Chief of staff in medical examiner’s office demoted amid questions about degree

The seal of the Office of the Medical Examiner for Massachusetts.
The seal of the Office of the Medical Examiner for Massachusetts.

A top official in the taxpayer-funded agency responsible for investigating the state’s violent and unexplained deaths will be suspended and have her pay cut after her claim that she had a master’s degree from Northeastern University was disputed by school records.

Lisa Riccobene will be allowed to remain in the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, but she will be demoted from her $112,000-a-year post after state officials confirmed they closed an internal review into her background.

Currently the director of administrative services and the medical examiner’s hand-picked chief of staff, Riccobene will be suspended for two weeks without pay and reassigned as an “office support liaison,” a nonsupervisory role.


She’ll make $90,000 a year in the new position, officials said.

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Riccobene’s credentials came into question after the Globe reported this week that she, through information provided by the agency, said she had a master’s degree in psychology from Northeastern. But the university’s Office of the Registrar said it had no record of her earning a graduate degree from the school.

Riccobene graduated with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Northeastern in 1988.

Felix Browne — a spokesman for the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security, which oversees the agency — said Riccobene had said she had the second degree since she was first hired in 2005.

In state government, an employee’s education credentials are typically verified as part of a background check if they are required for the position they’re seeking, according to Browne. In Riccobene’s case, a master’s degree was not a requirement for any of the roles she has held, he said.


Riccobene did not return requests for comment Friday. Dr. Mindy J. Hull, who was tapped as the office’s $375,000 chief last fall, was not available for comment, Browne said.

A spokeswoman for Governor Charlie Baker deferred comment to the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security.

Hull had elevated Riccobene earlier this year to a director’s position, where she oversaw 17 people and was one of three people who fell directly under Hull in the 93-person office.

The revelations about her background come as the office has faced other criticisms over a backlog processing autopsy reports and its handling of infant deaths.

The National Association of Medical Examiners requires that medical examiners complete autopsy reports within 90 days. But in the two years between October 2015 and September 2017, the agency processed just 58 percent of autopsies and 78 percent of death certificates in the 90-day time frame, according to its most recent annual report.


In three cases involving babies in recent years, the office first ruled that their deaths were the result of abusive head trauma, triggering criminal charges. Then, many months later, the medical examiners revised the manner of death to “undetermined” — following the intervention of defense attorneys.

Matt Stout can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @mattpstout