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June 11, 2015

Lawmakers want answers on Patrick's use of trust funds

House Speaker Robert DeLeo wants to know more about former Gov. Deval Patrick's use of quasi-public agency dollars to fund his international trade travels following a report that the Democratic governor squirreled money away in off-budget trust funds to pay for the highly publicized trips.

"I was not aware of any of that," DeLeo told reporters after attending an annual Turkic Day celebration at the State House.

The Boston Herald on Tuesday reported that quasi-public agencies such as Massport and the Massachusetts Technology Council contributed as much as $37 million to unidentified trust funds to pay for travel and tourism advertising, potentially skirting the Legislature's authority to control executive branch spending.

The newspaper reported that Patrick spent a total of $1.35 million on hotels, airfare, transportation and other expenses in his second term on international trade missions that took him from Asia to South America.

"I quite frankly think it's something that we really should take a look at in terms of how this occurred, what happened. If I didn't know about it, I doubt any member of the legislature would have known about it. That is disconcerting to me," DeLeo said.

An aide to DeLeo said later that the speaker is not yet calling for a formal investigation, but Republicans seized on the report, demanding answers.

Senate Republicans called on the Inspector General to initiate an investigation to "ascertain whether the transfer and use of these funds was as a result of improper action or if any fraud, waste or abuse as occurred."

Calling the allegations "startling and deeply concerning" in his letter to Inspector General Glenn Cunha, Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr and the five other GOP senators said, "It appears that these transfers were made in such a manner as to elude disclosure and circumvent accountability."

Rep. Shaunna O'Connell, of Taunton, also wrote to House Post Audit and Oversight Chairman David Linksy requesting a probe, and said she wants state Auditor Suzanne Bump to explain why the trust accounts held within the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development were not discovered and whether audits were performed that should have uncovered the money being spent by the quasi-independent agencies.

O'Connell specifically questioned whether the money was "funneled to certain vendors" and whether the Patrick administration followed public procurement laws when spending the money.

She also asked Linksy to investigate whether a $23 million contribution from the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority influenced Patrick's decision to sign a law authorizing a $1 billion expansion of the convention center, which Gov. Charlie Baker subsequently stalled.

"We are talking about $37 million in what appears to be a slush fund. We need to investigate," O'Connell said in a statement.

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