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Town addresses ‘fraudulent invoice’ from HopNews, media advertising policy

by | Dec 6, 2023 | Featured: News, News

Select Board chair Muriel Kramer at Tuesday’s Select Board meeting addressed a fraudulent invoice sent by the owner of a local news blog.

In an email to the Independent Tuesday evening, Town Manager Norman Khumalo stated that Peter Thomas, the owner and publisher of HopNews, sent Khumalo a note alerting him that he was writing “a story about a fake invoice that he submitted and the town approved and attempted to pay.”

“We learned today that the Town of Hopkinton recently received a fraudulent invoice from HopNews.com that was unfortunately processed and subsequently paid,” Kramer said. “We have taken the appropriate steps to correct for the mistake and cancel the payment; we have further taken the steps to ensure that our review processes for like payments are reinforced to protect our employees and the town from similar fraudulent activity in the future.”

Stressed Kramer: “We want to be clear that we have full confidence in our employees, and we will be pursuing appropriate legal recourse to protect the town in the future from fraudulent activities.”

Thomas questions town’s policy on advertising of government notices in news outlets

Later in the meeting, Thomas appeared before the board on a separate issue. He had previously submitted a letter to Khumalo and the board to request that “all town departments be directed to issue a request for proposal for all future advertising campaigns, and that HopNews is afforded the opportunity to participate in the process.”

Khumalo explained that he reached out to town counsel about the issue, and two issues were raised. According to Massachusetts General Law Chapter 30B, Khumalo noted, notices are required to be published in a news outlet with a print component.

Said Khumalo: “If a medium is exclusively online news, that would not meet the requirements.”

The law states that required notices must be placed in the newspaper and on the website. If the newspaper doesn’t have a website, notices must be published on the state website.

Regarding discretionary notices that are not legally required to be printed, Khumalo said “the town may consider advertising on online sources.” That decision would be “based on best business practices.”

To his knowledge, Khumalo said the Select Board never has set a policy previously regarding online advertising. Individual boards have used their discretion in placing ads.

Select Board member Amy Ritterbusch said the board should also consider having a policy on social media advertising on platforms including Facebook, Instagram and YouTube. “Hyper-local targeting” could be used there to attract people in Hopkinton and surrounding towns to events, she said.

No vote was required after the discussion.

4 Comments

  1. Nancy McBride

    Is Muriel Kramer suggesting Legal action against Hop News?? That is how I interpreted the following quote. What other activities would require this??
    “… and we will be pursuing appropriate legal recourse to protect the town in the future from fraudulent activities.”

  2. Glen Dawson

    I don’t get it. This article is pure fluff. So, the Independent is not concerned about the lack of financial oversight in our town? This is a major scandal, and all the Independent is concerned about would appear to be the meager amount of advertising money it gets from the town. Don’t bite the hand that feeds you, eh? Really, guys. You can do better journalism than this. With the thousands of vendor payments made over the past few years, it strains credulity to believe that none of those invoices were incorrect and had billing errors. After all, if our town is so incompetent that it cannot even issue purchase orders and have someone match them to the invoices, how can they possibly hope to prevent fraud and a waste of the taxpayer’s money? The Independent conveniently neglects to mention in their “news article” that HopNews was not even a vendor for the town. So, some genius had to actually create a new vendor and then pay the bogus invoice. And nobody asked anything about it? Really? And you think that is okay? The invoice also referred to a completely fake ad campaign, yet it was still paid. This is so bad it would be comical if it wasn’t the taxpayer who is the butt of the joke. This town has some serious problems, but evidently we won’t be reading about them in the Independent.

    And if HopNews, who you refer to as a mere “news blog”, has about ten times the traffic at their website as the Independent does, then what does that make the Independent? A “news blob”? Maybe if the Independent started to report on what is really going on behind the scenes in this town, they might attract more reader interest. As it is, I appear to be the only person commenting on this article. Not sure why I am even bothering…

    • Local Business Owner

      HopNews is 100% online with a paid subscription recently implementated, so maybe doesn’t care about advertisers since overhead has to be substantially less. HI is free to all residents and businesses in print and online, nothing locked behind pay walls, advertisers support this newspaper many of us for decades loyally. As one of the advertisers of this newspaper, it has been a valuable proven investment.

  3. Ed Harrow

    I am somehow reminded of a schoolyard of my youth…