SALEM — A former North Shore public official who admitted last year to defrauding taxpayers and destroying evidence of his crimes was led out of a Salem courtroom in handcuffs Thursday.
Andrew Bisignani, 71, was ordered to serve 18 months of a 2 1/2 year jail sentence after Salem Superior Court Janice Howe found he had made more than 200 trips to restaurants, a mall, and friends’ homes while he was supposed to be on house arrest.
Howe said Bisignani, the former town manager for Saugus and Nahant, “willfully and knowingly” flouted the terms of his original sentence of probation and a $60,000 fine, imposed last July by Judge Timothy Feeley.
The first six months of that probation were supposed to have been spent on house arrest, which started in January after he completed a similar term in his federal tax fraud case. A GPS ankle bracelet tracked his whereabouts.
But Howe said Bisignani “has demonstrated that he has not recognized the importance and meaning of home detention, or, in the alternative, he chose to ignore it,” noting that the violations began on the very first day he was under the supervision of Essex County probation officers.
On that day, Jan. 17, probation officer William Faherty told the judge, Bisignani had been given permission to visit his doctor in East Boston and then take part in physical therapy at Latitude Sports Club in Peabody.
Instead, Bisignani visited a Salem diner, then restaurants and a bakery in Wakefield, according to a seven-page spreadsheet filed in court by Faherty.
Bisignani’s attorney, Carmine Lepore, said his client simply did not understand that he couldn’t add unapproved visits to restaurants, banks, and other locations to his itinerary — because, Lepore contends, his probation officer in a related federal case had never prohibited such side trips.
“He was never told, ‘Hey, you can’t stop off for lunch, I know you’re going to be out for seven hours but you can’t stop off for a coffee,’” Lepore told the judge.
And many of those side trips were related to his approved trips, Lepore insisted, such as trips to bakeries to pick up pastries for bingo games at the Don Orione Shrine in East Boston, where he had been given permission to do volunteer work several days a week, or to the bank to make deposits for his employer, Atlantic Liquidators.
The Saugus home, which Bisignani visited 16 times, is where a maintenance man he pays to take care of his rental properties lives, Lepore told the judge.
“He’s not at the casino, he’s not out dining at the Capital Grille, and he’s not out committing new crimes,” said Lepore.
But Faherty, the probation officer — who had recommended a six-month jail term for the probation violation — said he’s concerned about public perception in a case where Bisignani’s primary punishment was supposed to involve being confined to his home except for work, medical appointments, community service and church for six months. Faherty also allowed Bisignani time to visit and perform maintenance at the 22 rental properties he owns on the North Shore.
“Mr. Bisignani was making the decision to do pretty much what he wants to do,” said Faherty, noting that some of the violations involved attending a funeral and a doctor’s appointment, events for which he would have quickly granted permission.
As The Salem News first reported in June, Faherty discovered the multiple side trips after checking up on Bisignani following an approved weekend trip to take a boating safety class in Lexington. Faherty discovered that on March 11, Bisignani had also spent time at a home in Saugus before heading home to Nahant.
That led him to check other dates — and to discover the long list of unapproved side trips.
Faherty noted Thursday that the boating safety class was premised upon the offer of a job at a Winthrop marina — a job Bisignani never actually started.
Some of those trips, Howe noted during Thursay’s hearing, involved visiting some of the vendors he admitted to steering business to in the procurement fraud case.
Howe imposed the 2 1/2 year jail term, with 18 months to be served and the balance suspended for two years, on the witness intimidation charge. On the remaining 11 charges, which include withholding evidence, altering public records, unlawful wiretapping, procurement fraud and municipal finance violations, Bisignani will spend two years on supervised probation, the judge ordered.
As the judge announced her sentence, Bisignani put his hand on his face several times. Behind him in the courtroom, his wife gasped and then began breathing heavily and bowed her head.
Bisignani will be eligible for parole after serving half of the 18 months imposed by Howe.
Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, email@example.com or on Twitter at @SNJulieManganis.