NOW YOU KNOW
7:53 PM EDT, March 22, 2013
There's money in poverty. Learning to work the system of government payments can mean lavish salaries under the guise of helping the poorest among us. Just ask Middletown-based Community Health Center Inc. CEO Mark Masselli, though he probably won't speak to you.
Masselli and CHC are ensnared in a growing federal criminal investigation over the possible connection between state bond funds and campaign contributions. The probe is reaching into the highest levels of state government. Investigators must have been intrigued by millions in state bond funds that went to CHC, which runs health care facilities for the uninsured and underinsured around the state, and Masselli's role as head of the finance committee for former Speaker of the House Christopher Donovan's 2012 campaign for Congress.
Masselli has a vital personal interest in keeping the taxpayer funds flowing to his organization. In 2010, he was paid $629,073 in salary, bonuses and other compensation. By any measure, that is a staggering sum for a nonprofit, community-based health care operation to pay its leader. That eye-popping number included Masselli's base pay of $330,000, according to documents filed with the federal government. The rest, nearly $300,000, was for "one-time retirement and retroactive pension payments," according to Andrea Obston Marketing Communications LLC, a crisis management firm CHC has hired,
CHC, through its "reputation management" mouthpiece, would not answer many questions last week. The company seems to be spending a lot of money that could be going to the poor on trying to contain the mess Masselli has gotten it into with his poisonous cocktail of government and political fundraising.
As often happens when grasping nonprofit executives hanker for a bigger piece of the pie, CHC hired a compensation consulting firm, a company that tells you why you aren't paying the chief enough. In this case, the company discovered that Masselli ought to be compensated for the absence of a retirement plan at CHC as recently as, errr, 1989. That's right, Masselli's windfall was to make up for something that had occurred more than 20 years before, according to CHC spokeswoman Andrea Obston. Someone also discovered $53,210 in compensation errors to Masselli. No wonder the feds are looking into doings at CHC.
Transparency ought to be the CHC mantra, but the organization refuses to reveal what Masselli made in 2012. CHC has chosen a different path. It also refuses to disclose what private firm conducted the compensation study. There is a thread dangling on the CHC website. Tug at it and you discover a suspicious piece of timing.
At the time of the bonus, CHC was using the compensation consulting services of David Landsberg, according to its website. Landsberg appears to have been the one who came up with the bonanza for Masselli, though it was more gently characterized as a "supplement to Mark's post employment asset accumulation," according to a report. It was called a "pension adjustment" and, you will be happy to know, "Mark will be free to invest this money at his discretion with the goal of increasing the adequacy of his retirement income."
The gushing recommendation, landing Masselli nearly a quarter of a million dollars from an organization that likes to highlight its selflessness in the service of the poor, was also very good for Landsberg. A few months later, he was hired as CHC's vice president of human resources. Can you smell the stink coming from CHC? It's not only the patient facilities that need disinfecting.
It takes a lot of government money to sustain CHC, so Masselli cultivates the powerful. Expansion has required millions in state bond funds for new facilities. No one in government seems to have paid attention to how much Masselli and his team have been making on the backs of the poor. In public, however, self-regard is never far from the surface as we are reminded of Masselli's devotion to service. Last week, silence was his calling card.
Raising money for Donovan as the Meriden Democrat sought to make the leap from speaker to Congress was one way for Masselli to have a powerful friend in the room when millions in taxpayer grants were allocated. The prince of poverty got a big share. People noticed, including federal law enforcement officials, and they know how to compel answers.
Kevin Rennie is a lawyer and a former Republican state legislator. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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