By Nick Stoico Globe Correspondent, Updated November 10, 2023, 11:57 p.m.
Former Methuen police chief Joseph Solomon and a former city councilor that he hired as a police officer both pleaded not guilty to fraud and corruption charges and were released on personal recognizance during arraignments Friday in Essex Superior Court, according to court records.
Judge Elizabeth Dunigan ordered Solomon, once one of the country’s highest-paid law enforcement officers and who retired in 2021 amid an investigation into his pay, to stay away from witnesses, not travel outside of Massachusetts, surrender his passport, and not possess any firearms as a condition of his bail, according to court records.
Former police officer Sean Fountain, who was indicted along with Solomon earlier this fall, agreed to the same restrictions, though he is allowed to drop off and pick up his daughter from school in New Hampshire, according to court records.
Both men were indicted by a statewide grand jury in September, following years of allegations about corruption in the Methuen Police Department and investigations by state and local law enforcement agencies.
Solomon is accused of circumventing civil services rules by hiring candidates he favored who were untrained and unqualified, according to court records. Fountain was one of those hires, prosecutors have said, and is accused of misrepresenting his training credentials and allegedly producing a “false and forged” training certificate.
Solomon and Fountain are facing multiple charges, including perjury, forgery, and fraud. Both men are due back in court Jan. 23 for a pretrial conference, according to an online docket. Their attorneys could not immediately be reached late Friday.
Solomon’s defense attorney said in court that the former chief now works as a security consultant, and Fountain’s lawyer said he works as a tow truck driver at night, The Eagle-Tribune reported.
When he was head of the Methuen Police Department, a force he led for more than 10 years, Solomon was receiving a salary in excess of $300,000. He was placed on leave in December 2020 after the state inspector general released a scathing report that found he and other officials drafted contracts to pay him and senior officers exorbitant salaries. Solomon retired in early 2021.
In a statement announcing the indictments against Solomon and Fountain in September, Massachusetts Attorney General Andrea Campbell said Solomon “repeatedly misused his position of authority as police chief to repeatedly undermine the law for his own benefit, including by hiring six part-time intermittent officers to the Methuen Police Department and then appointing them to full-time roles.”
Fountain, a veteran North Andover firefighter and a former Methuen City Council president, didn’t take the civil service exam, didn’t graduate from a police training academy, was over the age limit for new officers, and had been arrested for alleged domestic violence, records show.
He allegedly produced a forged certificate showing he had graduated from the Northeast Regional Police Institute, prosecutors have said.
“Solomon knew Fountain’s certificate was forged yet acted as if it was a real document,” Campbell said in September.
When the indictments were announced, Methuen Mayor Neil Perry called it “a watershed day in the history” of the city and said the charges underscore that “no one is above the 1aw.”
Material from previous Globe stories was used in this report