State Ethics Group Pushes Investigation of Biotech Council Head

Xconomy Boston — 

A formal investigation has been launched into the actions of recently named Massachusetts Biotechnology Council president Robert Coughlin, the Boston Globe reports today. The question at issue is whether Coughlin violated Massachusetts conflict-of-interest laws when he started discussing the council job while still working as the state’s undersecretary of economic development and playing a major role in Governor Deval Patrick’s life sciences initiatives.

Subpoenas seeking telephone records, e-mails, and other documents have already been served on the Biotech Council, according to the front-page account in today’s Globe, which cites “sources with knowledge of the investigation.” The Ethics Commission’s actions are supposed to be confidential at this stage of the investigation. And though the biotech council would not confirm that it had been received the subpoenas, a spokesman did say the group would cooperate with any inquiry, the paper reported.

The investigation centers on the six-week period between Coughlin’s June 11 initial get-together with representatives of the biotech group and July 24, when he informed state officials that he was interested in the council job. During that period, the Globe reports, Coughlin “continued to play a key role” in state life-sciences activities. If Coughlin is found to have violated the conflict-of-interest law, he could be fined up to $2,000. Coughlin’s attorney denied that any ethics violations took place, the paper reports.

It’s been a rough road for the Biotechnology Council recently. Coughlin was named to the group’s top post in August, some seven months after its previous president, Thomas M. Finneran, resigned in the wake of pleading guilty to felony obstruction-of-justice charges stemming from his time as a state legislator. In September, the council’s chief of external affairs, Eustacia Reidy, resigned, and another Globe article reported that several members were expressing “dismay” over the trade group’s recent direction.