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It started as a promise over Celtics tickets. But for Rachael Rollins, it got a lot more complicated.

US Attorney Rachael Rollins in February.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

In February 2022, US Attorney Rachael Rollins spoke to a youth basketball group that was about to play a slate of games in Springfield.

A local sheriff told the players he planned to buy pizza for the winning teams. But when Rollins talked to the kids, she upped the ante.

“Rollins spoke next and — without telling anyone on her staff in advance — stated that she would give the winning team tickets to a Celtics game,” according to a scathing report released last week by the Justice Department’s inspector general, which found that Rollins repeatedly leveraged her position for improper purposes, often despite the misgivings of her staff.


But Rollins made her offer to the youths without realizing there were going to be a number of winning teams at the tournament, the report said. To make good on her promise, she would have to come up with a lot of hard-to-come-by tickets.

She succeeded in landing the tickets from the Celtics, free of charge, including a pair for herself. Yet in doing so, she violated ethical rules that bar federal employees from soliciting or accepting gifts “given because of the employee’s official position,” the report said.

“Looking at ‘all relevant circumstances’ confirms that Rollins solicited the gift because of her official position,” the report said.

When her program specialist for Project Safe Childhood, a community outreach initiative in the US attorney’s office, told her how many tickets they would need, Rollins said she’d “see what she (Rollins) could do,” the report said.

She later told investigators she sought no ethics advice on the issue, thinking it was in line with the Justice Department’s desire to foster community partnerships.

The program specialist, however, told investigators she was “immediately concerned” that the promise of Celtics tickets might violate ethics rules, which bar federal employees from soliciting a gift based on their official position, according to the report.


The day after the Springfield event, she contacted the ethics adviser in Rollins’s office to express her concerns, the report said.

That adviser contacted another ethics official and it was determined the tickets couldn’t be provided to the youth by the Justice Department or Rollins’s office. Rollins should make it clear she would be providing the tickets in her personal capacity.

The executive officer in the US attorney’s office told investigators she had explained this in detail to Rollins and emphasized that she must handle the ticket arrangements alone, with no help from her staff.

Rollins would explain to federal investigators that she has longstanding ties with the Celtics, having interned with the team in the 1990s and having a relative who previously led community engagement for the franchise. In addition, her fiance provides security services for the team, she said.

“This falls under the heading, ‘No good deed goes unpunished,’” Rollins’s lawyer, Michael R. Bromwich, said by e-mail Friday when asked about the ticket issue. “Ms. Rollins obtained the tickets as a result of her longstanding personal ties with the Celtics that were formed long before she became either the US Attorney or the Suffolk County DA.”

The “recipients of the tickets were underprivileged kids, all from Black and brown communities, who had participated in a youth basketball tournament. Many had never been to Boston; none had ever attended a Celtics game,” he said. “The [investigator general] report makes much out of the fact that Ms. Rollins received two tickets for herself. She never sat in those seats. She entered the arena only once, to have a photo taken with the kids. She was delighted to facilitate a unique experience for them.”


After receiving the advice from her staff, Rollins contacted the Celtics senior vice president of community engagement and inquired about obtaining tickets for “a group of at-risk youth who were part of a Project Safe Neighborhoods initiative,” the report stated.

The Celtics executive told investigators Rollins’s request was “pretty routine” and her position as US attorney wasn’t relevant.

“The Senior VP stated that he was more focused on evaluating the youth basketball group and how they fit into the Celtics’s mission of community engagement,” the report said.

Six days after the tournament in Springfield, Rollins sent a text from her personal phone to the Celtics executive and her program specialist, the report said.

“She has created an AMAZING program…for middle and high school students,” Rollins wrote. “The winners of the All-Star basketball game: 5-6 grade and 7-8 grade teams won (the High School Team lost to the Coaches) would love to come to a Celtics game.”

The next day, the program specialist e-mailed the executive officer and the ethics adviser to express “discomfort” with the situation.

“Rachael called me yesterday and asked me to facilitate,” she wrote. “I am happy to facilitate this but am now in an awkward position and feel this is a situation senior management should resolve. Please advise.”


Her position soon became more awkward, the report found. When she told Rollins that the Celtics would provide 20 tickets for children and 10 for chaperones, Rollins was reportedly irked.

“Rollins responded by questioning why 10 chaperones were necessary and wanting to know who the chaperones would be,” the report said. “Rollins added: ‘If I am facilitating/paying for this, I deserve to know.’”

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Ultimately, the Celtics provided 30 free tickets for a game on April 3, 2022, in the Rafters 14 section, with a face value of $80 to $85 each, the report said.

The day before the game, Rollins e-mailed the Celtics executive, telling him that she’d “love to be able to see them and take a picture,” referring to the kids who would be attending, according to the report.

When the executive asked if Rollins needed tickets herself, she replied, “I would love a ticket for the game,” the report said. “Just to be able to walk up during halftime to go see the kids to say hello and take a few pictures.”

A Celtics staffer later sent two free tickets to Rollins’s personal e-mail with a face value of $350 each, according to the report.

The Celtics could not be reached for comment.

Rollins later told investigators she didn’t intend to use the tickets, since she had plans to get lunch with a friend and wanted to meet the teenagers outside TD Garden for a photo before the afternoon game started, the report said.


Investigators asked Rollins why she accepted the tickets if she didn’t plan to use them.

“I couldn’t get in touch with the chaperone and was frantically trying to do so, so I couldn’t take the photo I wanted outside and that’s why I went in,” she said.

She also told investigators the tickets were of no interest to her, since her fiance receives a pair to every Celtics home game. Her fiance was out of town that day and therefore couldn’t meet her outside the arena, she said.

Rollins ultimately took a photo with the youths inside the arena and posted it to her Twitter account. She told investigators she did not pay for their tickets.

During the game, the report said, Rollins fired off a terse e-mail to the program specialist, complaining that the event had been poorly organized.

“These youth are only here because I offered and set up this opportunity,” Rollins wrote. “The fact that we aren’t meeting to take a photo or have a conversation while they are enjoying this experience I provided for them is a significant lack of an opportunity.”

Rollins also violated ethics rules by requiring the program specialist to help coordinate the Celtics event, investigators wrote.

“We also found it troubling that Rollins would reprimand an employee for not performing additional work that Rollins had been told the employee should not perform because of ethics concerns,” the report said.

Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com.