By all accounts, John Lynch was a fairly run-of-the-mill staffer at City Hall, the guy in a suit at a neighborhood business fair, or the one standing at the edge of the picture at a ribbon-cutting.
Then he wound up smack in the middle of a bribery scandal.
Lynch’s plan to plead guilty to charges that he took $50,000 from a developer to influence a vote on Boston’s Zoning Board of Appeal has baffled some who know the longtime city worker. In public comments and private conversations, they described Lynch as an unflashy, nuts-and-bolts bureaucrat, an expert in how to get small things done at City Hall.
“He just knew the city,” said City Councilor Frank Baker, who considers Lynch a friend and said he was “shocked” by the charges. “He’d either know [the answer] or he’d say, ‘It’s this guy in this department. Give him a call.’ ”
Now 66, the Dorchester resident had worked for city government since the late 1970s, starting under Kevin White and serving under four mayors. He was nearing retirement, when, in mid-August, he abruptly resigned from his high-paying job as an assistant director of real estate in a city agency, giving just one day’s notice. Two weeks later, word broke of his plea deal, and with it, the prospect of years in prison.
“Mr. Lynch spent a lifetime helping others, and he has had a tremendous and positive impact on the community,” said his lawyer, Hal Brennan, who has described Lynch’s acceptance of the bribe as “an aberration.”
“He’s sorry to his friends, family, colleagues, and the countless members of the community that hold him in high regard.”
For the last three years, Lynch worked in a low-profile job at the Boston Planning & Development Agency that paid about $134,000 a year. Mostly, according to people familiar with his job, Lynch managed and oversaw maintenance of city-owned buildings in the Raymond L. Flynn Marine Park — a post far from the power brokers who negotiate high-profile projects on City Hall’s ninth floor.
Before that, Lynch spent 16 years at the city’s Department of Neighborhood Development, where he ran small business programs and helped entrepreneurs navigate oft-arcane city programs. It was an important job, colleagues said, if unsexy. He was once quoted in the Globe while helping restaurants in the Fenway recover from a fire. He would staff a table the department set up at small-business night at the Columbia/Savin Hill Civic Association, a Dorchester neighborhood group.
And he was fluent in the small programs the city runs to help entrepreneurs. Baker, who owned a restaurant on Dorchester Avenue before running for City Council, recalls Lynch maybe 15 years ago guiding him to tap a city fund that helped pay for new signs.
“He was very helpful in trying to navigate that process,” Baker said. “He was someone you could call with any sort of issue.”
How Lynch’s bureaucratic expertise led him to take a $50,000 bribe from a developer — who sources familiar with the case have said is Steven Turner — remains unclear.
Prosecutors have said little other than that Lynch used his “official position within the BPDA” to influence a ZBA member whom he knew to vote for an extension of zoning permits in 2017 for a condo site Turner owned in South Boston. They haven’t said who Lynch may have influenced, or exactly how. Turner has not been charged.
Zoning lawyers and others familiar with the ZBA’s process say they’re not sure how Lynch could have persuaded board members, at least through his official capacities. Nor do they see why Turner would pay $50,000 for what is, typically, a routine request to the board to extend permits on a project facing minor delays.
In the sometimes-braggy world of city politics, Lynch wasn’t much of a name-dropper, say people who worked with him. He made modest political donations — $100 checks to various City Council members over the years, and $500 to Mayor Martin J. Walsh in recent years — fairly standard practice among city staff of a certain pay grade.
He owned rental property — real estate records indicate he and his wife own at least two three-deckers in Dorchester.
And Lynch dabbled in real estate development; in 2015 he bought a run-down property next to his home in the Clam Point section of Dorchester and built a two-unit condo project there, according to county real estate records and city building permit data. He has since sold those condos for a little under $1.5 million combined, according to deeds filed in Suffolk County.