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Scandal Nothing New For Westfield

June 21, 1986

WESTFIELD, Mass. (AP) _ Times have been rocky recently for Westfield State College and this western Massachusetts city, which calls itself ″Whip City″ after its heyday decades ago as a producer of buggy whips.

Westfield’s previous mayor and three top officials are still awaiting trial on charges of election and bidding law violations. The municipal utility supervisor is likewise awaiting his day in court, on charges of bugging a union office.

Now Westfield State College, normally a point of pride in the town, has become embroiled in scandal.

Earlier this year, college president Francis J. Pilecki resigned after a male student alleged that he had been sexually assaulted by a school official.

On Thursday, First Assistant Attorney General Thomas R. Kiley identified Pilecki as the subject of the student’s allegation and said he had approved a $10,000 payment to the student to limit the state’s liability.

In January, the school’s trustees’ committee was presented an agreement worked out by lawyers for the college, the regents and an assistant state attorney general, and told that the case involved academic problems.

″We were told half-truths and part-lies and evasions,″ said Jane Berry, chairwoman of the board, who had been part of a three-member executive committee that approved the settlement for ″academic impairment.″

″This can happen in any place, any family, any town,″ said Mayor George Varelas, 55, who graduated from the college in 1973 and earned his master’s degree there 10 years ago.

″We don’t expect or believe people would condemn a whole town because an undesirable episode has taken place.″

Faculty members have protested the payment to the student, and investigators are following up other allegations involving the college.

One professor told the Hampden County district attorney’s office, which is conducting a grand jury probe into the criminal allegations, that more than 20 students alleged they were involved sexually with a college official and some claimed they had been forced into homosexual relations.

As groups ranging from the college janitors’ union to the professors union called for a probe into the payment, Gov. Michael S. Dukakis on Friday urged the state Board of Regents in Higher Education to name former Superior Court Judge Rudolph Pierce as a special investigator.

Westfield, a town of nearly 40,000, recovered from the horseless carriage a long time ago.

H.B. Smith, a cast iron boiler plant, is a large local employer, along with Savage Arms, which makes guns, a Digital Equipment Corp. computer plant and the college. Some residents commute to jobs in nearby Hartford and Springfield, and the local unemployment rate is only about 4 percent.

Advance Whip & Novelty Co. still makes real whips and novelty whips for souvenirs, which it ships around the world.

Still, it’s been a rough couple of years.

Former Mayor Michael E. O’Connell and three city officials were forced to leave office last year after they were indicted on election and bidding law violations.

Varelas, the police chief at the time, was elected mayor in November.

In March, police said they discovered a wireless microphone in the wall adjacent to where a union official representing municipal utility employees worked. George Lubanksi, a municipal utility supervisor, pleaded innocent to charges of bugging the office to eavesdrop on union members.

He has been suspended until the case is decided.