In a case that has drawn renewed scrutiny to Boston's development process, former city real estate official John Lynch pleaded guilty Thursday to accepting a $50,000 bribe.
Lynch's first appearance in federal court in Boston was a formality; the office of U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling said in late August that Lynch, 66, had agreed to plead guilty to bribery and tax fraud. Lynch has resigned as assistant director of real estate in a division of the Boston Planning and Development Agency.
Chief Judge Patti Saris set a sentencing date of Jan. 24. Guidelines call for 46 to 57 months in prison.
Lynch and his attorney, Hank Brennan, left the courthouse without speaking to reporters. Lynch appeared to have exited through a side door, frustrating TV crews and newspaper photographers that camped outside the main entrance.
In the two weeks since the plea agreement, city leaders have pledged to review the way development projects obtain needed approvals. Mayor Marty Walsh has directed the law firm Sullivan & Worcester to review the Zoning Board of Appeal process and hired Brian Kelly, the former head of the public corruption unit within the U.S. attorney's office in Boston, to interview every board member.
Prosecutors say a developer paid Lynch to influence the vote of a zoning board member in May 2017. When the vote went as hoped and the developer turned a $500,000 profit on a South Boston property, Lynch collected a $50,000 payoff.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Dustin Chao said in court that the developer would have testified against Lynch, had the case gone to trial. The developer has not been charged.
Boston City Council President Andrea Campbell this week called for the formation of a municipal inspector general's office.
"I've been receiving a lot of calls and complaints and concerns with respect to zoning and development," Campbell told WBUR's Radio Boston Tuesday, adding that "the influence you see at the ZBA" demands close monitoring.
"I've been before the ZBA; I'm a district councilor," she said. "We handle development projects all the time. We're on the front lines opposing projects, and ultimately we lose. And it's shocking to me, sometimes, if you have a lot of residents who are in opposition, and we don't win the day."
Campbell suggested that a city inspector general could review policies and practices, and handle complaints.
Beyond the bribery case, two prominent government watchdogs have called for the Massachusetts Ethics Commission to investigate additional real estate deals involving Lynch, after a WBUR review of land records found that Lynch purchased or became the trustee of four properties that benefited from a city loan program.
In one instance, Lynch struck a deal with a retired Boston police officer whom Lynch’s city agency loaned $11,600, at zero interest. Shortly after receiving the loan, the retired officer sold the rear half of his property to Lynch, who used the lot to build the house where he now lives.
In another case, Lynch paid roughly 20% less than assessed value for the home of his deceased next-door neighbor, who had received a $25,000 interest-free loan from Lynch’s agency. Lynch then built a duplex, selling the units for more than seven times what he paid for the property.