The Office of the Medical Examiner for Massachusetts is a taxpayer-funded agency that employs 93 people and is responsible for investigating violent and unexplained deaths in Massachusetts. Last year, Dr. Mindy J. Hull was chosen to lead the agency as chief medical examiner, a position with a salary that was recently increased by nearly $100,000 to $375,000 to lure a qualified candidate. After accepting the position, Hull elevated Lisa Riccobene, who has been with the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (CME) since 2005, to chief of staff in late spring, 2018. This high-ranking position directly oversees 17 employees and has a salary of $112,000.
While this may appear to be a run-of-the-mill promotion of a veteran employee, it became a very controversial decision in an office that has already dealt with controversies surrounding delayed autopsy reports and its role in infant death cases. In this case, the controversy arises from Riccobene’s academic qualifications. As reported by The Boston Globe, Riccobene stated that she earned a master’s degree in Psychology from Northeastern when she started working at the agency in 2005, a claim that was backed up by an agency spokesman. However, according to Northeastern’s Office of the Registrar, there are records of Riccobene earning an undergraduate degree in Criminal Justice in 1988 but no master’s degree in Psychology. To make matters even more perplexing, Northeastern does not appear to offer a master’s degree in Psychology, according to their website.
The combination of Northeastern refuting Riccobene’s graduate credentials and the fact that her alleged degree is not on the list of those offered gives the perception that Riccobene may have overstated her qualifications to obtain a high-paying job. The only actual academic degree held by Riccobene that isn’t in question is her bachelors in Criminal Justice. With that degree alone, it is unlikely that she could have gotten a specialized job in the chief medical examiner’s office, let alone become chief of staff. The chief of staff prior to Riccobene, Deborah Mendoza-Lochrie, held a master’s degree in social work.
Using MassOpenBooks, Pioneer accessed Riccobene’s yearly earnings with the chief medical examiner’s office as well as the average salary for department employees over the past several years, both of which are shown below.
As indicated by the graphs above, since her elevation to the role of “Program Coordinator II,” which includes an annual salary upwards of $90,000, Riccobene has earned several tens of thousands more than the average CME employee.
In response to the revelation that Riccobene was less than about her true academic credentials, the office opted to suspend her for two weeks without pay and demote her from chief of staff to “office support liaison,” a newly created position that pays $90,000. However, in yet another development, upon returning from her suspension Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Mindy Hull told her office that Riccobene’s “duties would remain largely the same” despite being demoted, according to an email obtained by The Boston Globe. While it is commendable that the office took some action in response to this scandal, many argue that the punishment does not fit the crime and question her continued employment.
The Office of the Chief Medical Officer has been no stranger to scandals. It’s about time they perform a post-mortem on their apparently flawed human resource policies.
Jay Anderson is a Northeastern University Co-Op at the Pioneer Institute; he is a Political Science major.