Brian R. Mahoney, a community newspaper columnist and longtime civic association leader, was a defendant in a defamation lawsuit in Suffolk Superior Court in July that offered insight into the role neighborhood associations play in the development process. The lawsuit was filed by developer Gregg Donovan against the newspaper South Boston Today and three of its principals, including Mahoney, the newspaper’s editor in chief.
Here are excerpts of testimony transcribed by Globe from audio recordings of the proceedings purchased on the website FTRCourt.fm.
Mahoney Direct Examination
LAWYER: Can you describe your involvement with the zoning process in South Boston?
MAHONEY: Sure. How it usually works is, a developer will call up the city. And, uh, the city has an office of Neighborhood Services. They have a liaison for every section of the city: JP, Southie, Eastie, boom. So what will happen is the developer will contact that liaison, and in our case in south Boston it’s a kid named John Allison. So the developer will call up John and say, ‘John I have a project for 123 West Third street.’ John will say, ‘Oh that’s the St. Vincent’s organization. Let me get back to you.’
John will call me up and say, ‘Bri I have a guy who wants to build at 123 West Third Street, when’s your next community meeting? Do you have room to put this guy on’? I’ll say, ‘Sure.’ And the developer may well call me up to arrange what time he should show up at the meeting, if we have easels so he can display his, you know, the architect’s drawing and stuff or should he bring his own, that type of deal. And so now we have him at the meeting. At the meeting I moderate as a rule. Not always but most of the time. I talk a lot. We’ll introduce let’s say the lawyer or the architect. He will present the proposal to the community. At the conclusion of his proposal, then I will turn to the audience and I will ask does anybody have any comments or questions. People ask their questions. How high is it? How many parking spaces are there? How many affordable units are being created? What is the impact on the neighborhood?
At the end of that, times we may say, Jeez it’s too high, you don’t have enough parking spaces, you’re squeezing too many units in, remove a unit, put in a parking space, all these things, back and forth. If we are able to come to an agreement that the developer is happy because he can make money, the community is happy because it’s really not impacting their quality of life to an extreme, then as a rule what we will do is write a letter of support for that developer and either me or somebody else will go into the Tuesday morning hearing at City Hall, the Zoning Board, and we will testify in favor of that project. Now just the opposite could happen too. A developer could say I can’t cut that project down any more and the neighbors will say we’re not going to support it if you try to put in this thing because it’s too big , and the same thing will happen, we will issue a letter of opposition. We will show up to Zoning Board and voice our opposition. That’s sort of how the process works.
LAWYER: You said quite a bit right there. Is that the Zoning Board of Appeals or something else?
MAHONEY: No, that’s the Zoning Board of Appeals. How the process starts is very few projects that are built in the City of Boston can be built as of right. As of right simply means if you own a lot and that lot is zoned for a three-decker, OK? Three stories. You can build and all you have to do is let the community know, jeez, I’m going to have trucks coming in next Monday. But if you want to build higher then you have to seek a variance. Almost all projects need variances so when you submit your design to the city they send out an ISD plans examiner. He looks at the site. He writes down what violations there may be that you are seeking a variance for. When you put in your thing, the ZBA will send you back a letter saying you’re project has been denied for these reasons, however you have the right to appeal. If you decide to file your appeal, meet with the community prior to coming before the ZBA for your hearing so you can – so the community can weigh in. That’s how it works.
LAWYER: Mr. Mahoney, do you ever ask people for money?
LAWYER: Ok. Um. It’s been the testimony of some people in this case, I believe Mr. Donovan, that you’ve been improperly asking people for money. Can you explain why you’ve been asking people for money?
MAHONEY: Uh. Sure. Every development that comes down the pike, as I mentioned, the ZBA will tell the developer to come back to the community and work out their concerns for their support. One of the a – one of the points of discussion is a community benefit. So when a project comes – now a three-decker, no, but a large project we will say what is the benefit for the community? The developer may say, ‘I’m thinking about doing this, that or the other thing,’ or ‘What do you have in mind?’
In that regard, I for instance got 10,000 from Linda Gillis, she was a developer who built right down near Mr. Donovan’s project at A and 4th street that I supported earlier in our relationship. She gave me $10,000. I went out and collected another 3. Because I found out the state had an adopt a park program and we had this kid I joined the army with his brother named Evans who was killed by a hit and run driver and we put a Little League diamond in Southie about thirty-odd years ago so it’s gone into some disrepair over the years. When I got this 13 grand together, the state had an adopt-a-park program. So I adopted Evans Field, gave the state the 13 grand. They match it, so now there’s 26,000 that the state has control of for Evans Field.
A number of veterans, World War II veterans, because the World War II monument had only been built over the last 10 to 12 years had never seen it. So I arranged – in fact I think Ms. Lebedew may have contributed to it also, but I arranged two different trips over the last 5 or 6 years to take these World War II veterans down to Washington.
LAWYER: OK, OK. I’m sorry to cut you off—so the money you raise, ah, goes to these various projects?
LAWYER: Is that correct?
MAHONEY: Absolutely, absolutely.
LAWYER: I’m sorry I cut you off. Were there other projects you wanted to name?
MAHONEY: I could go on. I raised money for the South Boston Little League. Uh, I know I originally saw Mr. Winick was going to be on the witness list—uh, I got money from Mr. Winick and his partner, Dave Matteo for, ah, the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. For, ah, the Veterans Express, that’s what we called it when we sent them to DC. Ah, various things like that.
LAWYER: OK quite a few. So is it fair to say, um, this money, ah, goes towards projects and fundraising?
MAHONEY: Absolutely. And It all comes in checks. These envelopes of cash I’m hearing about—anything comes in checks. It is – bank accounts that it goes into. Right now I’m in control on my single signature of $150,000 of various monies and stuff, and, you know, there’s never been a concern or a complaint lodged ever.
LAWYER: OK. I’m going to move on from this, but the money goes to projects? It doesn’t go in your pocket, is that fair to say.
MAHONEY: That’s fair to say.
Mahoney Cross Examination
LAWYER: Is this public knowledge in South Boston that you do this fundraising?
LAWYER: Has it ever been advertised in any of your newspaper articles? Ever talk about your fundraising?
LAWYER: You have signs about fundraisers that you’re holding?
LAWYER: Do your partners at the South Boston Today, do they know about this fundraising?
MAHONEY: It has nothing to do with the newspaper.
LAWYER: What does it have to do with?
MAHONEY: It has to do with, as I explained, when I run a community meeting, basically because I’m the moderator I’m the one who turns around to the developer and says, ah, for instance, ah, Signal Industry, Councilor Kelly was dying, I had $7,500 that they were going to give to the South Boston Little League. Councilor Kelly was dying, St Peters Academy approached me and said ‘Bri, do you think we can redirect that community benefit to a park, a memorial park for Councilor Kelly.’ And I said yeah, so – I don’t know. I—I get the fundraising by virtue of the fact that I’m moderating the meetings. I suppose.
LAWYER: And these are the St. Vinnie’s meetings you’re speaking of.
MAHONEY: Yes sir.
LAWYER: OK, so is it your testimony that at your St. Vincent Lower End meetings you publicly speak about this fundraising with the developers?
MAHONEY: Absolutely, yeah, I mean, yes, yes.
LAWYER: And this account that you have – you’re in charge of $150,000 in an account, what’s the name on that account?
MAHONEY: The account is the Veterans Express, that’s at the Eastern Bank in South Boston. And the other one is the Paul J. Saunders, it’s our post, and we have an account and it’s got like a buck-twenty seven in it.
LAWYER: There’s more than one account?
MAHONEY: There’s two as I said, we have the Veterans Express at the Easton Bank and we have the Paul J. Saunders account at Mount – uh, East Boston Savings.
LAWYER: And neither one of these accounts has the name St. Vincent’s anywhere in it?
LAWYER: OK. But your testimony is –
MAHONEY: Those accounts have nothing to do – those accounts have nothing to do with St. Vincent’s.
LAWYER: OK. Thank you.
LAWYER: You indicate that one of the things you sometimes write about is development.
LAWYER: Since the South Boston Today newspaper has been in existence, have you written about another specific development?
LAWYER: Ok. Have you ever written about any of Cedarwood Developments?
MAHONEY: I don’t know, perhaps when they were first doing 345 D Street. I may have written something about that. Ah—
LAWYER: Speaking of 345 D Street, on behalf of St. Vincent’s you wrote a letter of support for 345 D Street, didn’t you?
MAHONEY: Yes I did.
LAWYER: Was that after Cedarwood Development gave you this donation that you requested?
MAHONEY: Ahhh, no that would have been, ahh, that would have been much, much in advance. I think the donations I’m talking about from Cedarwood have come in the last couple of years. I mentioned I was the, uh, guy who was running the St. Patrick’s Day parade, the commander of the Allied Veterans, and so that would have been 14 and 15 or 15 and 16 – I’m not sure. But that’s when I raised funds from them. And the Veteran’s Express went this past September. So it’s possible that, ah, this past September, and one or two St. Patrick’s day previous to that. But all of them were post-dated and that isn’t how we do business, quid-pro-quo, sir.
LAWYER: So it has no bearing on your ability to approve or disapprove a project?
MAHONEY: No bearing. I’ve had developers come up to me in advance of the meeting and say, ‘You know, Bri, we’re willing to make a donation.’ And I stopped them and I say, ‘We will get to that later, but here is how it works: You put your proposal on before the community, you allow the community to weigh in on their likes or dislikes, their support or opposition, and then if the day comes that we’ve reached a happy agreement between both, and you think that this organization’s support has been beneficial to you going forward, and you feel that you want to reward this organization, you go ahead. And I can tell you, I can point to the different places where we need money.’
LAWYER: OK, but you’re not rewarding the organizations because the accounts are not in the name of St. Vincent—
MAHONEY: Well, when I say rewarding the organization, I would say that if you think this organization or this community has been helpful and supportive of you, and ah, and you want to help out one of the various functions we have going on here, for instance, Cedarwood made—
LAWYER: That’s ok. Let me move on a little bit.
LAWYER: When you said you spoke to several developers prior to the Dec. 6 article, were any of the developers you spoke to people who didn’t make donations to your cause?
MAHONEY: To my cause? What cause is that?
LAWYER: Fundraising, Mr. Mahoney. I’m sorry, I may have used the wrong term. Were any of the developers you spoke to people who did not make a specific—
MAHONEY: I fundraise on a specific issue. Somebody, like, we’re building a park on Second Street—
LAWYER: Sir, I insist this is a yes or no question. I don’t want to get into a –
MAHONEY: You’re trying to ask me if I have some type of an organization that I’m raising money for. No I’m not. I ask people, ah, developers for donations for specific issues.
LAWYER: Ok, so my question is, are any of the developers that you spoke to, that you indicated you called prior to publishing this article, are any of those developers people that did not make a donation?
MAHONEY: Uh, are anybody I wrote—I’m sorry, I’m not trying to be difficult. Do it one more time.
LAWYER: You indicated you spoke to Mr. Adamson.
MAHONEY: Mr. Adamson has donated money, uh, to various South Boston causes.
LAWYER: And Mr. Donahue? Did I get that name correct?
MAHONEY: No, Mr. O’Donoghue. Has he? Yes. As a matter of fact he bought a Pop Warner team all windbreakers, uh, back about 2008 or 2009 or something like that.
LAWYER: And Mr. Winick. Did you confer with Mr. Winick before publishing the December 6 article?
LAWYER: Ok, is it fair to say not Mr. Matteo either?
MAHONEY: I conferred with no one before I wrote that article. Well—not my sources of course, the people I talked to to compile the article. You’re asking me if I talked to Mr. Winick or some developer before I wrote this article? No.
LAWYER: Can you please turn to exhibit number 7? And on the first page, Mr. Mahoney, you indicate that there was various inquiries with elected officials, developers, and real estate agents. Is it your testimony here today that you didn’t speak to any of those people before you wrote the article?
MAHONEY: You didn’t ask me that. You asked me something about donations and speaking to these people. I’m trying to understand what it is you’re asking me.
LAWYER: If you look at exhibit 7 with me, you testified that it contained an error. And you go on to say that your statement was based on this experience you have and conferring with a number of individuals.
LAWYER: I just want to clarify, did you speak to these individuals you said you spoke to in this article?
LAWYER: And of the developers you indicated you spoke to, did you speak to any developers who had not made a donation in part of your community process?
MAHONEY: Yes. As a matter of fact. Nick Salmon and Ryan Sillery. I know Ryan is building at Broadway Station right now. Nick Salmon actually build the project that abutted 345 D Street.
LAWYER: When I asked you whether Mr. Ciccone or Mr. Wallace knew anything about the donations, I believe you had said the newspaper had nothing to do with it. Do you recall making that statement?
MAHONEY: No but. I—no I don’t recall it. But I don’t want to argue with you.
LAWYER: Do you believe the newspaper has anything to do with the donations or the money you receive from various developers?
MAHONEY: Other than we might put something in the newspaper, ah, you know, Mrs. Murphy’s house burned down and we’re looking for a fund-raising that will be held next week. Some type of an announcement like that in the newspaper. As far as the newspaper receiving any money, no.
LAWYER: With regard top the monies that have been paid, would you say those monies have been given to you voluntarily?
MAHONEY: What monies are you talking about being paid? All I’ve ever said is that I go out and solicit donations for various causes. I’ve never said anybody ever pays for anything. But that’s all I do. I solicit money for various causes: Little League, a fundraiser for somebody who has an illness, things like that.
LAWYER: Do you ever solicit donations from the developers who are attempting to build projects in the St. Vincent’s area?
MAHONEY: Who are attempting? No.
LAWYER: If a project comes before your group, does the fact that whether a developer makes a donation or not makes a donation, does that have any bearing on your level of support?
MAHONEY: A developer would never make a contribution to our group before we vetted the proposal he’s putting before our group. I think I stated there is no quid-pro-quo if that’s what you’re asking.
LAWYER: Mr. Mahoney, for someone, a developer whose been vetted to come before your group, and a project does get support, and a donation is made—does that developer get any recognition for making such a contribution?
MAHONEY: You might throw out a generic comment down the road that the new park, the new Evans Field will be opening, and it couldn’t be done without the generous support and help of, and you might name some of the people without saying how much they exactly contributed or what. Because a lot of times people who give you money, they don’t want their name out there everybody and their mother hits them up. You try to play it down the middle.
LAWYER: How about Mr. David Winick? You recognize that name?
MAHONEY: I certainly do.
LAWYER: How much did Mr. Winick give you?
MAHONEY: How much did Mr. Winick give me? Cedarwood development, who Mr. Winick and his partner David Matteo run, Cedar developments has given checks to me made out to the various function or the cause I was seeking funds for.
LAWYER: How much was that, Mr. Mahoney?
MAHONEY: I, uh, I know, ah, well the most recent one I know Dave Matteo came by my house and gave me $1,000 for the St. Patrick’s Day parade. This last St. Patrick’s Day parade.
LAWYER: You never received a $20,000 payment from Mr. Winick.
MAHONEY: Absolutely not
LAWYER: How about Mr. Fabrizio?
MAHONEY: I don’t know Mr. Fabrizio.
LAWYER: You don’t recognize the name Mr. Fabrizio?
MAHONEY: No I don’t.
LAWYER: How about Frank Delaney? Recognize that name?
MAHONEY: Yes I do. He is the one, owns Blackthorn on West Broadway.
LAWYER: And did you receive a payment from Mr. Delaney?
MAHONEY: No I didn’t.
LAWYER: How about Mr. Bruce Daniel?
MAHONEY: Mr. Bruce Daniel. Mr. Bruce Daniel, ah, he – I know he gave us a check, uh, for something before, uh, but I don’t know. But yes Daniel has given us donations before.
LAWYER: Mr. Mahoney, you said he gave us money. Who is us?
MAHONEY: Counselor, I think you know what I’m saying when I refer to us. I’m talking about the South Boston community. I’m talking about the various functions I’ve told you over and over that I raise money for. There is no us. There is no Mahoney foundation that money is going to. Any money I collect is always by check and it’s always made out to the organization or the function I’m raising the money for.
LAWYER: Give me an example of who a check by Mr. Daniel might have been made out to, if you remember.
MAHONEY: I don’t remember but it very well could have been made out to, for let’s say, uh—
LAWYER: Well if you don’t remember I don’t want you to speculate.
MAHONEY: Ok, then I don’t remember.
LAWYER: How about Mr. Ryan Sillery. Do you recognize that name?
OTHER LAWYER: Your honor I do see the relevance of all these people and checks.
[Sidebar off microphone]
LAWYER: Mr. Mahoney do you recognize the name Ryan Sillery?
MAHONEY: Yes I do.
LAWYER: Did Mr. Sillery give you a payment of some sort?
MAHONEY: Not that I can recall.
LAWYER: Did Mr. Sillery give you anything of any value that was not either cash or a check?
LAWYER: Mr. Mahoney, I’m going to remind you that you’re under oath. Your testimony is Mr. Ryan Sillery has never given you anything of any value?
MAHONEY: That’s my testimony.
LAWYER: How about Mr. Paul Adamson? Do you recognize that name?
MAHONEY: Yes I do.
Lawyer: And Mr. Adamson give you a payment?
MAHONEY: No. As I told you over and over again, sir, I solicit funds for various functions. Has Mr. Adams given us money? Yes he has. He donated to the Veterans Express, for instance. He donated to the St. Patrick’s Day parade, for instance.
LAWYER: You do recall Mr. Adamson making a donation. That was by check?
MAHONEY: Yes it was.
LAWYER: OK, and who was that check made payable to?
MAHONEY: Check was made payable either to the, uh, Veterans Express II, or the South Boston St. Patrick’s Evacuation Day parade.
LAWYER: How long ago was that payment from Mr. Adamson?
MAHONEY: It would have been. Well it depends, it would – Veterans Express would have been down around last September and the St Patrick’s Day obviously would have been around March.
LAWYER: And Mr. Winick’s payment, how long ago was that?
MAHONEY: I believe I told you Mr. Matteo dropped a check off at my front door and that was for $1,000.
LAWYER: I’m asking you about David Winick—
MAHONEY: I told you Mr. Winick and Mr. Matteo are partners in Cedarwood Development. I don’t deal with one individual or the other. I go and I might talk to Dave Matteo or I might talk to Dave Winick and say can you help us out here, boomp, ba, boomp. The two of them as a joint venture on behalf of Cedarwood Development, donated $1,000 for last year’s St. Patrick’s Day parade.
LAWYER: And that was by check?
MAHONEY: That was by check.
LAWYER: And who was that check payable to?
MAHONEY: That check was paid to the St. Patrick Day parade. No checks are ever made out to me, sir.
LAWYER: And not cash is ever given?
MAHONEY: And no cash is ever given or taken.
LAWYER: Mr. Mahoney of the various developers you just testified about, these people who have made various donations, given you checks, is it fair to say none of these individuals have been written about in your newspaper?
MAHONEY: No that’s not fair. I’ve already told you I don’t know who I’ve given a kudos to. As you said, 200-plus articles.
LAWYER: Mr. Mahoney, who decides the donations you receive from developers, who decides how that money will be spent?
MAHONEY: The donations that come from a developer are not received by me. The donations from a developer, whatever a developer decides he wants to donate, are made out in check to the organization or the charity the developer is giving the money to. So who decides? The developer decides. I may say, uh, the Little League diamond needs a new sprinkler system or something, we’re trying to collect some money. And the developer may say, ‘OK Bri, how about a thousand bucks? Who do I make it out to?’ Ok,’ and I’ll say make it out to the South Boston Little League, and that’s where the check goes.
LAWYER: Have you ever asked Mr. Donovan for a donation?
LAWYER: Would you ever ask Mr. Donovan for a donation?
MAHONEY: Not at this stage, no.
LAWYER: Do you recall having the heated exchange with Miss Lebedew that you heard her testify about?
MAHONEY: Yes I do.
LAWYER: So you acknowledge that conversation took place, that exchange?
MAHONEY: I acknowledge a conversation took place.
LAWYER: And when you heard Miss Lebedew say, ‘You pay or you pay,” were you merely referring to these donations that you testified about?
MAHONEY: I never made that statement. She says I did. I didn’t make that statement. The conversation as she related didn’t happen that way.