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Feds zero in on Joyce’s role in housing project

State Senator Brian Joyce.
State Senator Brian Joyce. Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff/file 2014

Federal prosecutors are looking at state Senator Brian A. Joyce’s involvement in a heavily subsidized housing project in his district, part of a broad inquiry that already has included an FBI raid of the Milton Democrat’s law offices.

Assistant United States Attorney Dustin Chao has subpoenaed the town of Easton for all documents related to the $43 million affordable-housing project at the former Oliver Ames & Sons Shovel Co., where Joyce represented the developer, according to a copy of the subpoena.

Chao also asked for documents related to Ames Estate, a nearby park for which Joyce helped the town obtain a $500,000 state grant.

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In addition, prosecutors have asked the town for records, including e-mails, invoices, bills, contracts, and retainer agreements, related to “Brian Joyce, senate office of Brian Joyce, including his office staff and Joyce Law Group,” according to a copy of the subpoena, dated Feb. 17.

“We’re just going through several years of computerized and hard files just to find anything that touches upon Senator Joyce — nothing more, nothing less,” said Easton town counsel Jason Talerman. “Senator Joyce has been working with the town for a long time so there are a lot of documents to sift through.”

Joyce’s spokeswoman did not respond to requests for comment.

But one former town official said he objected years ago when he learned that Joyce was working as a private lawyer for a project that was receiving millions of dollars in public support, including state funding.

“To this day, I am still upset about his involvement with the project,” said former Easton selectman Irwin Cohen.

Joyce has repeatedly drawn scrutiny for blurring the lines between his public duties and his private affairs. The state Ethics Commission is investigating whether Joyce improperly lobbied state insurance regulators on behalf of another private law client, Energi of Peabody, according to Joyce’s Senate colleagues.

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The Globe has already reported that federal prosecutors are looking at Joyce’s involvement in another project in Easton, a massive solar field at Stonehill College.

Joyce represented both the solar consultant and the solar company that installed about 9,000 solar panels when they battled National Grid before the state Department of Public Utilities.

At the same time, as a state senator, Joyce pushed legislation opposed by National Grid and other utilities that would have made it easier for clean-energy projects like Stonehill’s to connect to utilities’ power lines.

In legal documents, Joyce claimed to represent the school. Stonehill College had declined to comment when the Globe first asked about the school’s relationship with Joyce, only later saying it did not hire Joyce.

At the old shovel factory, Joyce began representing Boston-based Beacon Communities in 2009 when it took over the redevelopment of the complex from an earlier developer whose plans would have included tearing down some of the historic buildings.

Beacon promised to preserve the structures at what is now called Ames Shovel Works.

At the June 2012 groundbreaking, Joyce said that he played a crucial role in putting the project together, answering a plea for help from Easton town administrator David Colton, a personal friend of Joyce and former town administrator in Milton. Joyce spoke at Colton’s wedding, according to a 2008 Boston Globe story.

“I called my friend John Keith (owner of Keith Construction Co.) and my friend Howard Cohen (Beacon Communities’ founder),” said Joyce, according to a video of the event that is online. “I knew Beacon Communities was the only private entity that had the wherewithal to pull together all these complicated moving pieces.”

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The project ultimately received millions of dollars in local, state and federal loans and tax credits, and gets a break on its property taxes, according to town records. The town also agreed to build a waste-water treatment plant to accommodate the new residents.

The town gave Beacon a $4.5 million loan and agreed to an unusual arrangement under which the town contributed $3 million toward the price of purchasing the property.

While the town was still debating the Shovel Works project, former selectman Cohen said he was disturbed at Joyce’s role.

“At a meeting to discuss the project, Senator Joyce attended and at first I was quite pleased that our state senator took the time and interest to attend,” Cohen said in an e-mail.

“I was astonished to find out this was not the case,’’ Cohen said. “He was attending as the lawyer for Beacon Communities who was trying to get town approval for the project.”

Cohen said Joyce told him he had approval from the Ethics Commission to represent Beacon and that he had officially disclosed the relationship, but Cohen dismissed the assurances.

“I totally rejected the Ethics Commission acceptance that this was not a conflict of interest. The project received state funds,” said Cohen, who decided not to run for a third term in 2011. “From that point on, I refused to have any dealings with the senator.”

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However, former selectman chairwoman Colleen Corona praised Joyce for doing “a lot of great things for the town,” according to a 2010 article in the Canton Citizen. Corona said the town reached out to Joyce because he had a history of helping communities in need, according to the Citizen report.

“Now, thanks to [Joyce] and the support of the community, this nationally recognized historic mill complex will be preserved, and the town’s historic center will be revitalized.” Joyce’s role, she said, “was very clear. There was nothing secret about it.”

Federal subpoenas have also been served on a number of others — including Milton town officials, who were asked to produce documents related to the sale of the Milton Women’s Club on Reedsdale Road in 2013 to a private developer, according to a town official.The developer, John Morrill, has been a longtime supporter of Joyce’s.

In addition, Jerry Richman, the retired Randolph dry cleaner who gave Joyce free dry cleaning for more than a decade, has also been subpoenaed to testify before the grand jury, according to someone who has seen the subpoena.

The town of Easton has been asked to bring the documents to the Boston courthouse on March 3.

Officials from Beacon Communities did not respond to requests for comment.


Andrea Estes can be reached at andrea.estes@globe.com.