Another brother-in-law of Representative John F. Tierney, this one a fugitive from justice living in Antigua, said Friday that the congressman was fully aware of the family’s illegal gambling operation, a charge Tierney strongly denied.
Robert Eremian’s assertion, in a telephone interview from the Caribbean island where he has been living since about 2002, came a day after his brother, Daniel, said outside a Massachusetts courthouse that Tierney “knew everything” about the offshore betting business.
“I will verify everything that my brother said, which will show John Tierney is lying,” Robert Eremian said.
Tierney’s wife, Patrice, is the sister of the Eremian brothers, whom federal prosecutors allege ran a massive gambling ring from Antigua. Patrice Tierney was the first of the siblings to go to jail in the case last year, admitting “willful blindness” to the enterprise, but agreeing to plead guilty to tax fraud for her role in handling Robert Eremian’s bills and taxes in the United States.
On Thursday, Daniel Eremian was sentenced to three years in prison for his role in the gambling operation. Moments afterward, he called Tierney a “liar” who “knew everything.”
On Friday, Robert Eremian, who allegedly ran the gambling business from his home and has been charged with 442 counts of racketeering, illegal gambling, and money laundering, echoed another charge his brother had made: that Patrice Tierney pleaded guilty to save her husband’s position in Congress.
“He threw my sister under the bus for his political career,” Robert Eremian said in a brief interview. “He made her plead guilty because he was afraid of an Ethics Committee investigation, and he knew he couldn’t lie in front of the committee.”
But pressed about his assertion that the congressman was aware of illegal activity, he offered no proof. “I can’t do that, because I have to have the facts,” he said, adding that he has the necessary information, but needs time to assemble it. Eremian has not been handed over to US authorities because Antigua has no extradition treaty with the United States.
Representative Tierney called Robert Eremian’s accusation that he pressured his wife into pleading guilty “bizarre.”
“How would I throw his sister under the bus?” he said. “That’s no less bizarre than Danny’s statement.”
The gambling case has shaken the reelection campaign of Tierney, an eight-term Salem Democrat, who is facing a stiff challenge from Richard R. Tisei, a former Republican leader of the Massachusetts Senate. In one of a series of media interviews Tierney conducted Friday, he said he was flabbergasted when Daniel Eremian first suggested that he “knew everything” about the betting business.
“My initial reaction was just incredulous,” he said. “Where did that come from? And why is he saying something that’s so obviously wrong? From there, it just went to concern for my wife, who is obviously very troubled by what’s happening around her family.”
The Eremian brothers have a long criminal history, dating to the late 1970s, when they were arrested near Bar Harbor, Maine for building a deep water dock to receive a boat with hundreds of pounds of marijuana.
Prosecutors say Robert Eremian worked as a bookmaker in Boston for 11 years before moving to Antigua in 1996, choosing the island for its lack of gambling restrictions. In 1998, he was featured in a New York Times story about offshore betting businesses that were sprouting on the island, out of reach of US law.
“It feels great,” he told the newspaper. “I don’t have to worry about the police coming and breaking the door down.”
In 2000, after moving back to the United States, Robert Eremian was charged with gambling offenses and, two years later, was given probation. Authorities allowed him to return to Antigua to work as a software consultant for a betting business. But prosecutors say he then became the head of a vast gambling operation that employed 50 agents in the United States and laundered the money through bank accounts in the United States.
Two years ago, the Eremian brothers were indicted. That was the first time,Tierney said, that he learned the brothers might have been breaking the law.
“I never learned about it until we found out that this case was going to court,” he said Friday. “And at first, I’m not sure I believed it then. I was like, what are you kidding me? What are you talking about?”
Tierney said he made two visits — in 1999 and 2009 — to Robert Eremian’s home in Antigua, but was not aware it was, as prosecutors allege, the base of operations for the betting business.
Tierney said he dined with Robert Eremian on the patio and noticed a computer screen and perhaps a TV on the wall, but nothing suspicious.
“He was sent down there for work purposes, and that’s what he, ostensibly, was doing,” Tierney said. “He also had other businesses, real estate and heavy equipment. He was an entrepreneur.”
Tierney acknowledged he went to several Red Sox games with tickets provided by Robert Eremian, but scoffed at Daniel Eremian’s assertion on Thursday that he “sat in the boxes with bookies at Fenway Park.”
“Fenway Park holds 37,000 people — there probably was a bookie there,” John Tierney said. “But he sure as hell wasn’t with me. I mean, I don’t go to that many games, but the ones I go to, I knew who I was with, and they weren’t bookies.”
The American Embassy to Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean issued a statement Friday saying it continues to express interest in the Eremian case to the Antiguan government.
“The United States hopes our history of good bilateral relations with Antigua will lead to Robert Eremian’s return to the United States to face criminal charges,” the statement said.
On Friday, Daniel Eremian surrendered to federal authorities to begin serving his sentence, telling reporters that he “told the truth” about Tierney, but offering no evidence to substantiate that comment.
Tisei and the National Republican Congressional Committee have seized on the family’s controversy. In March, the group launched a website devoted to exploring Tierney’s knowledge of his in-laws’ gambling enterprise.
“There’s no way he couldn’t have known what was going on,” Tisei said Friday.
Tierney said Tisei is focused on the case because he doesn’t want to talk about the issues. He expressed confidence that voters will reelect him.
“I’ve got a good relationship with the people in my district, and when we have the conversation about what I’ve done, and who I am, and what we’re going to do going forward, I think that will be the end of it,” he said. “That will be the determination on Election Day.”
Stephanie Ebbert of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Michael Levenson can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @mlevenson.