"cowardice" in shunning a Level 3 sex offender Marine veteran
By Mary E. Arata
AYER -- Selectman Frank Maxant shocked the audience at Tuesday's Selectmen meeting.
Maxant and his peers received certificates of appreciation from Ayer American Legion Post 139 thanking them for their participation in the 2012 Ayer Memorial Day Parade. Chairman Jim Fay, an Army veteran and member of the veterans organization, handed out the certificates.
Maxant, a Navy veteran, read aloud from a prepared statement before ripping his certificate into four pieces, which he let it fall to the floor. The audience gasped. The shredded certificate remained on the floor under Maxant's chair for the balance of the meeting.
Maxant blasted the local American Legion post for allegedly denying membership to Maxant's friend, former neighbor and Marine veteran Benjamin Franklin Pierce. Pierce was designated as a Level 3 sex offender by the state's Sex Offender Registry Board. Pierce used to reside in the same 14 William St. boarding house where Maxant still lives.
"Approximately four years ago, a veteran, comrade-in-arms, honorably discharged from our United States Marine Corps moved to Ayer and nearly immediately came under attack by vicious lies and false rumors about his past," said Maxant. "When he approached his fellow veterans of Post 139, instead of talking with Ben to learn the truth of his life, our United States military veterans surrendered to public opinion and increased Mr. Pierce's misery and isolation by refusing to allow him to join their post."
Maxant concluded his speech by saying "I appreciate the gesture but I will not accept any recognition from an organization which has displayed such social cowardice and turned their backs on a veteran in need."
Maxant then ripped up the certificate.
Fay responded by paraphrasing a famous line from the biography called the "Friends of Voltaire," which reads "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."
Wednesday morning, Fay sent an email to his fellow selectmen and Town Administrator Robert Pontbriand, directing Pontbriand to invite the American Legion Post 139 leaders to the next selectmen's meeting on Feb. 19.
Fay signed the email, which Fay directly copied to Nashoba Publishing, as board chairman. "These were the words of Selectman Maxant alone and do not reflect the position of the Board of Selectmen. Please advise that it is not the policy or practice of the Board of Selectmen to disparage any organization with accusations of Cowardice in the conduct of their practices."
"The actions of Mr. Maxant in my opinion were inflammatory and disrespectful of the American Legion and what they stand for," said Fay. "Equal time on the agenda should be given to the American Legion in response."
Nashoba Publishing left a message for comment on Wednesday morning with Post Commander Betty Ann Matozel, who had personally signed each certificate of appreciation. Matozel was not immediately available for comment.
After the meeting, Maxant picked the certificate pieces off the floor and threw them into the recycling bin in the selectmen's office. He said he'd happened to speak with Pierce earlier in the day and that Pierce was now living in an artist colony in the south. Maxant said he decided to make the statement during the meeting after he subsequently reviewed the evening's agenda and saw that the first order of business would be the recognition for the selectmen by the local American Legion post.
Pierce is no longer registered on the online SORB registry. A prior SORB posting dating to August 2011 showed that Pierce had a 1980 out-of-state conviction for rape, and five convictions of open and gross lewdness and lascivious behavior dating between 1995 and 2000.
In April 2010, Pierce made an impassioned plea to the then-sitting Board of Selectmen seeking assistance with alleged harassment from several fronts in town. Pierce had claimed that Ayer Police failed to help him obtain the identity of a man who allegedly hollered across Main Street, calling Pierce a "diddler." Pierce said he was also shunned by a downtown merchant.
"When you're called a pedophile, it goes through town like a fire," Pierce told the selectmen.
Pierce referenced his 1980 rape conviction, stating the courts "let me go" when the woman allegedly recanted her story. "I am not a pedophile," insisted Pierce. "You have no idea how enraging this is."
Pierce's whereabouts are not known to Nashoba Publishing; however, Maxant made a request for contact with Pierce on the newspaper's behalf on Wednesday. As of press time, no contact with Pierce had been received.
CORRECTION: the organization presenting the certificates to the selectmen was the Joseph M. Connors American Legion Post No. 139 of Ayer. Earlier versions of this story incorrectly identified the group as a combined Ayer-Shirley veterans group, which is incorrect. Shirley has it's own post - American Legion Post 183. We regret the confusion. - Ed.
Follow Mary Arata on twitter.com/maryearata.