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Attorney pleads not guilty in witness tampering case

A well-known criminal defense attorney from the Boston and Cambridge area was charged with witness tampering in federal court Wednesday on accusations he bribed the victim of one of his clients with $2,500 so the victim would not testify in a hate crime case.

Timothy R. Flaherty, son of former state House speaker Charles Flaherty, pleaded not guilty at his arraignment in federal court Wednesday afternoon. He was released without bail and ordered to stay away from the target of the alleged bribe.

His attorney, Thomas J. Butters, declared his client’s innocence.

“Tim Flaherty has been a widely respected lawyer for 25 years with a hard-earned reputation for his honesty and talent. Tim is innocent and looks forward to presenting a vigorous defense,” Butters said.

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Flaherty was set to go to trial this week in an assault case originating in Cambridge District Court, in which his client allegedly assaulted a person and yelled, “You little Muslim . . . you [expletive] terrorist.”

Flaherty allegedly contacted the victim and offered him cash if he would tell authorities he was no longer interested in pursuing the case, according to US Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz’s office, which is prosecuting Flaherty.

Flaherty allegedly later gave the victim $2,500 in cash and encouraged him to ignore calls from authorities, according to prosecutors. Flaherty instructed the victim to tell state prosecutors, “I have no interest in this. I’d have to come to court, I really don’t want anything to do with it. Um, you know the guy had a bad day and I’m just not going to testify,” according to court records.

The victim, who cooperated with investigators, also told Flaherty he had been contacted by the FBI and federal prosecutors who wanted to probe whether the offense was a hate crime. Flaherty told him to ignore those communications as well, according to court records.

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A spokeswoman for the Middlesex district attorney’s office, which is prosecuting the case against Flaherty’s client, would only say that it received information regarding Flaherty’s contacts with a victim in a criminal case and that it “worked cooperatively with the federal investigation of the matter.” The spokeswoman would not comment further, noting the ongoing case.

Flaherty’s father was convicted in federal court in 1996 of tax evasion. The younger Flaherty had served as an assistant district attorney from Norfolk, and he unsuccessfully ran for a state Senate seat in 2010.

He has well-known clients, including Charles Lightbody, a reputed Mafia associate who was charged in federal court with hiding a financial interest in the Everett casino development. Last year, he successfully defended John Rams Jr. of Wareham in a murder case in Barnstable Superior Court.

Flaherty will retain his law license as his case plays out, though the state Board of Bar Overseers, which investigates attorney wrongdoing, will review the matter, a spokeswoman said. He has no prior disciplinary reports. His attorney, Butters, said he will continue to handle cases.

Flaherty’s arrest surprised the legal community.

“The alleged actions run counter to Attorney Flaherty’s well-known reputation as a skilled trial lawyer,” said Martin W. Healy, chief legal counsel for the Massachusetts Bar Association. “Flaherty has been known as a go-to attorney for tough criminal matters around the Greater Boston area.”

If Flaherty is convicted, he could face a maximum punishment of up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, though he would likely face a less severe punishment under sentencing guidelines.

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Milton J. Valencia can be reached at mvalencia@ globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @miltonvalencia.