Murray Defends Frequent Phone Calls with Embattled Chelsea Official

Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray, beset by questions about his relationship with former Chelsea Housing Director Michael McLaughlin, denied anything inappropriate about his frequent contact with the disgraced official, and an angry Gov. Deval Patrick came to his lieutenant’s defense Friday.

“He’s someone on housing issues I would talk to from time to time, but I was not aware of the full extent of his contract like everyone else until the Globe article appeared that Sunday. It’s outrageous. He was wrong. He misled me. He misled other people, and I’m disappointed, I’m frustrated, and I’m angry,” Murray told a crush of reporters.

After revealing that McLaughlin was earning $360,000 as the executive director and failed to report a sizeable amount of that income – only reporting $160,000 – to the state, the Boston Globe reported on Friday that Murray and McLaughlin had exchanged more than 80 phone calls over the last seven months, including in the hours after the Globe began placing inquiries.

Asked about the volume of calls with McLaughlin, Murray said he is in frequent contact with many local officials, including McLaughlin, about a range of issues. Though he called McLaughlin a political supporter, Murray said there was nothing unusual about the volume of calls between the two men.

“Part of my portfolio is working with local officials, elected, appointed and others. I have dozens of phone calls on a day-to-day basis with lot of officials across the state, including Mr. McLaughlin,” Murray said.

He declined to specify the subject of his conversations with McLaughlin, including those calls placed after the Globe began asking questions about McLaughlin’s salary. “I was as surprised and outraged as anyone to learn the full story when we read the Globe article and this administration took quick action,” Murray said.

A Patrick aide said Murray has not spoken with McLaughlin since the first article appeared in the Globe.

Patrick demanded McLaughlin’s resignation, which was submitted, and has petitioned the Supreme Judicial Court to place the housing authority into receivership. McLaughlin is also under investigation by the F.B.I., and other state and federal agencies over allegations that he co-signed checks to himself for unused sick days and vacation at the time of his resignation, and the evidence was destroyed.

Murray also denied a Globe report that he might have helped McLaughlin’s son Matthew McLaughlin get a job at the Board of Appeals, despite concerns at the agency about the younger McLaughlin’s checkered driving history, telling reporters that he referred his application, but did not tell anyone in state government to hire McLaughlin.

“I never tell anyone to put a square peg in a round hole. It’s up to the people making the decision to decide whether someone’s qualified or not, and from there are they doing the job,” Murray said.

The Globe also reported that Matthew McLaughlin frequently takes advantage of his family’s ties to Murray at work, referring to the lieutenant governor as his “godfather.” “That the first I’ve ever heard of any of that, the word godfather. I think it’s wrong. Anybody should be standing on their own two feet doing their job and if they’re not doing their job they shouldn’t be there,” Murray said.

Mid-way through the interview, Gov. Patrick appeared to lure Murray away from reporters, approaching Murray from behind and saying, “We got work to do.” The lieutenant governor, however, continued answering questions, and afterward Patrick came to his lieutenant governor’s defense when a press aide said the governor had time for two questions, even though Patrick appeared ready to leave.

“Is it troubling that someone in whom trust was placed breached that trust? Yes, it’s very troubling, which is why the hammer came down on him and that’s the right thing to have happened,” Patrick said.

Almost scowling at the tone of questions being thrown his way, Patrick took exception to the suggestion that the phone calls between Murray and McLaughlin were inappropriate.

“Let me tell you what I don’t like and what I don’t appreciate is insinuation when there is nothing…,” Patrick said, interjecting, “Let me finish,” when a reported tried to ask a follow-up question.

“Nothing indicating there was something inappropriate about those phone calls. I do not believe in guilt by association. This is a fabulous lieutenant governor who runs to works every day to do the best he can by the people of the Commonwealth. I am proud of him and I am proud to serve with him and the Chelsea housing authority executive director who breached the public’s trust has some consequences,” Patrick said.

Earlier in the day, the Massachusetts Republican Party seized on the new reports about Murray and McLaughlin’s ties, dubbing this month “Tim Murray’s November to Remember” in reference to the McLaughlin scandal and the lieutenant governor’s early morning car crash in Sterling.

Murray explained about the crash that he was out getting coffee and surveying damage from an early-season snow storm in the dark, pre-dawn hours. He said it was not unusual for him to leave home early so as not to disturb his family and get a cup of coffee, the morning newspaper and make cell phone calls.

“There is a disturbing pattern here where the administration is doing everything they can to suppress information while at the same time claiming that they have nothing to hide,” MassGOP Executive Director Nate Little said. “It is time for Tim Murray to come clean about these lingering questions.”

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