Two City Hall Aides Convicted of Conspiracy, Extortion

Two top aides of Boston Mayor Marty Walsh were found guilty on Wednesday of pressuring Crash Line Productions, the organizers of Boston Calling Music Festival, into hiring union workers for performances at City Hall Plaza, according to The Boston Globe.

Tourism Chief Kenneth Brissette and Head of Intergovernmental Affairs Timothy Sullivan were charged with withholding filming permits from the company until it agreed to hire union workers for the festival in 2014, with the intent of benefitting Walsh—a former labor organizer who was elected with union support. 

Both aides were faced with charges of conspiracy and extortion in violation of the Hobbs Act, which prohibits “actual or attempted robbery or extortion affecting interstate or foreign commerce ‘in any way or degree.’” The jury convicted Brissette of both charges but convicted Sullivan of only Hobbs Act conspiracy, according to the Globe.

Both aides resigned shortly after the verdict was reached. 

“I am surprised and disappointed,” Walsh said in a statement, per the Globe. “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.”

While both Walsh, BC ’09, and BC Chief of Police Bill Evans were named as potential witnesses in the initial court proceedings, only Evans—who was commissioner of the Boston Police Department at the time—was called to testify during the two-week trial.

Around the same time as conflict was rising between Crash Line and  the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 11, BPD changed the hours the company was allowed to serve alcohol under its liquor license—which prosecutors suggested was part of a strategy to put pressure on the company’s founders, according to the Globe

Evans was called to testify that his department’s concerns about alcohol had nothing to do with the conflict surrounding hiring union workers. His testimony took place in the form of a pre-recorded video, according to the Globe, since the police chief was in recovery after injuring his hip from a fall he sustained during a run in Toronto.

In the recording, Evans said that he “had no clue” there were even tensions between Crash Line Productions and the stagehands union at the time. He said that the only thing he cared about was the safety of the festival’s attendees—which was the reason why he pushed back against Crash Line’s plans at a hostile meeting with the company in August 2014. 

The defense attorneys argued that the Brissette and Sullivan were simply trying to prevent the possibility of a local union holding a protest at the festival. The protest may have featured a large inflatable rat, a sign of union unrest, at the plaza to expose the festival’s use of non-union labor, according to the Globe.

The defendants also argued that they were not privy to the permitting process and were simply attempting to secure well-paid positions for Bostonians, according to WBUR. 

Crash Line Productions cofounder Brian Appel, on the other hand, testified that he had no other choice but to hire workers from the union if he wanted to extend his lease agreement to hold the festival at the plaza.

Joyce Linehan, a former senior advisor to the mayor, also testified for the prosecution with the guarantee of immunity last week. Linehan confirmed that she wrote a memo to the mayor in 2014 explaining that Brissette called executives with Boston Calling Music Festival and told them they “would have to hire a few guys, according to WGBH. Linehan did admit, however, that she had no knowledge that either of the defendants used their positions of power to threaten festival organizers.

United States District Court Judge Leo T. Sorokin set what was seen as a “high bar for conviction,” according to the Globe. In order to reach a guilty verdict, he told the jurors they had to conclude that the two aides pressured Crash Line into hiring union workers through fear of economic harm, that these actions were wrong, and that they affected the company economically. They also had to conclude that the two aides “knowingly and willfully obtained” the benefits of these hirings. 

Sorokin will also be the one who decides the two aides’ sentences, “a decision that will be influenced by complex federal sentencing guidelines and recommendations from both the prosecution and defense,” according to the Globe. The maximum penalty—for both Hobbs Act conspiracy and extortion—is 20 years in prison, three years of supervised release, and a $250,000 fine.

Despite the jury’s verdict, Sorokin still has a motion before him to dismiss the charges.

This case was first opened back in 2016, but it has toiled for years in the legal system. It was thrown out by a federal judge in 2018, according to WBUR, but months later the case was reinstated by an appeals court. The trial lasted two weeks before the guilty verdict was reached.

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