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Two aides in the administration of Boston Mayor Marty Walsh have been found guilty of federal conspiracy charges in the Boston Calling extortion case.
Kenneth Brissette, 54, Boston's chief of tourism, was found guilty of Hobbs Act conspiracy and extortion. His co-defendant, Timothy Sullivan, 39, chief of staff of intergovernmental affairs, was found guilty of Hobbs Act conspiracy.
The jury delivered its verdicts early Wednesday afternoon. In a statement released soon after, Walsh said he is "surprised and disappointed" by the verdicts. The city said Wednesday that both men resigned from their posts.
U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling said the verdict sent a clear message that public officials who abuse their power will be held accountable.
"Today's verdict is a reminder to public officials that pursuing a particular political agenda is one thing, but forcing citizens to do your bidding through threats of financial ruin are something else," Lelling said.
Sullivan's attorney said after the verdicts that there is a judgment of acquittal order that still needs to be ruled on by the judge, which could dismiss the case -- even after the jury's verdicts. That order to dismiss was filed last Friday, and the timing would allow the judge to vacate the verdicts should he rule in favor of the order.
"The fight continues," said Thomas Kiley, an attorney for Sullivan. "As you know, the judge held open our motions for acquittal. We will be briefing that. We will be briefing it with intention to win."
The trial, which lasted just over two weeks, centered on whether the aides had abused their positions as public officials by trying to secure a labor contract between Crash Line Productions, which put on the 2014 Boston Calling music festival, and members of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 11 union.
Throughout the trial, federal prosecutors characterized Brissette and Sullivan as calculating masterminds who sought to withhold permits for the event to intimidate its operators into hiring IATSE 11 members.
Attorneys for Brissette and Sullivan had argued that when the men learned IATSE 11 members might picket the festival, then held at City Hall Plaza, over Crash Line's decision to hire nonunion labor, they tried to broker a deal to get nine IATSE members hired for the event.
“[Brissette] was doing his job: trying to solve the potential problem of a union demonstration on a city property,” William Kettlewell, Brissette’s lawyer, said in closing arguments Tuesday. “That is a public servant, doing what a public servant is supposed to do."
Defense attorneys also maintained that neither aide had any control of the permitting process.
The government argued, however, that the two men were motivated to secure union labor as a political favor to Mayor Walsh, a former union chief who had been elected to office the year before the 2014 festival.
If Crash Line did not agree, prosecutors said, the company would have faced financial harm from lost revenue and possibly shut down.
"There’s no question that public officials may vigorously advocate on behalf of their constituents, but vigorous advocacy doesn’t mean forcing Crash Line to take on additional labor that they didn’t want or need," Assistant U.S. Attorney Laura Kaplan said during the trial.
Prosecutors presented evidence that IATSE 11 President Colleen Glynn talked to Sullivan and Brissette about securing a union contract with the festival operator. Then, after the contract was signed, she sent an email to her members, recognizing the aides’ actions as payback for supporting Walsh's campaign.
"I have made clear from the beginning that there is only one way to do things in my Administration and that is the right way," Walsh added in his statement. "I have always believed that their hearts were in the right place. We have taken several measures at the City of Boston to ensure that every employee has the right tools and training to perform at the highest ethical standards, which has always been my expectation."
U.S. District Court Judge Leo Sorokin's had told jurors that political favors do not rise to the bar of a federal extortion charge under the Hobbs Act, a charge specific to a public official.
In 2018, Sorokin had said the government had to prove that Brissette and Sullivan personally benefited from their actions, and prosecutors said they could not meet that measure. But an appeals court said prosecutors did not have to meet Sorokin's standard to prove extortion, and a new trial was scheduled.
With reporting by the WBUR Newsroom
This segment aired on August 8, 2019.
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