According to this week’s Massachusetts Lawyer’s Weekly, the Commonwealth is having a tough time with certain …irregularities… regarding Probate Court staff. A few weeks ago, Middlesex County’s Register of Probate was arrested for allegedly stealing cash from government copying machines. This week, in Suffolk County, a state auditor’s report is raising questions of malfeasance in Register of Probate’s Office.
According to the report, $12,885 in “voided” transactions disappeared from cash registers in the office of Richard P. Iannella, the register for the Suffolk Probate & Family Court, between July 2000 and June 2002. In addition to not complying with regulations that secure cash flow, Iannella is said to have failed to fill out a form explaining the shortfall, the report states.

Iannella, a former Boston city councilor who has served as register since 1996, said the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office has investigated the matter. “I’m certainly not at liberty to discuss with you an investigation,” Iannella said, “but we turned the office upside down. We made every effort possible to determine how the monies were stolen, and unfortunately it ended up inconclusive.”

When asked about his failure to submit a form explaining the unaccounted-for shortfalls to the Trial Court or the state auditor’s office, as required by law, Iannella explained, “I had no idea what the form was. Nobody ever told me about the form. I thought I did the right thing by calling the DA’s Office.”

Apparently, though, even after being informed by the audit team that he needed to submit a “Chapter 647 form,” Iannella, citing the DA’s investigation, has not filled one out. .

When contacted by Lawyer’s Weekly, the prosecutor’s announced that it would neither confirm nor deny whether an investigation had been conducted.
When asked if he could offer proof that an investigation had, indeed, taken place, Iannella became irate.

“My family has been in public service for this city, in this state, for the better part of 60 years,” he fumed. “We’ve never had one blemish against our name. Shame on you, and shame on Lawyers Weekly, for making an allegation that I am not telling the truth that I went to the DA.” One might have assumed that he would be more insulted by the allegations regarding the missing money.

The missing money, by the way, is not the only issue raised in the report. The audit team also found that Iannella’s office did not comply with regulations to keep its cash flow secure; that “supervision, monitoring, guidance, and training of staff are all lacking”; and that the office’s internal control plan, used to combat possible malfeasance, “does not communicate integrity and ethical values.”
In his written response to the report, Iannella said he had not been aware of many of the Trial Court regulations.

The report comes on the heels of the arrest of Middlesex County Register John R. Buonomo, following an investigation by the DA’s Office in that county in which hidden cameras caught Buonomo allegedly taking money from copying machines.

We can laugh at the spectacle of high level court personnel defending allegations of wrongdoing by claiming ignorance of the court’s own rules, but there is a bit of “There but for the grace of God go I…” that should be felt.
Because this could easily happen to anyone.
We aspire to positions of authority. However, when we get there we are sometimes faced with so many rules, laws and regulations that it is impossible to know them all. Consider the CEO who thought it was “ok” to not file a piece of paper…or simply forgot. And then, it turns out, the non-action is considered as part of a cover-up because there was a shortfall somewhere.
The fact is that the more authority in our positions, the more we are deemed to know. Further, in no cases is ignorance of the law a defense. To put it into the more popular parlance of the day, I will quote the “Spider-man” movies, ” With great power, comes great responsibility”.
Don’t misunderstand me…some people intentionally engage in criminal acts too! Sometimes these people, getting the sense of an upcoming investigation, will try to cover their tracks by setting the scene so that it appears that someone else (whom they can later turn on in return to a pat on the back and a generous plea bargain by the prosecutor) was complicit.
So, while it may be amusing to watch public officials jiggle in the spotlight, apparently doing what they are often seen shaking their heads in disgust at others accused of either misfeasance, malfeasance and white collar crime…do not laugh too hard. Instead, take a lesson. If you ever believe there is an investigation into anything even touching your own actions, and you feel there is even a chance you could be pulled in with the criminal justice net, do not wait for the knock on the door with the bracelets of shame. Get an experienced attorney involved as soon as possible!
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