Still no ethics ruling on Chief Sylvester's car tax troubles

Still no ethics ruling on Chief Sylvester's car tax troubles

PAWTUCKET - It's been 13 months since the Rhode Island Ethics Commission found probable cause that city resident Frank Sylvester had violated state ethics laws by registering his cars where he works in Lincoln.

But still there's been no ruling on whether the chief of the Lime Rock Fire Department did indeed violate those ethics laws when he registered his cars at the fire station to skirt Pawtucket's higher car tax rate of $53.30.

Mark McBurney, the Pawtucket lawyer representing Lincoln resident John Cullen in his ethics complaint against Sylvester, said the process of getting a resolution has been "ridiculous and endless" for him and his client. Both are wondering why there's been such a delay.

From what he has been told, the Ethics Commission has no deadline requirements to schedule an adjudicative hearing, or after that a closed-door final disposition of the matter, said McBurney.

"In theory, this could go on forever," he said.

Steven Cross, chief of investigations for the Ethics Commission, confirmed for The Breeze that there is still no hearing scheduled for an adjudication, or formal judgment, on the Sylvester matter.

"There is no scheduled date for any hearing as of right now," he said.

According to Cross, Sylvester could take his chances by letting the Ethics Commission decide his fate or he and his accuser could decide to settle the matter before the ethics case gets to that point.

Though Cross would not say how close a judgment on the matter might be, McBurney said that staff members have told him that the case could be decided by next month.

Cross would only say that the Sylvester case "is in the process of being determined" and should be resolved "within a several month period." He noted that the lengthy delay for this case is not highly unusual, especially because the commission only meets periodically.

Cases like this are "complicated," said Cross, with factors like availability of witnesses and attorneys also playing into delays.

Sylvester, of 94 Gates St., remains on the Pawtucket city payroll, taking home $100 a meeting for serving on the Pawtucket Personnel Board.

Mayor Don Grebien told The Breeze that city officials are still "aggressively pursuing" the "full value" of the car taxes that should have been paid to Pawtucket instead of to Lincoln.

The amount Sylvester paid to Lincoln during the years he registered his cars there was $14,045, a bill that would have been much higher in Pawtucket had his cars been properly registered there.

Pawtucket officials asked Lincoln leaders to pay them the $14,045 back in the fall of 2011, but when Lincoln Town Administrator T. Joseph Almond declined, they decided to pursue Sylvester himself for the money.

The request to Lincoln came shortly after a 15-month investigation by the Rhode Island State Police that ended with police finding that Sylvester had been illegally registering his vehicles at the Lincoln fire station instead of at his home in Pawtucket.