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editorial

Rep. John Tierney can keep running, but voters must weigh scandal

Congressman John F. Tierney spoke with reporters outside of the John Joseph Moakley United States Courthouse on October 6th, 2010, where he had come to support his wife Patrice.

Essdras M Suarez/The Boston Globe

Congressman John F. Tierney spoke with reporters outside of the John Joseph Moakley United States Courthouse on October 6th, 2010, where he had come to support his wife Patrice.

The scandal surrounding Representative John Tierney doesn’t implicate his responsibilities in public office and, barring fresh disclosures, shouldn’t oblige him to give up his re-election bid. But his close proximity to the illegal offshore gambling operation run by his wife’s brothers rightly raises questions about his judgments and motivation — and his constituents should feel free to make their own judgments in an admittedly complicated set of circumstances. Did Tierney fail to blow the whistle on misdeeds by his relatives? How much could, or should, he have done?

Until recently, Tierney sought to deflect questions by professing a near-total ignorance of his wife’s brothers’ activities. But the recent trial of one of the brothers-in-law produced some testimony suggesting he was in a position to know more. And after the trial, both brothers-in-law dropped bombshells by claiming that Tierney knew “everything,” without explaining what they meant.

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Those comments, from bitter sources, may be more smoke than fire. The facts are not clear enough to suggest that a reasonable person, knowing what Tierney could or should have known, would have turned in his in-laws to the police. Offshore gaming is illegal in certain contexts — such as when credit cards are used — but learning of the mere existence of an offshore betting operation isn’t evidence of illegality.

More troubling is the fact that Tierney’s wife, Patrice, obtained gifts from one brother amounting to at least tens of thousands of dollars and at most $223,047. The precise amount isn’t known, because Patrice Tierney claims that many of the checks made out to herself were used for her mother and brother’s children. John Tierney, for his part, knew his wife was receiving gifts but maintains he did not know the exact amount; her assets were separate.

The picture that emerges is of a husband who, knowing of his wife’s role in paying bills for a brother with a history of illegal gambling, chose not to ask a lot of questions. Tierney isn’t a policeman. But his wife’s participation in what turned out to be an illegal enterprise, and his own lack of scrutiny of it, are factors that his North Shore constituents should weigh carefully in assessing his fitness for another term.

John and PatriceTierney married in 1997, the year before her brother, Robert Eremian, pleaded guilty to illegal gaming. A second brother, Daniel Eremian, ran a restaurant, and also had a criminal record. In 2002, Robert obtained permission from probation authorities to move to the Caribbean island of Antigua, where he supposedly would be a software adviser for a legal gambling firm. He left behind his teenage children and elderly mother. In Robert’s absence, Patrice handled his stateside finances, using Robert’s money to support the mother and kids. She also relayed information about Robert’s finances to his tax preparer, who ended up filing false returns.

Over the years, Robert’s company, Sports Off Shore, worked with local bookies to collect debts from gamblers. Among the bookies was Daniel Eremian. Nonetheless, John Tierney, occupied in Washington much of the time, claims he continued to believe that Robert was a consultant at a legal business, because probation officials had approved his move.

In 2009, John and Patrice visited Antigua, and dined at Robert’s home, where a witness says that multiple TVs and computers would have been a giveaway that Robert was running his own gambling operation. But Tierney insists he dined on the porch and never went into the house.

In 2010, federal authorities indicted Robert on numerous counts of racketeering and illegal gambling, making him a fugitive. Daniel was also indicted, and eventually convicted of racketeering and sentenced to three years in prison. In October 2010, Patrice pleaded guilty to four counts of abetting the filing of false tax returns, acknowledging a “willful blindness” to the source of her brother’s money — up to $7 million. She served a month in prison in January 2011.

The judge in Patrice’s case reiterated that there was no evidence that John Tierney knew anything.

In politics, voters must assess candidates’ character, and it’s entirely possible that some, processing this information, will decide that Tierney should have notified the police; or that he looked the other way because his wife was collecting gifts; or that he simply has a bad set of in-laws. But he did not abuse his office, and nothing about this matter reduces his effectiveness in Washington.

Nonetheless, he could have spared himself and his wife a terrible ordeal by declining to run for reelection. But both assumed the scandal had passed when she pleaded guilty almost two years ago. Now, Daniel’s and Robert’s comments — fanned by Tierney’s Republican opponent, Richard Tisei — have revived the issue, and it may end up dominating the campaign.

That could be a disservice to constituents, who must also weigh how the candidates differ on the issues facing the district and the country. Should more damaging revelations emerge, Tierney should be prepared to let another candidate carry his party’s colors into November. Failing that, this controversy is simply a matter for Tierney’s constituents to consider as they prepare to vote — a blot on his record that is neither large enough to be disqualifying nor small enough to ignore.

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