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Police Corruption Scandal Shakes Up Small-Town Massachusetts

When residents of Leyden, Massachusetts, started investigating their former police chief, they didn’t know it would end with criminal charges—and a successful push to reform the town’s government.

A sign on the outskirts of Leyden, Massachusetts.
A sign on the outskirts of Leyden, Mass.Dusty Christensen

LEYDEN — Nestled into the eastern foothills of the Berkshire Mountains, the hamlet of Leyden is one of the tiniest towns in Massachusetts. With a population of 734, it is one of the few Massachusetts municipalities not served by any state highways. Mills and dairy farms once employed many in town. Today, maple sugaring is a primary industry.

Driving north into town, the winding street cuts a path up into the undulating hills. Near the top of one of the hills, a short gravel driveway leads visitors to Ginger Robinson and Sara Seinberg’s house. When asked for directions to get there, Seinberg told me to look for the “big-ass truck” with hot-rod flames on it. Robinson is in the middle of putting a flatbed on the pickup, which she stumbled across last year on an online auction website.

While the black flames on the army-green truck are attention grabbing, the couple has become notable in Leyden for a different reason. Now they’re best known as the residents responsible for uncovering a police embezzlement scandal that has rocked the hilltown in recent years, leading to criminal charges and igniting a shakeup of Leyden’s local government.

Last Monday, the local district attorney’s office announced that prosecutors had charged Leyden’s former longtime police chief Daniel Galvis, who retired in 2021, with stealing equipment from the town: a skid-steer loader, a motor, a trailer, and a Ford truck, to be specific. Some of the equipment the town had obtained through a Department of Defense program that transfers surplus gear to law enforcement agencies. Prosecutors alleged Galvis had sold it for his own personal gain.

Then, on Thursday, the state’s Ethics Commission hit Galvis and his wife, former Leyden police captain and town clerk Gilda Galvis, with more charges. The agency accused Galvis of violating conflict-of-interest laws by paying himself more than $12,600 in stipends using grant money from the decommissioned Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant and having his wife complete those requests. They also alleged that the Galvises steered $8,900 of town automotive-repair work to their private repair business and additional work to a local car dealership where Gilda Galvis worked and served on the board of directors.

Those charges were a direct result of Robinson’s research — which can now be found in stacks of manila folders in the couple’s home — and Seinberg’s persistence in spreading the word about it. The documents detail what Robinson has been telling anyone who will listen since she began digging into allegations of embezzlement in 2021 involving Galvis and a string of missing equipment. She filed public records requests, hunted through town ledgers, read through old newspaper articles and eventually passed everything she found along to higher authorities: the state’s inspector general and Ethics Commission, as well as the local Northwestern District Attorney’s Office.

Ginger Robinson stands in front of her “big-ass truck” outside her home in Leyden, Mass. (Photo via Dusty Christensen)

In March 2022, state Inspector General Jeffrey Shapiro opened an investigation based on Robinson’s allegations, eventually concluding last year that there was enough evidence to charge Galvis. Shapiro passed his office’s report on to the DA’s office, which last week charged Galvis with seven felonies for those same alleged crimes. Shapiro said that although the dollar amounts in the case are small — the equipment Galvis allegedly sold netted just $15,750 — they are significant relative to Leyden’s budget. 

“I believe it’s impactful and meaningful to that community,” he said.

Reached by telephone last Thursday, Daniel Galvis refused an interview with The Shoestring/The Appeal. An attorney representing the couple also declined to comment via email. Gilda Galvis did not respond to a separate email requesting comment.

When I showed up in Leyden to interview Seinberg and Robinson on Thursday, neither of them had read the inspector general’s full report, which I had picked up from the courthouse on my drive into the hills. Sitting at a picnic table in the gravel-floored outdoor dining room Robinson built in the couple’s backyard, they poured through the investigation, excitedly pointing out details they had first uncovered as well as new revelations.

The couple has joked that they’re “just two punk dykes” who moved to town 10 years ago and eventually brought down a decades-old “good-old-boy network,” including the police chief and his one-time allies on the Select Board—the executive body that oversees day-to-day operations in small New England town—one of whom resigned shortly after the allegations against Galvis went public and another who declined to seek re-election. 

“We were underestimated at every turn,” Robinson said.

But when asked to elaborate, Robsinon and Seinberg said the real story isn’t about them, or the alleged corruption, either. Instead, it was about how the small town responded to the scandal by mounting a successful good-governance reform movement. It’s a model other small towns can follow, they said.

The accusations did divide Leyden, according to those interviewed for this article. But the scandal ultimately galvanized a movement of concerned citizens who banded together to elect a new, reform-minded Select Board. Since coming into office, the new members have strengthened ethics policies in Leyden’s government and helped rebuild its beleaguered emergency services.

It’s the kind of structural reform that isn’t as sexy as simply exposing an alleged embezzlement scheme, they said. 

“You couldn’t just tear down the thing,” Seinberg explained. “You had to be willing to show up to build the town back together … It took a lot of shepherding and people saying, ‘I’ll do this for two years.’ ‘I’ll do this for one year.’”

The whole saga began with a trove of racist emails.

It was September 2021 and the three-member Leyden Select Board was holding a hearing to discuss whether to reappoint a police sergeant, Tina Riddell. During the proceedings, Riddell and her attorney entered into the public record a handful of bigoted messages that Galvis had sent years prior to fellow officers and town officials, including members of the Select Board.

“I couldn’t resist!!!” said one email comparing former First Lady Michelle Obama to a monkey. Others contained anti-immigrant and Islamophobic statements. According to the local newspaper, the Greenfield Recorder, Riddell also alleged that while at a firing range in 2020, Galvis said about a silhouette target down-range: “What is this, an unarmed Black guy?” 

Galvis defended the emails as “jokes and anecdotes,” telling the Recorder he had sent them “way before all this changed,” apparently in reference to the Black Lives Matter movement. Galvis also disputed the accuracy of the shooting range accusation. The revelations were ultimately enough to force him to retire as chief of the Leyden Police Department the following month, but he continued on in his role as the town’s emergency management director.

The emails were the spark that got Robinson digging, together with a tip that Galvis had been paying himself to fix town equipment. Seinberg and Robinson moved from California to Leyden in 2014 and a few years later Robinson volunteered to lead the town’s Finance Committee — an appointed body that advises the town on its annual budget. So it was already her job to scrutinize town finances. She soon put together a list of missing equipment “a mile long.”

By the end of 2021, Robinson had enough evidence to begin raising questions publicly. Seinberg was a big help getting the word out; she had communications experience, having previously worked as a political consultant, including to a local progressive candidate, Alex Morse, who in 2020 challenged U.S. congressman Richard Neal, one of the top recipients of corporate cash in the House of Representatives.

That month, the Leyden Select Board held a closed-door hearing into the allegations against Galvis. Notes from the confidential session contained in court records reveal a tense meeting in which Galvis admitted to selling town equipment and keeping the proceeds for himself, according to the inspector general’s interpretation of the minutes. Galvis said he’d done this after repairing the equipment with his own money, and claimed town officials had approved of his actions.

“The select board gave me free rein,” Galvis is quoted as saying.

“All checks and balances were ignored in this case,” the town’s lawyer says in another section of the minutes. “It is illegal. There is a reason why people are questioning.”

“So we were wrong,” Galvis responds. He tendered his resignation as emergency management director during the session.

Town officials interviewed by the inspector general’s office denied approving Galvis’ actions and the DA’s office has said prosecutors don’t anticipate bringing additional charges. Former Select Board chair Jeffrey Neipp — the town’s liaison to the police department, according to another former Select Board member’s testimony — declined an interview with The Shoestring/The Appeal last week.

Neipp did, however, sit down at a local Dunkin’ Donuts for an interview with the inspector general’s office at the end of 2022. He had served in several roles in town government over the past three decades, including more than 20 years on the Select Board over two stints, the second of which lasted from 2012 until his resignation in January 2022. Those years in town leadership coincided with Galvis’ tenure as police chief, a position he assumed in the late 1990s. 

In his interview, investigators asked Neipp about the allegations of missing surplus equipment that surfaced during his final months on the Select Board. 

“In response Neipp stated he didn’t look at the evidence, but knowing Galvis, ‘he wouldn’t take a candy bar,’” the investigative summary reads. “Neipp stated all the equipment that is unaccounted for was ‘junk.’”

Neipp defended Galvis as somebody who did a lot of work for the town without getting paid. The same held true for his wife, Gilda, Neipp told investigators. But he said he never gave Galvis permission to sell town equipment and keep the funds himself, or to “tradeoff” hours worked for equipment or vehicles. Neipp and another former Select Board member, Lance Fritz, said Galvis was underpaid and a “faithful servant” to the town.

The interviews with former Select Board members also reveal a lack of town policies on the purchase and sale of equipment, the disposal of surplus gear, or who can sign vehicle titles on behalf of the town. 

Sloppy record-keeping practices were also evident in the investigation, which has led some Leyden officials to express concern about whether Galvis may be in possession of several town-owned firearms. 

Police have had to seize guns from Galvis in the past, according to past coverage in the Greenfield Recorder. In 2012, the newspaper reported that state police showed up at Galvis’ unlocked and unattended house in response to a burglar alarm sounding. There, they reportedly found two loaded handguns “sitting out in plain view.” 

“Also out in the open, but unloaded, were a Ruger .22-caliber rifle, a Savage bolt-action rifle, a Stevens shotgun and a World War II-era H&R Reising .45-caliber submachine gun, all of which, along with the two loaded handguns, were confiscated” for improper storage, the newspaper reported.

In a next-day article in the Recorder, then-chair of the Select Board William Glabach defended Galvis by listing all the work he did for little pay, including buying military surplus equipment and fixing town police cruisers to help the budget. 

“Not a lot of people would want to step into his shoes,” Glabach told the paper. “Positions like the chief of police are always a target for criticism.”

The inspector general’s investigation notes that after Galvis’ retirement, the town’s new police chief had to go to Galvis’ home to retrieve a Colt M16A1 assault rifle. The town had received the gun from the state’s surplus-property program during Galvis’ tenure.

“While they have no evidence that Mr. Galvis is in possession of additional Town-owned firearms, Town officials are concerned that there could be others due to Mr. Galvis’s lack of recordkeeping and history,” the investigation said. “The OIG did not investigate these allegations.”

Court records also reveal that in 1983, before Galvis became a police officer in town, police charged him with assault and battery as well as assault with a dangerous weapon. Prosecutors dismissed those charges the following year, however. No more information about the case is contained in the records.

Glenn Caffery is fond of saying that “the sun is always shining in Leyden.” Now, he’s one of a new set of leaders in town working to make sure that saying isn’t just true of the weather.

Caffery was elected to Leyden’s Select Board in June 2022 alongside another new member, Katherine DiMatteo. Turnout hit 61.7% in the election, according to the Recorder. And the two, who ran on a campaign of rebuilding confidence and transparency in local government, won by only 20 and 17 votes, respectively. 

The election came after a year filled with public meetings that everyone seems to acknowledge were painful. In his interview with the inspector general’s office, Neipp described them as “brutal.” 

“It seemed grim because it was rancorous, because it was people against people,” Caffery told me. In many ways, he said, it was a classic “us versus them” story. People became entrenched, choosing sides in a battle that pitted supporters of the town’s longtime leadership against those who wanted change.

But Caffery said people just kept showing up, feeling invested in their town after realizing it was at risk. And over the past two years, they have managed to repair their small-town democracy, he said. 

“It’s just model government happening as a very direct result of a reckoning with where we were at the time,” Caffery said. “The way I see it, these last two years have been an amazing experience with people just coming out of all corners of town with amazing talents and willingness to work together and work hard and we’ve made a lot of progress as a result.”

Some of those improvements have been made to Leyden’s emergency services. More people volunteered for the public safety committee than there were available seats, according to Caffery. That group was headed by Elizabeth Kidder, a 35-year resident of Leyden.

“It has been a good 180-degree turn from where we were two years ago,” she said.

The committee worked to strike an agreement with a nearby volunteer, nonprofit ambulance service. In a region where rural communities have seen “ambulance deserts” growing, Leyden has now decreased ambulance response times — an important improvement in a town with a large senior population. The new group also helped rebuild Leyden’s fire department, which had dwindled down to one firefighter; there are now eight, and the town also bought a first-response fire-fighting vehicle with all-wheel drive to help get up the steep gravel driveways in town.

In the wake of the Galvis scandal, Leyden struck a deal to have the neighboring town of Bernardston take over its policing.

“I think that people were complacent for a long time and they hadn’t realized how bad some of the situations were and how things were not being done according to the rules,” Kidder said. “And when they found out, there were enough people who could come together so it wasn’t one person fighting a battle to make corrections … We ended up with a large enough core group so that nobody felt like they were on their own.”

Caffery said that after many years of private and public affairs intertwining during Galvis’ tenure, the town has also created stronger ethics policies that should have been in place years ago — a procedure for credit card reimbursement, for example. It’s not the sexy work elected officials want to be doing, he said, but it’s essential because of the “urgent needs of addressing the past.”

“You can’t just trust that everyone is going to be a good actor,” Caffery said.

Shapiro, the inspector general, declined to talk about specifics in the case. Speaking generally, he said that people in big and small towns alike who engage in abuse of authority often have their own justification — their low pay, for example, or how hard they work. But that doesn’t justify acting against the public interest. No one person is above reproach, he said, which is why checks and balances are so important. 

“The types of efforts that community leaders are engaged with, those are exactly the kinds of things that we hope will be the byproduct of these kinds of cases,” Shapiro said of Leyden. “Regardless of what happens there, I think the idea that communities take ownership of how they run their town regardless of their size and population is incredibly important.” 

It hasn’t all been easy. Kidder said that some state rules create roadblocks for rural towns, like procurement laws that make it difficult for municipalities to buy used fire department vehicles on auction websites. It has also been more difficult to get young people to volunteer in town; many who have stepped up are in their 60s and 70s, she said.

Sara Seinberg and Ginger Robinson look over documents that helped trigger an investigation into Leyden’s former police chief, Daniel Galvis. (Photo via Dusty Christensen)

And Seinberg said that not everybody is happy with the “new Leyden,” even those who wanted change. Some feel the town isn’t as friendly under its new leadership as it used to be, or that the infighting and scandals made Leyden look bad to outsiders.

“It came at a cost,” Seinberg said. 

But to Seinberg, the more important question to ask is: “Who gets to be comfortable?” She said that during Galvis’ final days as police chief, although more than 10% of the town signed a letter calling for his resignation, plenty of others told her they feared putting their names down because of concerns about retribution.

So she and Robinson decided to be vocal. They were quickly joined by people who were new to town and others who’d been there for generations.

“It’s not a left-right thing, either,” Seinberg said. “It’s just good, honest governance. And being responsible for people’s money.”

Robinson and Seinberg were sitting in their living room last Thursday, telling me about the latest developments in town government, when the state Ethics Commission announced it was charging the Galvises with conflict-of-interest violations.

Just hours prior, Robinson had handed me a folder of balance sheets that she said showed Galvis paying himself unappropriated stipends using grant money given to communities within a 10-mile radius of the now defunct Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant. Those allegations were among the charges against Galvis. Seinberg laid down on the floor while Robinson held her head in her hands, both in disbelief.

If there was any lesson to take from Leyden’s experience, the two said that people shouldn’t be afraid to challenge their elected leaders or other powerful public figures. That means exhausting every official avenue: filing information requests, speaking up at public meetings, sending letters to officials and, most importantly, organizing together with neighbors. 

“Democracy is difficult, it is irritating, it is annoying, it is labor intensive, it is slow,” Seinberg said. “And it is the only thing that we have to work on that brings people across the varied spectrum of beliefs, of means, of lived experiences to come together and make a society together.”

Robinson agreed, noting that in Massachusetts, a lack of competition at the ballot box is too frequent an occurrence.

“And 99% of the time, the work is tedious and boring,” she said. “But there will be a meeting and something will come up and you can be the person in the room who says the thing, or does the thing, that makes the difference.”