Former Methuen Police Chief Joseph Solomon — a controversial figure once likened to the “don of an organized crime family” — has been indicted alongside an officer he hired for multiple charges related to fraud and corruption, authorities announced Thursday.
Officials allege that Solomon “repeatedly misused his position of authority as police chief to repeatedly undermine the law for his own benefit,” the Attorney General’s Office said in a press release.
He’s accused of circumventing civil service laws by hiring six part-time “intermittent officers” and then appointing them to full-time roles. One of those hires, former Methuen police officer and City Council Chair Sean Fountain, was also indicted this week after authorities alleged that Fountain lied about his qualifications and that Solomon assisted in the deception.
The AG’s office said that when he applied for his position, Fountain falsely claimed he had graduated from the Northeast Regional Police Institute and later produced a forged certificate from a part-time police academy. Solomon allegedly knew the certificate was forged, yet acted as though it were real.
Solomon is now facing two counts of perjury by written affidavit; seven counts of obtaining unwarranted privileges in violation of civil service laws; six counts of civil service law violations; one count of uttering a forged document; and one count of procurement fraud.
Fountain, meanwhile, is facing charges of forgery, uttering a forged document, procurement fraud, and violating conflict of interest law. He was previously arraigned in Lawrence District Court in April on charges that included conspiracy and forgery. His lawyer in that case wasn’t immediately available for comment Friday afternoon, and it wasn’t clear whether Solomon had retained an attorney.
The two men will be arraigned in Essex County Superior Court at a later date.
“Today is truly a watershed day in the history of the City of Methuen,” Mayor Neil Perry said in a statement. The announcement of the indictments, he added, “underscores that no one is above the law.”
A troubled past
The indictments follow years of controversy and investigations into Solomon’s tenure at the Methuen Police Department.
A 2020 Boston Globe report found that Solomon’s salary — $326,707 in 2019 — made him one of the highest-paid police chiefs in the nation, outranking his counterparts in Boston, New York City, and Chicago.
That same report traced Solomon’s history of controversy back to 2006, when he was investigated by the FBI “for mismanaging federal funds by doling out grant money to a select group of superior officers, and for other alleged criminal offenses,” according to the Globe.
Then-mayor William Manzi fired Solomon in 2008, but the state Civil Service Commission later disputed many of the allegations as being “wholly without merit” and reduced his punishment to a one-year suspension without pay, the Globe reported. Solomon was never criminally charged.
He was later placed on leave in December 2020 after the state Office of the Inspector General released a scathing report that dug into two Methuen Police Department contracts that provided “excessive raises” for Solomon and other department leaders.
The OIG report found that Solomon, who represented the city in negotiations with two police unions, “abandoned his duties” by remaining silent while the head of the Methuen Police Superior Officers Association slipped unapproved language into the contract that indirectly increased Solomon’s own pay.
Solomon announced his retirement a few weeks after the OIG report’s release.
Later, a January report from the Massachusetts Civil Service Commission found that Methuen paid more than $1.5 million to seven individuals who should not have been hired — in some cases, because they lacked the statutorily-required training to perform their duties.
“The most brazen example of abuse, which occurred (in plain sight) over a period of years, was Chief Solomon’s employment of Sean Fountain,” the commission asserted.
According to the report, Fountain never attended or completed a full-time police academy, was never certified by the state’s Municipal Police Training Committee to serve as a full-time officer, had no evidence of a completed physical or medical examination, and was over the city’s age limit for new officers.
In April, a separate city-funded investigation found that Solomon “ran the Methuen Police Department like the ‘don of an organized crime family,’ relying on ‘humiliation, fear, intimidation and retaliation,’” the Globe reported.
In a news release, Essex District Attorney Paul Tucker said he contacted the Attorney General’s Office in January after reviewing the OIG and Civil Service Commission reports. A months-long investigation followed, resulting in grand jury proceedings and Thursday’s indictments.
Perry, Methuen’s mayor, said the city “continues to expend every reasonable effort to steer the city away from the abuses and wrongdoing of the past, and, likewise, the City looks forward to seeking justice against those who have harmed the City.”
Current Police Chief Scott J. McNamara said regaining the community’s trust has been one of his “most pressing priorities” since he took over control of the department.
“No one, including police chiefs, are above the law in this community and Commonwealth,” McNamara said.
He added: “I pledge that every man and woman in our Department will continue to work every day to earn the support of those we serve, and to move beyond the abuses of the past.”
Stay up to date on all the latest news from Boston.com