Minutes after he was sentenced to three years in prison on gambling and racketeering charges Thursday, the brother-in-law of US Representative John F. Tierney said the congressman was fully aware of the family’s gambling operation.
“He knew everything that was going on,” Daniel Eremian, whose sister, Patrice, is married to Tierney, told the Salem News. “He sat in the boxes with bookies at Fenway Park.”
Eremian also said that his sister was “railroaded” into pleading guilty to tax fraud in 2010 to save her husband’s political career. “She got forced to do that for him,” Eremian said.
Tierney denied the allegations. His spokeswoman, Kathryn Prael, called Eremian’s charges “bizarre, unsubstantiated, and false” on Thursday night.
“Now he is claiming both to be innocent and that John Tierney should have known that he was guilty,” Prael said in a statement. “His claims lack both credibility and logic.”
The inflammatory statements threatened to shake up the reelection bid of Tierney, an eight-term Salem Democrat who was already viewed as vulnerable. Republicans view Tierney’s Sixth Congressional District seat as winnable, based on the negative publicity surrounding his family and the strength of the GOP challenger, former state Senate minority leader Richard R. Tisei.
Two years ago, Patrice Tierney was accused of helping another brother file false tax returns. She handled Robert Eremian’s affairs while he lived in Antigua, and he allegedly ran a massive offshore gambling ring based there.
In the United States, about 50 employees worked for the gambling operation, which had hundreds of customers and laundered more than $10 million in checks and wire transfers, according to the US attorney’s office. Robert Eremian, remains a fugitive.
The other brother, Daniel Eremian, was sentenced by Judge Patti B. Saris on Thursday to 36 months in prison and one year supervised release and ordered to forfeit $7.7 million from the gambling enterprise. A codefendant, Todd Lyons of Beverly was sentenced to 48 months in prison and one year supervised release, and he was ordered to forfeit $24.5 million. Both are due to surrender to US marshals in Boston Friday morning.
Republicans seized upon Eremian’s statements to raise questions Thursday about Tierney’s “fitness to serve” in Congress.
“It obviously confirms what the voters of the district realize and that is, there is no way that John Tierney could not have had knowledge as to what was going on,” said Tisei, the Republican challenger in the North Shore district.
Tierney is the only Democrat who can run on the ballot for the Sixth Congressional District. The deadline has already passed for a fellow Democrat to challenge Tierney in the Sept. 6 primary. Would-be candidates had to submit the signatures of 2,000 registered voters to local city and town clerks by May 8, and those certified signatures had to be turned into the secretary of state’s office by June 5, a spokesman for Secretary of State William F. Galvin said.
If Democrats wanted to replace Tierney, they could run another candidate against him in the primary through a so-called sticker campaign. In such cases, voters must affix a sticker with the name of the challenger on the printed ballot bearing Tierney’s name.
Alternatively, Democrats could pressure Tierney to decline the nomination after the primary, and choose a candidate to replace him on the general election ballot against Tisei.
A spokesman for the state Democratic party declined to comment Thursday.
When Patrice Tierney agreed to a guilty plea with federal prosecutors, the judge who heard her case specifically asked her whether she was pressured into the plea deal.
“I have to know that you know what you may be getting yourself into,” US District Court Judge William G. Young told Patrice Tierney in October 2010. “You’re the one in the driver’s seat, not your family, not [your lawyer].”
Patrice Tierney said then that she took responsibility for her actions and acknowledged “willful blindness” to the business. Prosecutors said she received $223,000 — which she described as gifts — from gambling proceeds as she paid bills for Robert’s children and their ailing mother. She served 30 days in prison and five months of house arrest.
Thursday night, she issued a statement of her own, saying she was shocked and saddened that her brother would say something so “utterly false,” “in a moment of desperation and anger.”
“My husband has been nothing but supportive of me during this time, especially during my decision making process in the fall of 2010 when I took responsibility and paid a price for it,” she said.
Tierney declined a request through his spokesman to be interviewed Thursday night. No one answered the door at the couple’s home in Salem.
Before and after Patrice Tierney’s conviction, Republicans hammered the congressman, suggesting he must have been aware of the gambling enterprise based on the size of the operation and his wife’s handling of her brother’s finances. Her father and son had initially been involved in the gambling ring, too, a prosecutor said in court.
But Tierney vigorously denied the insinuations and expressed indignation earlier this month when Tisei called for the Tierneys to forfeit any money gained from a criminal gambling enterprise.
“It is outrageous that Richard has decided to personally attack my wife and to fabricate so many claims against her,” Tierney said in a statement earlier this month. “She accepted full responsibility and has paid the price. Patrice is not running for Congress and she should not be used as Richard Tisei’s personal punching bag.”
Thursday night, Tierney’s spokeswoman dismissed Eremian’s claims as the reaction of someone who is “bitter at having lost his case and harboring old family grudges.”
“Sadly, despite John’s attempts to keep things civil on the rare family occasions when Daniel was present, they did not get along,” she said. “It is unfortunate that Daniel’s bitterness would rise to this level.”