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September 20, 2012

Fishing fund hires ex-AG for probe

Former state Attorney General Scott Harshbarger is under contract to — and has already begun an assessment of — the “governance, policies and operations” of the Gloucester Fishing Community Preservation Fund, the locally-based nonprofit corporation announced.

Fund President Vito Giacalone declined comment Wednesday, a day after the fund announced the hiring of Harshbarger, who agreed to take on the task last month, the former attorney general said in a telephone interview. Instead, Giacalone referred questions to the fund’s newly hired spokesman, David Guarino.

A partner in Melwood Global, an international communications consulting firm, Guarino said it was too early to estimate the cost or duration of a prepared statement by the fund called “an independent” assessment of the propriety of preservation fund activities — primarily the buying and selling permits and leasing catch shares and days at sea to the fleet of about 75 boats.

The preservation fund and the Northeast Seafood Coalition, which have interlocking directorates, were advised by letter last Feb. 7 by Sen. Bruce Tarr and Rep. Ann-Margaret Ferrante that the lawmakers had received complaints of “conflicts of interest and unfair business advantages” benefiting “some...” The only potential beneficiary of insider activities named in the letter was Giacalone.

Tarr and Ferrante advised Giacalone and seafood coalition Chairman John Bell, the former Gloucester mayor, to get legal counsel on the conflict-of-interest and ethics constraints for nonprofits under Massachusetts law. Tarr and Ferrante — both lawyers — wrote that “seeking the advice of the Charities Division of the Attorney General’s Office may be appropriate under the circumstances.” The existence and contents of the letter was first reported by the Times last July.

Asked Wednesday why the fund chose instead to hire Harshbarger’s international law firm, Proskauer Rose, Guarino issued a statement saying, “The board determined that engaging with a reputable outside counsel with direct experience both as attorney general overseeing nonprofits and leading similar nonprofit governance reviews is the most aggressive and proactive step that could be taken to address these allegations head-on....

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