Massachusetts US Attorney Andrew E. Lelling, who prosecuted Hollywood stars and corporate titans as part of a national college admissions scandal, as well as state troopers and other public officials accused of corruption, said Wednesday he will resign his position at the end of the month.
Lelling, appointed three years ago by President Trump, said in a statement he had submitted his resignation letter to President Biden earlier this week. The announcement came just two days after the Justice Department said the Biden administration would ask all US attorneys appointed by Trump to resign, the Associated Press reported.
Lelling received Biden’s request along with the other US attorneys but had already submitted his resignation, according to his spokeswoman, Christina DiIorio-Sterling.
“It has been an honor to lead this office,” said Lelling, a career prosecutor, in the statement.
“Over the last 15 years, I have had the privilege of working not only with the best federal prosecutors in the country, but with the federal, state, and local law enforcement officers who put themselves at risk to keep Massachusetts safe,” Lelling said in the statement. “My goal as US attorney has been to do this job without fear or outside influence, and to make clear that everyone — regardless of wealth, status, or position of authority — will be treated the same under the law. Massachusetts deserves nothing less.”
Lelling was appointed to the post by then-President Trump in 2017. Biden must nominate a successor.
Martin Weinberg, a longtime federal criminal defense attorney in Boston, said he has often disagreed with Lelling on specific cases, but has always considered him fair, ethical, and apolitical.
“In contrast to a Trump administration that had William Barr as its attorney general and had a whole set of political-slash-legal imperatives or policies, I am thankful we had Andrew Lelling as as a moderating force,” he said in a phone interview.
Weinberg said he has known Lelling for years, facing off with him in court when Lelling was an assistant US attorney and with Lelling’s subordinates since he took office in 2017.
“He ran a professional, a competent office, a non-ideological office in a very ideological time,” Weinberg said.
Lelling made headlines with his prosecutions of privileged parents who sought to enroll their children in elite universities in the “Varsity Blues” college admissions case, which ensnared Hollywood actors Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman. He also pursued State Police troopers and Boston police who collected overtime for work they did not do.
Lelling’s office has charged 11 current and former state troopers and 10 current and former Boston police officers for overtime fraud and other corruption.
But he was accused of overstepping when he prosecuted Ken Brissette, Boston’s former head of tourism, and Tim Sullivan, its former head of intergovernmental affairs, for strong-arming organizers of the Boston Calling music festival into hiring union workers in 2014. Their indictment was quashed twice by US District Judge Leo Sorokin, who later overturned their convictions by a jury.
Sorokin found that Lelling’s prosecutors had failed to prove their case under the law and had used unethical tactics to sway the jury.
Lelling reflected on his tenure in his statement Wednesday.
“This is a unique and powerful job — there is no flesh-and-blood client, but only an unshakable obligation to be fair and to work in the public interest,” Lelling said. “I know that my colleagues, in the US attorney’s office and in the law enforcement agencies we work with, share my belief that this is a calling. I look forward to new challenges in the years ahead, but I will miss the sense of mission that comes with working for the US Department of Justice.”
With his resignation, the statement said, Lelling ends a 20-year Justice Department career that began in 2001, when he served as a senior official in the Civil Rights Division, followed by positions as a federal prosecutor in Virginia and, since 2005, for the District of Massachusetts.
Before his appointment to head the office, Lelling prosecuted white-collar crime and international drug trafficking cases, among other offenses.
The statement said First Assistant US Attorney Nathaniel R. Mendell will assume the role of acting US attorney in Massachusetts until Biden picks a full-time replacement, who will ultimately require US Senate confirmation.
Last month a bipartisan search committee appointed by US Senators Edward Markey and Elizabeth Warren submitted four names for Lelling’s post to the senators, who then interviewed the candidates, the Globe reported.
The candidates included Suffolk District Attorney Rachael Rollins, and Josh Levy, a partner at Ropes & Gray, a Boston law firm, who are both former assistant US attorneys.
Two other finalists currently work in the US attorney’s office. Jennifer Serafyn is the chief of the civil rights unit in Boston, where she works on civil matters. Deepika Bains Shukla heads the US attorney’s office in Springfield and has been involved in key cases including the prosecution of a Springfield police officer accused of police brutality in the beating of two Latino boys.
Rollins was initially considered a front-runner for the federal job, the Globe reported, before a Christmas Eve encounter in which a Dorchester woman accused Rollins of threatening her in a mall parking lot in a road-rage incident. Attorney General Maura Healey is reviewing the incident.