Brian A. Joyce, the former state senator who was awaiting trial on federal corruption charges, was found dead in his Westport home Thursday, according to authorities. He was 56.
Foul play is not suspected, and the state medical examiner is expected to conduct an autopsy in “the coming days” to determine the cause and manner of his death, said Gregg Miliote, a spokesman for the Bristol district attorney’s office.
Joyce’s wife, Mary, found his body early Thursday afternoon, Miliote said. Joyce was involved in a car crash Wednesday night in Westport, but it was not immediately clear whether it had any connection to his death.
Westport police and town officials did not return requests for comment. Attempts to obtain a copy of any police reports relating to the Wednesday crash were not successful.
State Police did not handle the response to the accident, spokesman David Procopio said Thursday. But State Police investigators would consider any injuries Joyce may have sustained in the crash as well as “any other medical evidence related” to Joyce’s health as part of the investigation, Procopio said.
News of Joyce’s death coursed quickly through Massachusetts political circles, where for decades he served as a lawmaker from Milton and climbed the ranks of leadership in the Senate. A Democrat and former state representative first elected to the Senate in 1997, he was an early proponent of marriage equality and a supporter of public education. He ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2001, losing to Stephen Lynch.
Joyce was charged in December 2017 in a sweeping indictment that accused him of taking bribes and kickbacks that he laundered through his law firm and turning his public office into a criminal enterprise. The accusations followed stories in The Boston Globe examining his mingling of public and personal business. Joyce, who was free on bond, had pleaded not guilty to the 113-count indictment.
Investigators said they estimated that Joyce, who faced federal charges of mail fraud, corruption, money laundering, and embezzlement, had collected about $1 million since 2010 through various alleged schemes.
Prosecutors said, among other things, he had extorted a Jeep from a Milton developer and collected more than $100,000 in phony legal fees from a Dunkin’ Donuts store owner in exchange for using his influence to help them.
The indictment painted Joyce as using the power of his Senate office to help those who allegedly provided bribes and kickbacks to him. No one else has been charged as part of the case. When defendants die while awaiting trial, the charges against them are typically dismissed.
Attorneys had said they expected to be ready for trial by May 2019, according to a recent court filing.
“We extend our condolences to Mr. Joyce’s family and friends as they grieve his passing,” US Attorney Andrew E. Lelling said in a statement. “We will not have any further comment during this difficult time.”
Max D. Stern, one of Joyce’s attorneys, declined to comment Thursday evening.
“The family has asked that their privacy be respected at this difficult time,” attorney Howard M. Cooper, who also represented Joyce, said in an e-mail.
Senate President Karen E. Spilka was among those who learned of Joyce’s death Thursday afternoon.
“As authorities handle the appropriate investigations, my thoughts are with his family,” she said in a statement.
A spokeswoman for Governor Charlie Baker said he and Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito “extend their deepest condolences to the Joyce family during this difficult time.”
Once the Senate’s assistant majority leader, Joyce had moved from his longtime hometown of Milton after announcing in 2016 that he wouldn’t seek reelection.
The decision to not run again came days after his law office was raided by federal authorities.
Joyce had also agreed to pay nearly $5,000 to charity for various campaign finance violations, including tapping campaign funds for his son’s high school graduation party, under an agreement with the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance.
Joyce aroused suspicions by repeatedly receiving discounted and sometimes free goods and services, often from businesses in his legislative district. For instance, when he was angling for a Senate leadership position in late 2014, he gave his Senate colleagues expensive sunglasses that he got at a significant discount from a company in his district, as well as pounds of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee.
The Globe also wrote extensively about Joyce’s relationship with Energi, the Peabody company that was the subject of much of the indictment against the former lawmaker. The company, which sells insurance to the energy industry, hired Joyce and his law firm to do legal work and to handle regulatory matters before the state Division of Insurance. Between 2010 and 2015, the company paid the Joyce Law Group $377,169 in fees, according to the indictment.
Even so, Joyce apparently wanted more legal business and fees in return for his help with a bill promoted by the company. He filed the bill and spoke at a symposium sponsored by Energi promoting the bill — never disclosing his ties to the company. Energi put him on retainer, paying him $5,000 a month for approximately five months.
His indictment last year came amid an already turbulent time for the state Senate. Days earlier, then-Senate President Stanley C. Rosenberg had stepped down from his leadership post in the wake of a Globe story, in which four men said his husband, Bryon Hefner, had sexually assaulted and harassed them and had bragged he could influence Senate business.
Rosenberg resigned his seat in May after an ethics investigation found that he had abrogated his leadership responsibilities by giving Hefner essentially unfettered access to the Senate.
Senator Harriette L. Chandler took the reins as the chamber’s interim president before Spilka emerged from a lengthy leadership fight and officially ascended to the Senate’s top post this summer.