City Hall employees in Boston Calling trial will not face internal discipline
Mayor Martin J. Walsh said Friday that he welcomes the return of two City Hall aides whose trial on public corruption charges was canceled, as federal prosecutors swiftly filed notice Friday that they will appeal a judge’s dismissal of the case.
In his first public comments about the case since its dismissal earlier this week, Walsh said Ken Brissette, the city’s head of tourism, and Timothy Sullivan, head of intergovernmental affairs, will not face any disciplinary action — but they may receive additional training because they have been out of their positions for two years.
Sullivan and Brissette had been on paid leave since their 2016 indictment on charges of extortion, for allegedly threatening to pull permits for the Boston Calling music festival in 2014 unless organizers hired union workers. Prosecutors alleged they were acting in the interests of Walsh, who had been elected to office with heavy union support.
Walsh would not say whether he thought his aides engaged in any wrongdoing. When asked whether he would discourage City Hall aides from advocating for union labor, he replied: “I’m not going to discourage anything.”
“There are some great people in labor, and I think that throughout this process, people who were associated with unions might have got a bit of a bad rap here, and I don’t think that’s fair,” said Walsh, a former labor leader.
Brissette was paid a salary of $99,909, and Sullivan was paid $123,624 in 2017, per city records. Officials could not immediately say how much both men have been paid since they were placed on leave.
Walsh said he spoke with both aides and, “They’re relieved, but you know they’re anxious now because we’re going to talk about ‘how do we return back to work,’ and we’re going to work on that as we move forward here.” The mayor did not provide an exact date for their return.
The case dissolved after federal prosecutors conceded that they could not secure a conviction under US District Judge Leo T. Sorokin’s interpretation of extortion laws, and his planned instructions for the jury, which prosecutors argued were too narrow. Sorokin refused to change his instructions, pointing out that prosecutors failed to offer their own interpretation of the law.
On Friday, prosecutors filed a notice that they would appeal the dismissal — what they called the result of the flawed jury instruction. It’s the first step the government must take before seeking permission from the US solicitor general to go forward. If the appeal continues, the process could take more than a year.
Legal analysts said an appeal could be challenging because judges have wide discretion over jury instructions.
“There’s just a difficult procedural burden prosecutors have, given the standards appellate courts give for something like a jury instruction,” said Wally Zimolong, a Philadelphia-based construction attorney who has followed union extortion cases across the country.
Walsh, who won reelection last year by a margin of more than 30 points, has refused to say whether he testified before a grand jury that investigated the allegations against Brissette and Sullivan, and he would not address the question Friday.
“I am glad now that we can move on, and get back into the business of what we’ve been doing for the last four years, around housing, education, transportation, all of the issues that are important to us,” the mayor said. “I’m just grateful this situation is resolved right now.”
Walsh also said Friday, “We’ve never insisted that anybody who works on City Hall Plaza bring union or non-union on the plaza, we’ve never done that. I’ve never done that, and that’s not something that we should be doing.”
Brissette had also been accused in a separate extortion trial of advocating on Teamsters’ behalf and threatening to withhold permits for a television show that was looking to film in Boston. The Teamsters members had been acquitted in that trial, and Brissette denied any wrongdoing.
After the allegations against Brissette first surfaced, the city agreed to spend up to $200,000 on an outside review of its policy and relationships with unions.
City officials said Friday they could not immediately say how much was spent on the review. Officials said a city review committee continues to look at the procedures and policies.