The finance director in Boston Mayor Michelle Wu’s office has been placed on leave following her arraignment Friday in Middlesex Superior Court on money laundering charges related to a scheme to smuggle synthetic drugs into a state prison, officials said.
Freda Brasfield, a longtime employee of the mayor’s office spanning multiple administrations, pleaded not guilty Friday to a charge of money laundering and a charge of conspiracy in Superior Court in Woburn, court records show.
Brasfield, 55, of Hyde Park, was released on personal recognizance. She is due back in court on March 1.
A statewide grand jury meeting in Suffolk County indicted Brasfield and several others on Dec. 15, according to court records.
The charges followed an investigation by State Police and the Department of Correction into the alleged smuggling of synthetic cannabinoids, commonly known as K2 and spice, into MCI-Shirley, court records show.
Brasfield, Wu’s director of administration and finance, was placed on unpaid leave Friday after city officials learned of the charges, a spokeswoman said.
“The City was made aware of these allegations yesterday evening,” the spokesperson said in a statement Friday night. “Today, the City placed Ms. Brasfield on unpaid administrative leave while the court case proceeds or additional information becomes available.”
The charges were first reported by Boston News 25.
City Council President Ed Flynn declined to comment on the allegations.
Brasfield’s attorney, David E. Meier, described her as “an honorable and dedicated public servant and a deeply valued member of the community.”
“She has been a selfless advocate for those in need for decades,” Meier said in an e-mail. “She has been wrongfully charged. The facts of the case will speak the real truth.”
The attorney general’s office confirmed the charges but declined to comment on the case, citing the ongoing investigation.
Brasfield allegedly used Cash App, an electronic money transfer application, to finance the illegal sale of the drugs, prosecutors said.
Brasfield is charged alongside nine other people accused in a scheme to smuggle synthetic cannabinoids into MCI-Shirley for relatives incarcerated there, according to court documents.
The prison’s Department of Correction Investigation Unit initially identified “suspicious recorded telephone calls relative to smuggling” the drugs, often called “K2″ or “spice,” into the prison, according to prosecutors.
Investigators then became aware of several incarcerated men, including Keenan Brasfield, 31, who were coordinating with relatives or romantic partners outside the prison who would buy and deliver the synthetic cannabinoids from a former inmate who is among the 10 defendants, prosecutors said.
The documents do not state the familial relationship between Freda Brasfield and Keenan Brasfield, who is also a defendant in the case, charged with four counts.
Synthetic cannabinoids have become a “widespread problem in Massachusetts prisons,” according to prosecutors. The drugs start as a liquid that is sprayed onto paper that the user then smokes, potentially causing “psychosis, violent behavior, and other problems,” court documents say.
On Jan. 27, investigators seized cannabinoid-laced papers that Freda Brasfield and another defendant allegedly arranged payment for through an online banking app at the direction of Keenan Brasfield, according to prosecutors.
Freda Brasfield began working for the city in the 1990s as a construction monitor, visiting work sites to ensure they were hiring Boston residents, women, and people of color, as required by city law, the Globe reported.
Brasfield later worked 11 years for the city as a neighborhood services coordinator in Mattapan and Dorchester. Under the administration of Martin J. Walsh, Brasfield worked as chief of staff in the Economic Development Cabinet and as deputy to the city’s first chief diversity officer, the Globe reported.