Ethics charges against Chief Sylvester dismissed

Ethics charges against Chief Sylvester dismissed

PROVIDENCE – The Rhode Island Ethics Commission on Tuesday voted to dismiss ethics charges against Lime Rock Fire Chief Frank Sylvester, who was accused of using his position in Lincoln for financial gain.

Prosecutors said there was not enough evidence to go forward with a case against the Lincoln fire chief, according to Jason Gramitt, staff attorney for the Ethics Commission.
Ultimately, said Gramitt, commission members decided, based on the recommendation of the prosecutor, that there was “a lack of evidence to establish that Chief Sylvester had knowingly and willfully” used his position to gain financially, requirements needed to prove that he violated the code of ethics.

“What we were left with was very vague statutory language and tax laws related to where you can register your vehicle,” said Gramitt. “And Chief Sylvester seems to have received equally vague advice from the Department of Motor Vehicles.”

Given the “totality” of the case, the vagueness of the laws combined with the fact that the Rhode Island State Police uncovered no criminal behavior following their 2011 investigation, commissioners found “insufficient evidence that he intentionally violated the law,” said Gramitt.

Sylvester proposed a settlement in the case back on May 21, but the Ethics Commission rejected that proposal.

It was April of last year when the Ethics Commission found probable cause that Sylvester had violated state ethics laws by registering his cars at the Lime Rock Fire Department where he works instead of his Gates Street home in Pawtucket.

The complainant in the case, Lincoln resident John Cullen, was represented by Pawtucket attorney Mark McBurney, who responded to the decision Tuesday.

"Frank Sylvester registered his personal automobiles 61 times over 23 years from his work address instead of his residence, as required by law," said McBurney. "He swore an oath to the DMV - many times - that his work address was his home address. The Rhode Island State Police told him to stop registering his personal vehicles from his work address, and the city of Pawtucket is pursuing him for the car taxes he avoided over two decades. While the Ethics Commission has not informed me of the basis for its decision, I am confident that justice will still be done in this matter."

Pawtucket Mayor Don Grebien told The Breeze in May that city officials were 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 tax bill that would have been much higher in Pawtucket had his cars been 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.