Former firefighter Kevin Thompson walked out of a retirement board meeting this week with $3,474.04 in monthly benefits and lifetime health insurance. Thompson, 52, quit his job and filed for retirement benefits rather than answer questions about his secret four-month incarceration in a New Hampshire jail and whether he ever drove a city firetruck without a license.
City Solicitor William Cox said the city would have had a case to fight Thompson’s pension had officials fired him, which the mayor said he would have likely done if given the chance.
“By immediately resigning and going to the retirement board he eliminated one option the city would have had to challenge the pension,” Cox said, referencing a state law that says a public employee is entitled to their pension unless they are fired for “moral turpitude.”
Prior to the retirement board’s vote to give Thompson his pension, Cox advised it that he could not find any provision in state law to withhold the firefighter’s benefits.
“While the investigation of the Haverhill Police Department continues concerning allegations that he operated departmental vehicles while his license was suspended by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, I have been unable to locate any provision in state law which would allow your board to deny Mr. Thompson credible service for the period he was incarcerated, or for the city to take action at this time with regards to his application for pension benefits,” reads a letter from Cox to the board.
Regarding his pension, Thompson isn’t totally out the woods yet. If the city eventually charges Thompson with driving a city vehicle without a license, and wins a criminal conviction against the firefighter on that offense, the city will return to the board and ask that Thompson’s pension be revoked, Cox said.
“The only applicable provision which would allow for the forfeiture of a retirement allowance, in a case such as this, requires a conviction for a criminal offense involving violation of the laws applicable to the employee’s office or position,” Cox wrote to the board.
Thompson, who is considered a habitual driving offender in New Hampshire, has not had a valid license in that state since 1992. Massachusetts revoked his license in 1987.
If the city can prove Thompson drove a firetruck or other city vehicle without a license, that could be enough to stop his payments, Cox said.
The city solicitor said he expects police Chief Alan DeNaro to conclude his investigation into the Thompson matter this week or early next week. The probe is focusing on whether anyone in the Fire Department knew Thompson was in jail and helped him keep it secret, and whether Thompson ever drove a Haverhill firetruck without a license.
The vote to give Thompson his pension was 4-0, with William Klueber, Donald “Jake” Shea, Charles Benevento and attorney James Cleary at the meeting. Board member Lewis Poore Jr. was absent. He is a retired Haverhill fire deputy chief and former acting chief.
Mayor James Fiorentini recently said Thompson’s application for retirement benefits was processed “in record time” with the assistance of Poore.
Thompson has been employed by the Fire Department for 26 years and six months. His status as a military veteran provided him with four additional years toward his pension, for a total of 30 years and six months of creditable service, retirement board officials said.
Thompson spent four months in a New Hampshire jail earlier this year for driving in that state with a suspended driver’s license. He continued to collect his paycheck during his incarceration by keeping it secret from the fire chief and other city officials. Thompson continued to get paid by using vacation time and getting other firefighters to cover his shifts.
Thompson lost his New Hampshire license after he was convicted of several driving violations, including aggravated driving while intoxicated. New Hampshire labeled Thompson a “habitual offender” in 1992. He lost his Massachusetts driver’s license in 1987. Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles officials said Thompson was found guilty of drunken driving in 1977 in that state.
Haverhill officials have said they never knew Thompson didn’t have a license while he was employed as a firefighter, despite the fact that Thompson was involved in a 2005 car accident in Haverhill in which he totaled his automobile. The Haverhill police officer who responded to the crash never saw Thompson’s license nor did he verify his driving status or record, a police official said. The official said that was a mistake, but that the officer was not disciplined after an internal investigation into the matter this month. The officer told his superiors that he could not recall why he did not verify the status of Thompson’s license. That probe was initiated by inquiries from The Eagle-Tribune.
Neither Thompson nor his lawyer on his most recent driving under suspension case, Gerard LaFlamme Jr., have returned phone calls seeking comment.