Police Academy Investigating Former Director
HAVERHILL -- Northern Essex Community College is investigating Thomas Fleming, a former Lowell police sergeant who ran the school’s police academy until he resigned last week, after a former cadet alleged he held onto thousands of dollars of cash dues the class paid each week without documenting how the money was being used.
Fleming resigned Thursday, 10 days after the State Ethics Commission announced he paid a $5,000 fine for violating conflict-of-interest laws by recommending the college purchase equipment from a Lowell store where he worked as a salesman. Documents provided by NECC indicate the college made about $88,000 worth of purchases from the store, All Sports Heroes.
On Friday, a former cadet from the academy, Cynthia Martinez, of Haverhill, told The Eagle-Tribune that Fleming ignored her requests to account for how he handled $20 weekly class dues from 59 recruits that Martinez collected as class treasurer. The newspaper published a story Sunday detailing Martinez’s allegations.
Martinez told The Eagle-Tribune she collected about $11,000 total in dues and that she turned all of it over to Fleming or his staff. However, she said Fleming only discussed how $4,000 of that money was spent, and did not provide receipts or documents accounting for use of the dues.
“I asked numerous times about the invoices,” Martinez told the paper. “Nothing was provided to me. I asked Fleming, ‘When will I get proof of what the class dues are being spent on?’ There was no accounting.”
Reached Monday by The Sun, Fleming said he was not a part of any dues collection or expenditure.
“The staff at the police academy has nothing to do with the students’ dues,” he said. “They have their own class officers, they collect the money and spend it as they see fit.”
Martinez was sworn in as a patrol officer with the Haverhill Police Department in May 2017, and she enrolled in NECC’s academy that September. She told The Eagle-Tribune she was dismissed in January after being told she failed a weapons test, but that she believes her frequent inquiries about the class dues played a role in her departure.
The same month she was dismissed, Martinez filed a complaint with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination. A spokesman for the agency confirmed Monday that an investigation into Martinez’s complaint is underway.
NECC spokeswoman Ernie Greenslade confirmed to The Sun on Monday that the college was internally investigating the allegations Martinez made.
Martinez’s allegations were not publicly known earlier this month, when the State Ethics Commission announced Fleming paid a fine for suggesting the academy purchase equipment from a store where he also worked part-time and where he earned commissions.
Fleming said Martinez’s dismissal stemmed from “her performance in the academy” and that her allegations did not factor in his decision to resign.
“The college and I see things differently,” Fleming said. “I think it’s best for the police academy at this point for me to resign. I stand by my work training thousands of police officers in hundreds of cities and towns.”
Fleming spent three decades as a police officer in Lowell and achieved the rank of sergeant. He retired in 2014 while on paid administrative leave after he was found to have had a prohibited electronic device with him during a promotional exam and to have lied about it.
NECC first hired Fleming as a consultant in 2014 when the police academy was launching. In August 2015, he was appointed its director, a position in which he was required to work 25 hours per week and was paid $65,000 per year.
During that time, Fleming also worked part time at All Sports Heroes, a store owned by fellow former Lowell police officer Mike Kuenzler. Fleming frequently suggested the college buy gear for the academy -- including clothes, badges and bags -- from All Sports Heroes, and he pocketed commissions from the transactions.
In total, NECC spent about $88,000 at All Sports Heroes between Fleming’s hiring and his departure, according to a compilation of invoices the college provided.
The Ethics Commission found his role to be a violation of conflict-of-interest laws barring state employees from acting on matters in which their private employers have financial interests.
Greenslade, the school’s spokeswoman, said the college was not initially aware of Fleming’s connection to the store. Once the Ethics Commission’s investigation began, officials sought quotes for all academy purchases but continued to use All Sports Heroes -- an approved vendor for state contracts -- because it offered the lowest prices.
Fleming told NECC he made about $2,900 in commissions from the sales, and when the investigation started, he offered to write the school a check in that amount. NECC declined on the advice of counsel, Greenslade said, opting to wait for the Ethics Commission to determine how any restitution should be paid.
The Commission’s final ruling stated that Fleming in fact made $5,000 in commission, and he paid a fine in that amount.
Following Fleming’s resignation, Methuen Police Sgt. Daniel O’Connell will serve as interim director of NECC’s academy. The school will launch a search for a permanent director.