In keeping with this season of charity, let’s be charitable and appreciate that former Massachusetts state senator Brian Joyce has reminded us that most corrupt politicians are thieves, not perverts.
In a day and age when it seems too many politicians can’t keep their hands to themselves, the principal thing Joyce seemed primarily focused on grabbing was money.
And free Dunkin’ Donuts coffee.
And discounted sunglasses.
And free dry cleaning.
And a Jeep Cherokee.
And anything else he could get those sticky fingers on.
If the charges unsealed Friday are to be believed, Brian Joyce would steal a hot stove and then come back for the smoke. He was incorrigible. And cheap.
Massachusetts has had its share of crooked pols. But they look like pikers compared to Joyce. The feds say Joyce pocketed somewhere in the neighborhood of $1 million in bribes and kickbacks. That’s a pretty nice neighborhood.
From now on, when discussing the scope and scale of political corruption in Massachusetts, the term Joycean will refer to something other than literature.
One of the great ironies in the host of charges federal prosecutors brought against Joyce is that two of them are for something the feds call “honest services” fraud.
Honest services? That’s a good one. Honest services is an oxymoron when it comes to entitled pols like Joyce.
Hank Shaw, the FBI special agent in charge in Boston, put it this way: “Mr. Joyce was greedy, plain and simple.”
You got that right, Hank. That said, the way Brian Joyce allegedly stole and concealed his stealing was anything but simple.
The real biggie is the first count of the indictment: racketeering. According to the feds, Brian Joyce was a gangster in a suit, using his elected position to line his pockets. Finely dry-cleaned suits, thank you very much.
His Canton law office, which doubled as his district senate office, was nothing more than a front, an upscale version of the fast-food chicken joint on “Breaking Bad” that concealed a massive criminal enterprise. He used his status and political influence to allegedly steal the way a mobster uses a gun and menace to steal.
The 102-page indictment unsealed after Joyce was arrested at his Westport home reads like a sleazy self-help book, “How To Use Political Office To Steal Everything And Anything You Can Get Your Grubby Hands On, Not To Mention 504 Pounds Of Coffee.”
He traded his office for petty stuff like free dry cleaning and coffee, yes, but also for hundreds of thousands of dollars in kickbacks and bribes. He created phony retirement accounts for himself and his wife to conceal the $471,250 he spent on 65,000 shares in a company whose interests he was pushing on Beacon Hill.
Here’s the killer quote from the indictment: “Defendant Joyce’s objective in conducting and participating in the affairs of the Senate Office enterprise was to secretly profit from his position as State Senator by (a) carrying out a scheme and artifice to defraud the District and the Commonwealth of his honest services by conspiring to accept and accepting a stream of concealed bribes and kickbacks from private individuals and entities in exchange for his official action as specific opportunities arose, which included using his official position to exert pressure on other officials to perform an official act.”
In other words, he sold his office to make money and grab free stuff. Being a state senator was a license to steal.
Joyce’s law office was like the apartment on Prince Street in the North End where the Mafia underboss Jerry Angiulo used to receive a steady stream of bookies and loan sharks who paid him for his imprimatur. People who needed or thought they needed Joyce’s influence were expected to pay. It was like that old Dire Straits song: “Money for Nothing.”
And how about a round of applause for Boston Globe reporter Andrea Estes, who exposed so much of these high crimes and misdemeanors.
The indictment cites Estes’ relentless reporting on Joyce’s corrupt behavior, noting that two years ago Estes called the Energy Insurance Brokerage Company, hot on the trail of the bribery scheme involving Joyce.
After the company’s CEO told Joyce that Estes was sniffing around, Joyce e-mailed him, saying, “Suggest you not return call please.”
Advice to all you pols out there: Return Andrea’s phone calls, please.
One of the stories that Estes uncovered showed how brazen and even reckless Joyce was. When officials from a solar company came to him for some help on a bill and permitting issues, Joyce shook them down, demanding to do the legal work on all their Massachusetts projects.
The company’s lobbyist was mortified, and when they left Joyce’s office, he apologized to the company’s officials for exposing them to such a shamelessly corrupt pol.
“Don’t worry about it,” one of the officials replied. “I come from Chicago.”
Yeah, well I come from Boston, and when it comes to politicians bent as pretzels, the Windy City has nothing on us.
I guess this is the place where I remind you that these are only allegations; nothing is proven. And in attorney Howard Cooper, Joyce has a fine, aggressive advocate, so who knows? If this goes to trial, it should be a doozy, a depressing look at how Massachusetts politics can sometimes ape organized crime.
Until I read the indictment, I had no idea that Brian Joyce’s middle name is Augustine.
St. Augustine, for whom he is named, was a theologian and philosopher in North Africa, and he had some good lines.
“Greed is not a defect in the gold that is desired,” St. Augustine said, “but in the man who loves it perversely by falling from justice which he ought to esteem as incomparably superior to gold.”Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org