commutes after perk ended

By: Eric Rasmussen , Erin Smith

Updated:

BOSTON - FOLLOW UP: 25 Investigates gets action as lawmakers are forced to pay taxpayers back. 

The state is taking action after 25 Investigates uncovered a little-known money grab by Beacon Hill lawmakers.

Investigative Reporter Eric Rasmussen discovered Massachusetts legislators still charging taxpayers for their commute to the State House even after they agreed to give up that plum perk.

Lawmakers said they were unaware of the problem until 25 Investigates brought it to their attention.

MORE: 25 Investigates: Lawmakers billed taxpayers for bogus commutes

But they were also the ones who wrote the new law that ended the so-called per diem program in exchange for a multimillion dollar raise earlier this year.

For years state lawmakers have collected cash for their State House commutes – between $10 and $100 a day depending on how far they had to go. All that was supposed to end on Jan. 4, according to the new law.

Yet 25 Investigates found two dozen lawmakers still billing taxpayers for their daily commute through the month of January and the state Treasurer Deb Goldberg kept paying them.

Now, after 25 Investigates revealed the improper payouts, the Treasurer’s Office is moving to take back more than $8,000 it never should have paid out to lawmakers.

Records show state Rep. Kay Khan charged taxpayers for 11 commuting days in January.

She didn’t send her commuting log to the Treasurer’s Office until late April – months after the new law went into effect – and she never signed it, but the Newton representative still got paid.

It’s all part of a larger problem the Treasurer’s Office admits it didn’t know about until 25 Investigates uncovered it.

But officials at the state Treasurer’s Office could not say why they were still paying out per diems after the law had changed.

“So, when I come in the door, I would literally just take a pen and check it to say, ‘I'm here,’” said state Rep. Russell Holmes of Boston, who agreed to go on camera to show his commute record keeping system – a check mark on his office wall calendar.

Holmes told 25 Investigates he has nothing to hide and will pay back any money he wasn’t owed. Holmes said he thought he could continue filing for his commuting expenses through January.

“I kept track up until February because that’s when I think I was told that you could no longer put per diems in,” said Holmes.
Late Monday afternoon, Khan emailed 25 Investigates and called the money she received this year for commutes a “potential error.”

Khan and several other lawmakers said they are taking steps to pay back taxpayers.

Here are the responses 25 Investigates received from lawmakers who took the commuting perk after it had already ended Jan. 4:

State Rep. Kay Khan (D-Newton)
Khan emailed 25 Investigates, saying, “I am checking with the Treasurer’s office to confirm whether or not I was incorrectly reimbursed for the dates in question. If in fact I was paid, I will certainly reimburse the Commonwealth.”

State Rep. Mathew Muratore (R-Plymouth)
Muratore pledged to pay back the money from this year, writing, “I have a call into the Treasurer's office to return the $252.”

State Sen. Michael Rodrigues (D-Westport)
Rodrigues said he would pay the money back, saying, “After reviewing my records, I realized that the per diem items for travel after January 4, 2017 were inappropriate.  I will be in immediate contact with the Treasurer’s Office and will work with them to reimburse the Commonwealth for those items.”

State Sen. Donald Humason (R-Westfield)
A Humason staffer told 25 Investigates the state senator offered to pay back the money and was told the Treasurer’s Office would “rectify through the payroll system.”

State Rep. Nicholas Boldyga (R-Southwick)
Rep. Boldyga told 25 Investigates, “If my office inadvertently filed for any during the month of January I will absolutely donate that amount to a local charity.”
He did not respond to further questions about whether he would return the money to taxpayers.

State Rep. Lori Ehrlich (D-Marblehead)
Rep. Ehrlich said, “Yes, I am aware of this situation and have already rectified it. The treasury made a clerical error that has since been resolved. Thank you for raising this issue and I am happy that we were able to settle this account.”

State Rep. Chris Walsh (D-Framingham)
Rep. Walsh blamed an issue with the cutoff date being backdated after the law was passed but declined further comment when asked why he submitted the forms to be reimbursed for his commute even after the new law went into effect. 

State Rep. Denise Provost (D-Somerville)
Rep. Provost said she spoke to Treasurer’s Office and offered to pay back any money she wasn’t owed. She told 25 Investigates saying they would deduct $80 from her next paycheck.

Lawmakers who did not respond to requests for comment by Monday evening:
State Rep. Diana F. DiZoglio (D-Methuen)
State Rep. Paul J. Donato (D-Medford)
State Rep. Shawn C. Dooley (R-Norfolk)
State Rep. Patricia Farley-Bouvier (D-Pittsfield)
State Rep. Dylan A. Fernandes (D-Falmouth)
State Rep. Sean P. Garballey (D-Arlington)
State Rep. Susan Williams Gifford (R-Wareham)
State Rep. Mary S. Keefe (D-Worcester)
State Rep. James M. Kelcourse (R-Amesbury)
State Rep. Peter V. Kocot (D-Northampton)
State Rep. Juana B. Matias (D-Lawrence)
State Rep. William Smitty Pignatelli (D-Lenox)
State Rep. Todd Smola (R-Warren)
State Rep. Chynah Tyler (D-Boston)
State Rep. Aaron M. Vega (D-Holyoke)

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