SPECIAL REPORT -- Emails show the politically-connected chief of staff at a state agency put the "kibosh" on promoting an Environmental Police officer despite his being the top environmental cop's choice for the job, a job that ultimately went to an active donor to state Democratic candidates who is also the brother of a former colleague of hers.
"To see it in black and white that all this transpired, I just can't believe it," said Gary Duncan, the Environmental Police officer who was bypassed for the promotion to be a coastal bureau chief.
Duncan, a lieutenant, was the pick of an interview panel and the Director of the Environmental Police, Col. Aaron Gross, for the promotion to major.
In an earlier report that aired last year, FOX Undercover reporter Mike Beaudet asked Duncan: "What did the Colonel tell you?"
"He said you were my choice and you were picked by the panel. It went upstairs with my signature on it and whatever happened, he doesn't know. They can't get any answers," Duncan said.
Upstairs is the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, which oversees the Environmental Police.
That's where Patti Vantine works as chief of staff. Emails obtained by FOX Undercover under the state Public Records Law show it was Vantine who wrote to the Environmental Police colonel, telling him he could not announce his pick of Duncan for the promotion.
"Aaron, we cannot move forward with any announcements until paperwork is processed and approved," Vantine wrote.
But the paperwork was never processed, and five months later another man, Capt. Len Roberts, got the job instead.
Roberts donated to state legislators and former Lt. Gov. Tim Murray. And Vantine is politically connected. She is the sister of John Walsh, Gov. Deval Patrick's former campaign manager and former state Democratic Party chairman. He now runs Gov. Patrick's political action committee.
Roberts is also the brother of John Roberts, who worked with Vantine at the state Department of Conservation and Recreation. She got the job there, her first in state government, after Gov. Patrick was elected.
Last year, Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Richard Sullivan defended Vantine.
"Patti Vantine is my chief of staff. She is a great chief of staff. I can't imagine doing this job without her as my chief of staff. She does not have a part of play in the hiring decisions," he said.
But now Vantine's own emails are contradicting the Secretary's statement.
The day after the colonel was prepared to announce Duncan as the new major, Vantine wrote to the colonel again: "I would like to review the hiring package before we send the background paperwork out."
Another email, this one written to Vantine from the chief financial officer at Energy and Environmental Affairs, suggests Vantine had already made it clear that Duncan would not be getting the promotion.
"If you are really serious that one of these people can't be hired, you might want to put the kibosh on it right now," the CFO wrote, explaining she wanted to save staffers from the hassle of drawing up unnecessary paperwork.
Secretary Sullivan declined FOX Undercover's request to talk about the emails, so we caught up with him at a public meeting.
"Were you lying to us in that last interview or did you just not have all the facts?" Beaudet asked.
"No," Sullivan replied. "There's absolutely nothing different than what I had told you before. Patti Vantine is not involved in the hiring decisions."
"Do you honestly expect the public to believe that she had nothing to do with this?" Beaudet asked.
"As I said, she had everything to do with enforcing the process. She has absolutely nothing to do as chief of staff with making the decision of who gets hired," Sullivan replied.
"Well explain that to me then. What does this mean, enforcing the process? Getting your candidate hired?" Beaudet asked.
"No, there's a process that goes forward in terms of the whole vetting and you've seen the sheet of all the people that need to sign off on any hire," Sullivan replied.
But the emails show Vantine's further involvement.
When Col. Gross announced Len Roberts was being promoted, forwarded the announcement to Roberts' brother on the very same day.
"FYI," Vantine wrote. "I know I owe you a call."
"Thanks for the email" Roberts replied. "I am very proud of my brother."
But Vantine insists, "I was not involved in the decisions."
"You have to admit," Beaudet asked, "the emails make it seem like you were involved in this process.
"You could take things out of the emails and make it seem that way, but I want to bring you back to what I said. And I'm sticking with what I'm saying," Vantine replied.
But Vantine did admit that John Roberts reached out to her repeatedly before it was announced his brother got the job.
"Why did you forward the job announcement to John Roberts?" Beaudet asked.
"John Roberts and I used to work together," Vantine replied. "So when the process was over I forwarded it off to John as an FYI, as you saw."
"You never talked to John about this job before that?" Beaudet asked.
"I did not," Vantine replied.
"Can you point to any other examples where the colonel recommended someone, the interview panel recommended someone, and then that person wasn't hired?" Beaudet asked.
"No," Vantine replied. "It's only managerial candidates that come up."
"So no other examples? That seems a little suspect," Beaudet replied.
"It's not. It shows that the vetting process works," Vantine replied.
Vantine would not say why Duncan was not ultimately promoted. Both John and Len Roberts declined to comment to FOX Undercover.
But Secretary Sullivan suggested it was because the man who did get the job had a higher rank than Duncan. Roberts was a captain before the promotion while Duncan was, and still is, a lieutenant.
"The person that was hired is fully qualified and in fact of a higher rank than the person that you are asking about," he said.
"And the person that was hired is Patti Vantine's friend's brother, who also happens to be a contributor to the Democratic party. Something stinks," Beaudet asked.
"You want it to read the way you want it to read," Sullivan replied.
"I'm reading the emails and I think the public will read it that way too," Beaudet replied.
Duncan is more convinced than ever that politics played a part in his not being promoted, scoffing at the suggestion he didn't get the job because he had a lower rank. The Environmental Police's promotion policy states the position is open to both lieutenants and captains.
In any case, Duncan will be retiring this summer after more than 30 years with the Environmental Police. He said he's speaking out now because he doesn't want politics clouding the judgment of the people deciding future promotions.
"Based on these emails, do you think she didn't want you getting that job?" Beaudet asked Duncan.
"Oh I know she didn't want to after seeing this," he replied, looking at the emails. "I guess it doesn't bother these people how they do it. That's how they do business."
© 2017 Cox Media Group.