It’s no longer just the media that are taking a keen interest in Brian Joyce’s dirty laundry.
The FBI and the Internal Revenue Service conducted a raid on the longtime state senator’s Canton law office this week, in what the feds confirmed was part of a criminal investigation.
Joyce couldn’t have been surprised. In recent years, he has become a magnet for investigations, all of them driven by Globe stories. There was the one about Joyce getting free dry cleaning for years, dating back to his first run for state Senate in 1997. There was a shady deal in which Joyce bought 40 pairs of expensive designer sunglasses for his Senate colleagues, but didn’t pay for them until the Globe asked about them. He then paid the Randolph company less than half of their retail cost.
That isn’t all. Joyce resigned as assistant majority leader last year amid an Ethics Commission investigation into a report that he had met with state insurance regulators on behalf of one of his private law clients, Energi.
And he settled a complaint with the Office of Campaign and Political Finance last month, after the agency found that, among other misdeeds, he had used campaign funds to throw his son a college graduation party. After Joyce settled up with OCPF, he acknowledged in an interview that his legal woes probably were not over.
“I’ve said that in retrospect I used bad judgment but I expect — eventually — to be exonerated and to get on with my life and help my family heal, and to represent the people I’m paid to represent,” he said then.
Clearly, his exoneration is not imminent. The FBI and the IRS have not divulged any details about their raid, though speculation in political circles held that it is at least partly related to the free dry cleaning (which would probably be a taxable gift).
Regardless, it is important to remember that Joyce has not been charged with anything, a point his attorney, Howard Cooper, made at length in a written statement Thursday.
“Federal investigations conducted by the FBI and the IRS are required to be carried out in secret,” Cooper said in the statement. “This legal requirement exists in order to protect the reputation and rights of any individual who is subject to investigation at a time when the Government has not brought charges against that person or demonstrated to a grand jury that charges are appropriate in the first place.
“There are no charges pending against Senator Joyce. The media frenzy of the past two days threatens to create an atmosphere contrary to the presumption of innocence.”
Certainly, the senator is entitled to every presumption of legal innocence. But his political fate is another matter. At least one advocate has already called for the Senate to expel Joyce. That’s highly unlikely, but obviously being under constant investigation is politically damaging. Some observers speculate that state Representative Walter Timilty of Milton would be the logical front-runner for Joyce’s seat. Timilty has indicated that he isn’t interested in running against Joyce, but he might not have to.
Can Joyce even mount a plausible reelection campaign right now? Whether he has done anything criminal remains to be seen, but he’s certainly not a very effective representative at this point. By his own account, he has spent most of his time over the past 13 months responding to charges, and that’s not about to change any time soon.
It’s telling that the dry cleaning deal that may be Joyce’s undoing began right at the outset of his political career. It illustrates his struggle to separate personal entitlement from public duties. Boundaries blurred once can appear over and over again.
If Joyce falls, he won’t be the first Massachusetts politician whose personal foibles overwhelmed his professional gifts.