STONEHAM (CBS) -- A Stoneham police officer and his brother are accused of fraudulently receiving $36 million in Mass Save funds. Officer Joseph Ponzo, 48, of Stoneham, and Christopher Ponzo, a 47-year-old owner of an electrical contracting company from North Reading, were arrested Friday.
According to U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts Rachael Rollins, the brothers conspired to bribe an employee at a Mass Save lead vendor company in exchange for Mass Save contracts.
The brothers allegedly paid that employee tens of thousands in cash bribes, kickbacks, or other benefits from 2013 to 2017. That included weekly $1,000 payments from Christopher and then $5,000-$10,000 payments occasionally from Christopher on Joseph's behalf, the U.S. Attorney said.
In return, the employee helped the brothers create companies, gain approval for the companies to serve as Mass Save contractors for their employer; find Mass Save projects for the Ponzo's companies, and help the Ponzo's get paid for completed projects.
"The associate here is sort of an unnamed individual most likely because they are cooperating with the police, and they are essentially a snitch," said WBZ legal analyst Jennifer Roman.
The WBZ I-Team has been digging into Officer Joseph Ponzo for months. WBZ learned that in 2019, while Ponzo was serving as the President of the Stoneham Police Union, he was under investigation for stealing union money. In a letter, the district attorney's office called the allegations that he stole $23,000 very serious, but ultimately, they did not charge him with any crime.
Christopher and Joseph allegedly collected approximately $29 million and $7 million in fraudulently obtained Mass Save funds, respectively.
"The fact that a member of law enforcement who pledged an oath to protect the community allegedly abused this program as a get-rich scheme is particularly reprehensible," said Joleen D. Simpson, Special Agent in Charge of the Internal Revenue Service's Criminal Investigations in Boston.
"Virtually every Massachusetts resident who uses energy is surcharged and pays for Mass Save. These payments are mandatory and amount to hundreds of millions of dollars. Defrauding the Mass Save program for millions of dollars means we are all left paying the bill," said Rollins in a statement. "As we allege, these defendants, motivated by greed, orchestrated a corrupt scheme to line their pockets with money fraudulently obtained from honest paying energy consumers."
Both brothers were indicted on one count of wire fraud conspiracy and 12 counts of wire fraud. They were arraigned Friday in federal court and sent home.
The charges of wire fraud conspiracy and wire fraud each provide for a sentence of up to 20 years in prison, up to three years of supervised release, and a fine of up to $250,000.
Mass Save is a Massachusetts public-private partnership created to help consumers get energy improvement work on their homes. Utility companies select vendors and the contracting work is performed for free or at a reduced cost to the customer, it's paid for by the vendor with the Mass Save funds.
Joseph Ponzo is now on administrative leave from the police department, a joint statement from the Stoneham Town Administrator Dennis Sheehan and Police Chief James McIntyre.
In January, Officer Ponzo was attacked by a dog while making a routine call. He needed 30 stitches on his face and head.
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