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Massachusetts troopers were charged with taking bribes to pass commercial drivers

BOSTON (AP) — Two current and two former Massachusetts State Police troopers were among six people charged Tuesday in a scheme to allegedly take bribes including a new snowblower and driveway in exchange for giving passing scores on commercial driving tests, the U.S. attorney’s office said.

The troopers are accused of falsifying records and giving preferential treatment to at least 17 drivers from May 2019 to January 2023, who were taking their commercial drivers license or CDL test. Even when the drivers failed a skills test, the troopers passed them and communicated they had done so with a text and the code word golden. Some troopers even joked in the text messages how badly a driver had performed on the test, according to the indictment.

“In short, as is alleged in this indictment, CDLs were for sale,” Acting United States Attorney Joshua S. Levy told reporters. “Troopers were bribed with free goods to pass applicants no matter how they performed on the test.”

Sgt. Gary Cederquist, 58, of Stoughton, and Trooper Joel Rogers, 54, of Bridgewater, were arrested Tuesday. Calvin Butner, 63, of Halifax, and Perry Mendes, 63, of Wareham, both retired state troopers, were arrested in Florida Monday. All four face more than 70 counts on a range of charges including conspiracy to falsify records, extortion and making false statements.

Two others, Eric Mathison, 47, of Boston and Scott Camara, 42, of Rehoboth, were also implicated in the scheme.

Cederquist, Rogers, Mathison and Camera made their initial appearance Tuesday afternoon and pleaded not guilty to the charges. Butner and Mendes were expected to make appearances at a later date. A phone number could not be found for any of the six and their lawyers did not respond for a request for comment.

Cederquist, who also is accused of helping four state troopers get commercial drivers licenses, is accused of accepting a new driveway worth $10,000 and a snowblower valued at $2,000 and a $750 granite mailbox. Cederquist also asked for a shed and a plunge pool in exchange for passing drivers.

“Let me be clear. Those named in this indictment that have lost their moral compass and they will be held accountable,” Michael Krol, special agent in charge for Homeland Security Investigations New England, said. “Their actions, however, should not tarnish the reputation of an entire institution especially for the overwhelming majority of public servants in the Massachusetts State Police and fire service who serve the citizens of our commonwealth day in and day out with pride, honor and integrity.”

Brian Williams, the president of the State Police Association, said they were “disappointed” to learn about the indictments.

“As the newly elected President of the Association, I take these allegations seriously and urge everyone to wait until a thorough examination of the facts is public in order to ensure that the case is adjudicated in a fair and impartial manner,” Williams said in a statement.

The allegations are the latest scandal to hit the the state police.

Forty-six current and retired troopers who worked for the now disbanded Troop E, which patrolled the Massachusetts Turnpike, were implicated in a scheme in which they collected overtime pay for shifts they either did not work or did not complete from 2015 until 2017, authorities said. Often, they said, the troopers issued falsified traffic tickets to make it appear as if they had been on duty.

The allegations also raise concerns about the integrity of a licensing system set up to certify commercial drivers, since a majority of those taken the test in Massachusetts fail. The latest data from 2022, federal officials said, showed a pass rate of 41%.

In 2019, the system came under fire after Volodymyr Zhukovskyy, a commercial truck driver, crashed into a group of motorcyclists in northern New Hampshire, causing the death of of causing the deaths of seven motorcyclists.

Zhukovskyy’s commercial driving license should have been revoked in Massachusetts at the time of the crash because of a drunken driving arrest in Connecticut about two months earlier. Connecticut officials alerted the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles, but Zhukovskyy’s license wasn’t suspended due to a backlog of out-of-state notifications about driving offenses.

“There are a lot of problems on the roads these — road rage and other things like that. This unfortunately will add to people's level of concern,” Levy said. “It's concerning to me just as someone driving on the roads that this happened... You hope that something like this cleans up a system where there has been such serious allegations of misconduct.”

Since last year, state police said they have made a number of reforms to the commercial drivers license unit including requiring body cameras be worn during exams, increasing frequency of unannounced visits unit by supervisors to examiners at training sites as well as developing new training procedures and a curriculum.

“The Department condemns the actions of the four current and former CDL Unit members as alleged in the federal indictment and our internal affairs investigation," Colonel John Mawn Jr., the interim superintendent, said in a statement. “The alleged misconduct of those defendants is the antithesis of and in stark contrast to the values, character, and integrity exhibited by the overwhelming majority of our Troopers every day in service to the public.”