Kuhner’s Corner: Charlie Baker’s Watergate
RMV scandal threatens to engulf his administration
By Jeffrey T. Kuhner
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker is facing the greatest crisis of his political career. And try as he might, the growing scandal at the Registry of Motor Vehicles threatens to bring down his administration.
This week’s shocking 7-hour testimony in front of the state Joint Committee on Transportation has blown the lid off RMVgate. After hearing from multiple senior RMV officials and Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack, one conclusion is clear: The RMV has blood on its hands.
On June 21, Volodymyr Zhukovskyy plowed his truck into a group of Jarheads motorcyclists in Randolph, New Hampshire. The results were 7 dead—including 5 Marines—and 3 injured. Zhukovskyy should never have been allowed to be on the road that day. Over a month earlier, he had been arrested for another OUI in Connecticut. He also refused a chemical test—which automatically should’ve triggered revoking his commercial driver’s license.
Except it didn’t. Why? Because when Connecticut sent its electronic and manual notifications to the Massachusetts RMV, rather than being immediately processed, they simply sat collecting dust along with tens of thousands of other out-of-state notifications in 72 bins. The RMV engaged in criminal neglect.
At the oversight hearing, former Registrar Erin Deveney, who so far is the only official to resign, admitted that out-of-state notifications had gone unprocessed for over three years. In other words, confronted with the fact that countless dangerous drivers—those arrested for drunken driving, OUI, refusing a chemical test or driving high—were on our roads, senior RMV officials deliberately turned a blind eye. They played Russian roulette with public safety. A massacre, such as the one that befell the Fallen 7, was not a question of if it would happen but when.
Deveney says she passed the buck of dealing with the RMV’s backlog of out-of-state notifications to Driver Control Unit director, Keith Constantino. He then admits he recommended transferring the process to Merit Rating Board Director Thomas Bowes. It was Bowes’ department that directly oversaw the room in the Quincy headquarters where the 72 boxes had been piling up. During his stunning testimony, Bowes said “nobody” was responsible for processing the out-of-state driving violations.
Moreover, Brie-Anne Dwyer, an auditor with the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, which oversees the RMV, testified that she told RMV officials in March—three months before the crash—that the backlog posed a direct threat to the lives and safety of drivers.
“I felt that this is very important,” Dwyer said, referring to a meeting she had with Deveney and Bowes. “There’s people out there on these roads that shouldn’t be and we had the information that needed to be entered into the system and I wanted to bring it to your attention.”
Instead, they did nothing. Which begs the question: Why hasn’t Baker fired Constantino, Bowes and everyone associated with the Quincy office holding the 72 boxes? Their incompetence, corruption and criminal neglect led to the deaths of 7 innocent citizens.
In fact, adding insult to injury, Bowes told the committee that several days after the crash, when the RMV confessed there had been a massive backlog of out-of-state notifications that enabled Zhukovskyy to remain on the road, he and his family went on vacation to England (along with Baker). Apparently, Bowes cares more about seeing the Red Sox play in London than dead Marines.
Baker is desperately trying to cover-up this burgeoning scandal. He recently told the local media that he knew “nothing” about the registry backlog until after the motorcycle crash.
He is lying. Several RMV officials testified they sent e-mails and memos both to Baker’s legal office and to Pollack, detailing that tens of thousands of out-of-state driving violations were being ignored. When asked about those communications, Pollack claimed they have been unable to “locate” any emails or memos that were sent. Translation: They are destroying or burying the evidence.
Think about it: Baker and Pollack want us to believe that the entire RMV knew there was a massive backlog of notifications, which put countless lives in jeopardy, but somehow they knew nothing about it. It’s impossible.
More importantly, I know Baker is not telling the truth. A whistleblower, speaking on the condition of anonymity, admitted to me telling Baker directly that the RMV was crippled not only by a massive backlog but also with illegal aliens receiving phony driver’s licenses. In other words, Baker knew there are thousands of dangerous drivers who have no business being on the roads. Yet, to protect the cronyism and countless hacks within the state bureaucracy, he refused to lift a finger.
The key figure in RMVgate is Mindy D’Arbeloff, Baker’s Deputy Chief of Customer Service and Constituent Affairs. Sources close to Baker have told me that the governor personally tasked D’Arbeloff to oversee the RMV. They have been close friends since childhood. The sources say that Baker gave D’Arbeloff one overriding goal: to reduce wait times at the RMV—at the expense of all other priorities, including public safety. She ran roughshod over senior RMV officials, creating massive agency-wide resentment. Waiting times went down. The RMV, however, was left in shambles.
The Joint Committee on Transportation needs to subpoena D’Arbeloff. She is the proverbial smoking gun that can directly connect Baker (and Pollack) to the RMV scandal. Then, the committee must subpoena Baker. And he should be asked under oath: What did he know and when did he know it? If he’s smart, Baker will refuse to testify or plead the Fifth.
This scandal reaches all the way to the top. Baker is responsible for a rogue agency, whose criminal actions led to the loss of human lives. A question his administration still refuses to answer is: How many other crash fatalities were caused by drivers who should have had their licenses revoked as well? The Fallen 7 probably weren’t the only ones.
Baker’s gross negligence and colossal recklessness—and now his craven cover-up—must be investigated and punished. He is no longer fit to be governor. This is his Watergate. Charlie must go.
-Jeffrey T. Kuhner is host of “The Kuhner Report” on WRKO AM-680 in Boston. His daily show airs 6:00-10:00 am EST. He can be reached at:firstname.lastname@example.org