AG’s office clears Bridgewater first selectman in charity use

After a four-year investigation, the state Attorney General’s office determined there’s not enough evidence that Bridgewater First Selectman Bill Stuart misappropriated any money from the public Burnham Fund. bwstuart-

But investigators also determined that most of the distributions from the long time town fund did not meet the intended criteria.

“We have concluded that some past Fund distributions, while well-intentioned, failed to serve the charitable purposes intended by Mr. Burnham,” Attorney General George Jepsen wrote in a letter to the town’s Board of Selectmen and Board of Finance this week. “However, there is insufficient evidence to conclude that any distributions were made for personal gain or private purposes.”

The Burnham Fund, started in 1925,  has increased to more than $250,000 — or 25 times the amount bequeathed to the town by William Dixon Burnham, a former sea captain, in 1925.

Stuart had overseen distributions from the fund for some 20 years, and that became the
focal point of simmering controversy.

The dispute burst into prominence in July, 2012, when the FBI raided the Bridgewater Town Hall. Federal officials confiscated boxes of financial records, including those related to the distribution of money from the Burnham Fund by longtime First Selectman Stuart.

Critics had accused Stuart of favoring friends with fund distributions. An investigation was started by the state attorney general’s office in 2009 under Richard Blumenthal, now a U.S. Senator, and picked up by Jepsen.

Stuart had denied any wrongdoing.

The last year Stuart solely oversaw the fund was 2007.

Examples of disbursements made by Stuart included: $4,500 to R.T. Layton Co. for fuel assistance, a payment of $2,500 to the Big Y supermarket for food assistance, $1,000 to the Bridgewater Convenience Store for gas assistance, and $3,000  paid “to various residents for electric, medical and tuition assistance,” as written in Stuart’s notations.

Since 2008, a committee of selectmen and finance board members has made financial decisions for the Burnham Fund.

Check back for updates.

Jacqueline Smith