Despite fabricating degree, top official in medical examiner’s office promoted back into management

The Boston Globe 4 days ago

A top official in the state medical examiner’s office, who was demoted last year amid revelations she claimed to have a psychology degree she never earned, has been promoted to a management role overseeing staff across the state for the agency, and at a higher salary than before she was downgraded.

Lisa Riccobene — a handpicked top aide to Dr. Mindy Hull, the state’s chief medical examiner — was last month named the agency’s chief administrative officer. She supervises support staff in all of the agency’s facilities, including its Boston headquarters.

The new title, which she assumed in early November, closely mirrors the one Riccobene held before state officials last year suspended and demoted her to what they called a non-supervisory role. It came after the Globe reported that she claimed to have a master’s degree from Northeastern University, though the school had no record of it.

At $115,000 a year, Riccobene’s new salary is actually higher than the $112,000 she previously made as the director of administrative services for the agency, which is responsible for investigating violent and unexplained deaths throughout the state.

State officials confirmed her promotion Wednesday in response to questions from the Globe. Her responsibilities include “overseeing administrative matters in death investigations” and serving as a point of contact for grieving families and law enforcement, a duty she also held after she was demoted last year.

Jake Wark, a spokesman for the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security, which oversees the medical examiner’s office, said the agency has expanded its operations on Cape Cod and in western Massachusetts, opened a new Westfield facility, and increased staff. The agency has previously said two fellows would become full-time pathologists in July and that a newly hired staff medical examiner had started in May.

“To support these and other ongoing improvements, Ms. Riccobene has taken on additional responsibilities such as providing administrative supervision for all facilities and helping to meet the needs of families, funeral homes, law enforcement agencies, and other stakeholders,” Wark said.

Wark said Riccobene directly oversees the agency’s administrative staff. In her previous management role, she had managed $1.8 million in public funds and oversaw 17 staffers, including the legal department.

Riccobene has been a source of controversy within the agency since last year. Within days of the Globe’s initial report questioning her credentials, state officials said they performed an internal review and chose to suspend her for two weeks without pay, cut her salary to $90,000, and reassign her as an “office support liaison,” which officials described as a non-supervisory role.

A spokesman said at the time that Riccobene had claimed to have the graduate degree since she was first hired in 2005. In state government, an employee’s education credentials are typically verified as part of a background check, if they are required for the position being sought, the Globe reported. But in Riccobene’s case, a master’s degree was not a requirement for any of the roles she had held, officials said, suggesting it had never been checked.

But after Riccobene returned from her suspension, Hull told administrative staffers whom Riccobene had overseen that her duties would “remain largely the same,” including serving as a point of contact for other state agencies and grieving families. Governor Charlie Baker, whose administration appointed Hull to her $395,000-a-year post, defended Hull’s handling of Riccobene, whom he called a valued member of the office even though she “misrepresented her educational qualifications.”

Riccobene has since come under other public scrutiny. When a frustrated mother struggled for years to get an autopsy report on her 28-day-old baby, she contacted her local lawmaker — at the suggestion of a medical examiner employee — to apply pressure on the agency. An irate Riccobene then called the mother and demanded to know which employee suggested she go public, according to a STAT report that, in part, examined the office’s handling of child deaths.

Six current or former employees confirmed to the news outlet that they had heard Riccobene speak that way over the phone, and all described being horrified at how office representatives treat families and others.

“Do you believe everything these families tell you?” Riccobene told STAT.

Agency spokesmen did not respond Wednesday to repeated questions of whether Hull had formally notified the administrative staff that Riccobene had been promoted as their formal supervisor.

The medical examiner’s office has faced other obstacles under Hull, who was appointed in late 2017. A national group warned her earlier this year that the agency likely would be stripped of its newly won accreditation status because of slipping performance, but the agency ultimately was not.

They decided that the agency’s struggles in quickly completing autopsies were “temporary.”

The agency has also routinely forgone autopsies in favor of less-rigorous testing in it attempts to more quickly turn around reports, a move that experts say leaves it at risk of missing the cause of death in cases, the Globe reported last year.

Matt Stout can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @vmattpstout

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