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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Ex-police captain’s trial begins

NASHUA – The theft trial of a former Hudson police captain will focus not just on the small details of time sheets but on the larger rivalry between the officer and the colleague who bested him for the chief’s job.

Donald Breault’s trial on a felony theft charge and 10 misdemeanor computer crimes started Monday with opening arguments that suggest the proceeding will offer more than a review of the Hudson Police Department’s payroll system.

Prosecutors allege that Breault – upset that fellow Capt. Jason Lavoie got the chief’s position over him – exacted revenge by creating fictitious work hours in a computer payroll program.

With those unearned vacation hours, Breault illegally took home more than $2,600 in 2009, the basis of the theft charge, prosecutors said.

Breault was placed on leave that year and fired in 2010. He had worked for Hudson police for 20 years.

“You’ll hear that … he went to budget meetings, but people will testify he wasn’t there,” Assistant Attorney General Elizabeth Woodcock said of the after-hours activities that Breault had filed in the payroll program.

Defense attorney Eric Wilson countered that Breault can vouch for the hours he claimed for the budget hearing and other events. On only one occasion did Breault confuse two after-hour events he attended, but evidence will show that he committed an error and not a criminal act, Wilson said.

Instead of theft, the case symbolizes Lavoie’s desire to bounce Breault from the force, Wilson said.

If Lavoie suspected that Breault had submitted improper work hours, then he should have called him into his office and got to the bottom of the matter, Wilson said.

Instead, the first time Breault learned of the matter was when Lavoie called him into a conference room on a day in September 2009 and, with prosecutors, questioned him for two hours, Wilson said.

Breault didn’t exercise his right to remain silent, but instead, answered every question about how he estimated his paid earned time (the culmination of sick, vacation and personal time) and unpaid comp time, Wilson said.

Wilson also read an e-mail message he said Lavoie sent prosecutors before the trial started. Wilson implied the messages prove Lavoie has it out for Breault.

“I want to make sure he’s tangled in a web,” Wilson said, reading Lavoie’s message to the jury.

Lavoie also suggests to prosecutors that two witnesses might need prepping, and wrote, “I’m worried it will be easy for Wilson to confuse a jury,” the message said.

Woodcock, in her opening argument, told jurors that Breault fudged his hours and cashed unearned vacation time after losing his bid for the chief’s job in 2008.

Breault was “disappointed,” so “he decided to give himself extra comp time without affecting his earned time,” Woodcock said.

In a preview of what both sides will focus on, Woodcock and Wilson explained how the Hudson Police Department compensates supervisors.

Captains work on salary, so any extra time spent on duties and municipal events after regular work hours could be later claimed as unpaid comp time. A captain could leave early on a Friday, for instance, if he had worked overtime on Monday.

The trial will focus on how Breault went into the computer system sometimes weeks after the fact to record hours.

Prosecutors allege backup files show Breault made changes to his comp time and earned time so that he wouldn’t lose out on the latter and could eventually get paid for unused sick, vacation and personal days.

He waited until after the chief had approved the payroll and these changes wouldn’t be detected, Woodcock said.

Wilson argued the Police Department had no policy on when supervisors had to submit comp hours into the computer system, so Breault committed no offenses by claiming them after the fact, Wilson said.

He wrote down the after-hour events he worked on a desk calendar and would periodically enter these hours into the system because he wasn’t required to file the hours on a regular basis, Wilson said.

Lavoie took the stand late Monday and testified only about his experience as an officer before the trial ended for the day. He is expected to resume testimony this morning. Wilson said the trial could last five to seven days.

A conviction on the felony theft charge would carry a maximum of 7½ to 15 years in prison and a $4,000 fine. The 10 computer offenses represent the 10 times Breault changed hours in the payroll system, Woodcock said.

Albert McKeon can be reached at 594-5832 or amckeon@nashuatelegraph.com.