Prosecutors asserted Monday that Timothy P. Cahill “reached into the pocket” of the lottery to run an advertising campaign meant to boost his flagging candidacy for governor, as the public corruption trial of the former state treasurer began.
Jim O’Brien, chief of the attorney general’s Public Integrity Division, said Cahill’s 2010 campaign orchestrated the $1.8 million ad blitz immediately after research showed that his oversight of the state lottery as treasurer was “an enormous selling point” to voters.
Plans for the lottery campaign, which would have nearly depleted the agency’s advertising budget for the year, were made without the knowledge of lottery officials, O’Brien said in his opening arguments in Suffolk Superior Court.
When the plans were taking shape, “the folks at the lottery are totally in the dark,” O’Brien said. The lottery’s director said he was shocked when he learned about the campaign.
Cahill’s lawyer, Brad Bailey, said in his opening statement that the ad campaign was a legitimate response to damaging attack ads against the lottery and was unrelated to Cahill’s candidacy.
“He considered it his fiduciary duty,” Bailey said, to “protect the lottery and leave it in good standing.”
“He made the decision not as candidate Cahill, but as Treasurer Cahill,” Bailey said.
Monday’s opening arguments, which followed a lengthy jury selection, set the stage for the trial. The case has turned attention to the lengths incumbents can go to in using their office for political gain.
Cahill, who finished a distant third in the 2010 election, is accused of procurement fraud and violating state ethics laws.
Bailey said that evidence presented at trial would show that Cahill “didn’t commit any crimes at all.”
“There is no evidence whatsoever our client acted with fraudulent intent,” Bailey said.
Prosecutors say Cahill abused his office to further his own political career. Cahill’s lawyers had moved for dismissal of the charges, but a judge denied the motion last month. The trial is expected to last at least four weeks.
Cahill’s former aide, Scott Campbell, is on trial on similar charges. His lawyer, Charles Rankin, said Monday that the government’s “conspiracy theory doesn’t hold water.” The lottery advertisement, he said, did not refer to Cahill and focused on its success in steering money back to local communities.
“The idea that this is a campaign ad is laughable,” he said.
But in an overview of the prosecution’s case, O’Brien said Cahill and Campbell, whom he described as Cahill’s “loyal right-hand man,” conspired to use taxpayer funds in hopes of personal gain.
“That’s all this case is about,” he said.
O’Brien said Cahill was foundering in the polls after a series of attack ads from the Republican Governors Association when consultants recommended that he focus on his management of the lottery. Cahill immediately pushed for the lottery to run its own campaign, he said.
Both Cahill’s campaign ads and the lottery’s ads, O’Brien said, were “promoting the same message.”
The television and radio spots were the largest lottery campaign in memory, he said. “They were really all about getting Mr. Cahill elected.”
But Bailey disputed that scenario, saying Cahill’s duties as treasurer were separate from his candidacy for governor.
“Our client had to wear two hats,” he said, “nothing unusual or unique about that.”
Bailey said the lottery ads make no reference to Cahill and were meant to bolster the lottery’s reputation in the face of the GOP ads. The director of the lottery had suggested the lottery release an ad campaign to protect the lottery’s image, Bailey said. The new ad, he said, was similar to previous lottery ads and was not intended to boost Cahill’s campaign.
“It was generic,” he said. “It could be used again and again, long after our client had stopped being treasurer.”
Bailey said Cahill recognized that the lottery campaign would be viewed as an effort to help his political interests, but decided it was necessary to defend the agency.
“He knew he was damned if he did [run the ads] and damned if he didn’t,” he said.Peter Schworm can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globepete.