The jury in the federal trial of two City Hall aides accused of extorting the founders of the Boston Calling music festival began deliberations Tuesday after a two-week trial that put a spotlight on the behind-the-scenes maneuvers of Mayor Martin J. Walsh’s administration.
Four men and eight women will decide whether Kenneth Brissette, the city’s director of tourism, and Timothy Sullivan, chief of intergovernmental affairs, illegally pressured Crash Line Productions into hiring nine members of a stagehands union to please Walsh, a former union leader with close ties to organized labor.
Defense lawyers argued Brissette and Sullivan were simply trying to avoid an embarrassing union picket at the September 2014 festival, and US District Court Judge Leo T. Sorokin gave the jury instructions that legal specialists said sets a high bar for a guilty verdict.
Sorokin told jurors Tuesday they must conclude that Brissette and Sullivan used the company’s fear of economic harm to obtain the union jobs, that it was wrong to do so, that they “knowingly and willfully obtained” the benefits of the jobs, and that their actions affected the company’s ability to sell tickets or satisfy its investors.
“Seeking to obtain real work for qualified people is not a wrongful purpose, even if the work was unwanted or unneeded by the employer,” Sorokin said. “It is not a wrongful purpose . . . for a public official to assist or favor his constituents or political supporters, or to act in the hopes of securing future political support.”
Ben Goldberger, a former Suffolk County prosecutor and attorney who has followed the case, said Sorokin’s instructions could prove pivotal.
“To say that government officials can favor their constituents or political supporters really undermines a key theme of the government’s case,” Goldberger said. “The government may persuade the jury that their view of the case is correct that Brissette and Sullivan were just trying to get jobs for the unions and didn’t care about the event and still end up with a not guilty verdict because of the law as Judge Sorokin instructed.”
During closing arguments, Assistant US Attorney Laura Kaplan said Brissette and Sullivan were motivated to break the law by their commitment to Walsh, who had been elected to his first term one year earlier.
The two men strong-armed Crash Line officials Brian Appel and Michael Snow “for no other reason to curry favor with a union that helped elect their pro-union boss,” she told jurors. “When someone is taken hostage, you may negotiate how much you want to pay in ransom but that doesn’t make it any less criminal that you took the hostage.”
Prosecutors have said Brissette and Sullivan exploited the promoters’ fear that the city might shut down the popular concert to force them into hiring union workers just days before the festival.
Defense lawyers have said Brissette and Sullivan wanted to keep the union from picketing the festival, a protest that would have been highlighted by a large inflatable rat. But Kaplan ridiculed the idea that the rat was a serious threat.
“Really, do you think the attendees would have noticed an inflatable rat?” she said. “They probably would have been taking selfies with the inflatable rat.”
Kaplan went so far as to say Brissette and Sullivan “made up” the threat of the rat to intimidate festival organizers.
Sullivan’s lawyer, William Cintolo, said the threat of the rat was very real and reminded jurors of e-mails that union officials traded that summer, saying members were so angry at Crash Line they wanted to bring the inflatable rat.
“They made it up?” Cintolo said, his voice near a yell. “Does [Kaplan] not read her own document?”
The closing arguments followed testimony by the defense’s key witness, former Boston police commissioner William B. Evans. He testified that he pushed for restrictions on alcohol sales at the 2014 festival on his own behalf, not as the result of any interaction with Brissette or Sullivan.