The Plymouth select board had two candidates to choose from when they were making an appointment to the town’s conservation commission last month.
One was a retired orthopedic surgeon, an honors graduate who volunteered with the Indian Health Service in Alaska and the Mass. Medical Reserve Corps during the pandemic. He’s a trustee of Plymouth’s Camp Squanto for scouts, and recently hiked the 2,194 mile Appalachian Trail.
The second applicant was an executive coach, and certified parks and recreation professional who taught at Bridgewater State University until 2020 — when he was accused of raping a female student he met on a website that matches young women with older men.
The select board chose the career coach, Nick Pirelli, in a 3-2 vote. It wasn’t until after he was appointed, town officials said, that they learned of the allegations, though a cursory Google search would have turned up dozens of news stories about Pirelli. He was indicted, but the charges were eventually dropped. He no longer teaches at the college.
On Wednesday, Pirelli resigned from the commission, just days after he and the select board were questioned by the Independent. Pirelli did not return text messages seeking comment, nor did the three select board members who voted to appoint him – chair Richard Quintal and members Kevin Canty and Charlie Bletzer.
The two who voted for the surgeon, Paul Denoncourt, said they had access to the resumes and questionnaires completed by the applicants, but no information about the accusations against Pirelli.
Town manager Derek Brindisi said that following the revelations, officials are studying ways to improve the vetting process for appointments to boards and committees. They are considering running background reviews, including criminal record checks, he said.
“The recent appointment to fill a vacancy on the conservation commission highlights the flaws that exist in our application process,” said select board member John Mahoney, one of two who voted for Denoncourt.
“I’m confident that no member of the board had any prior knowledge of the situation with this applicant. Personally, I voted for the second candidate because I thought his resume and background were superior,” Mahoney said.
Harry Helm, the other select board member who voted for Denoncourt, said he, too, was unaware of the charges against Pirelli. “I absolutely did not know,” he said. “Had I known, I would have said something in the meeting.”
“The conservation commission is an extremely important committee and I take it very seriously. I spent my time studying the resumes and putting them side by side,” Helm added.
Pirelli, who served as a deputy director of parks and recreation in Canton before teaching communications at Bridgewater State, was arrested after a woman came forward saying she met him on “seeking.com,” a website where young women meet older men, often for money.
He sent her small sums before asking to meet, she told police. A Bridgewater State student, she was busy working on an essay for school and he offered to help, school police wrote in court papers.
After she arrived at his office at 9 p.m. one night, he locked the door and assaulted her, prosecutors alleged. Eventually, four more Bridgewater students came forward — they didn’t accuse him of assault but said he sent them money, sexually explicit messages and obscene photos.
The charges were dropped in November 2022 — in part, at least, because of two of the five alleged victims, did not cooperate with prosecutors.
“Based on the state of the evidence, including two alleged victims that did not want to proceed to trial and did not respond to our office, the Commonwealth was unable to sustain its burden at trial,” said Beth Stone, spokeswoman for Plymouth County District Attorney Timothy Cruz.
She said prosecutors filed a motion to drop the charges. Pirelli denied assaulting anyone and in court papers his lawyer, Scott Bradley, suggested that any interaction between Pirelli and the woman who alleged that she was raped was consensual.
Bradley described messages exchanged between Pirelli and a second woman as “fantasy dirty talk at best.” Pirelli has filed a motion to seal the court papers because they “continue to cast a long shadow over my personal and professional life,” he wrote in an affidavit.
His lawyer argued that he’s not a threat to anyone. “Mr. Pirelli stopped all Internet activity that targeted Sugar Baby type websites,” his lawyer said in a motion to seal the court papers. “As such, there is not a scintilla of evidence that suggests any chance of recidivism.” A judge has not yet ruled on Pirelli’s motion to seal the documents.
The conservation commission is charged with protecting and managing the town’s natural resources, and enforces the state’s wetlands protection act. In September, the panel’s chair, Randy Parker, stepped down from the commission. In his resignation letter, Parker sounded frustrated and said he quit after “discussions and considerations of circumstances beyond my control.”
Fred Thys of the Independent staff contributed to this report.
Andrea Estes can be reached at email@example.com.
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