A former city official was charged Friday in federal court with accepting a $50,000 bribe from a Boston real estate developer, in a corruption case that implicates the zoning board that approves thousands of small and medium-size developments around the city.
John M. Lynch, 66, a longtime city employee who until recently was the assistant director of real estate at the Economic Development Industrial Corporation, has agreed to plead guilty to accepting the bribe.
He was accused of getting a member of the city’s influential Zoning Board of Appeal to support a change that helped a developer capture a profit of more than a half million dollars, according to documents filed by the US attorney in Boston.
The court records do not identify the member of the Zoning Board of Appeal, nor the developer or property in question. However, Lynch reached his agreement before he was indicted by a grand jury, through a process that implies he is cooperating with prosecutors. A spokeswoman for US Attorney Andrew Lelling said the matter remains under investigation.
This is the second corruption case to hit City Hall recently under Mayor Martin J. Walsh. Earlier in August, two top Walsh aides were convicted of extortion-related charges for pressuring the organizers of the Boston Calling music festival into hiring union workers, under the threat of losing lucrative permits. The two have asked to have the verdict vacated.
The Zoning Board of Appeal is a powerful gatekeeper over thousands of smaller-scale construction projects in Boston, from modest home additions to mid-size apartment buildings; its decisions can turn humble properties into valuable investments by relaxing zoning to allow larger developments on Boston’s notoriously small building lots. It is also often the battleground where residents fight developers over the size of projects they try to squeeze into the city’s dense neighborhoods.
Lynch, who was paid $134,601 last year, had worked since 2016 for the EDIC, a division of the Boston Planning & Development Agency, which regulates larger scale development. But his job mainly entailed overseeing a maintenance crew at the Raymond L. Flynn Industrial Park. He voluntarily resigned on Aug. 16, city officials said.
The bribery case does not appear in any way to implicate the BPDA. The head of that city agency, Brian Golden, said he was “outraged” by Lynch’s behavior, and said the case was an “isolated incident.’’
Walsh issued a similar statement Friday night, calling the charges “very concerning.’’
“I expect any member of the ZBA to look at cases impartially and to my knowledge that is how they are conducting themselves,” Walsh said. “However, if there is impropriety in my administration it will be dealt with swiftly.”
Court documents indicate Lynch knew the developer who allegedly paid the bribe because the two previously worked at another City Hall department. Lynch had previously worked for more than 20 years for the city’s Department of Neighborhood Development, a separate Boston agency that focuses on affordable housing.
According to federal prosecutors, Lynch took the $50,000 bribe in exchange for securing a key ZBA vote that benefited the real estate developer. With an apparent push from Lynch, the ZBA agreed to grant the developer a permit extension for a piece of land that the developer sought to sell in 2017. The permit allowed the property to be sold as a multi-unit development.
Lynch, prosecutors said, had known an unidentified ZBA member for “several years on a personal and professional basis.” He used his position “to instruct and advise the Zoning Board member to vote in favor of a permit extension . . . in exchange for the payment of a cash bribe from [the developer] to defendant Lynch,” according to court records.
The permit extension helped the developer realize an additional half million dollars in profit from the sale, according to court records. After the permit extension was granted, Lynch accepted $25,000 in cash and another $25,000 check, which he used to pay a personal bill. He then failed to report those payments on his federal taxes, as well as another $10,000 payment he received from the developer for a separate agreement.
The $50,000 bribe was disguised as a silent broker’s fee, according to court records.
Lynch has also agreed to plead to one count of filing a false federal tax return. A court date has not been scheduled. He faces up to 10 years in prison, but prosecutors said they would recommend he receive 46 to 57 months.
His lawyer, Hank Brennan, said that Lynch regrets the conduct.
“Mr. Lynch spent a lifetime helping others, and he has had a tremendous and positive impact on the community,” Brennan said. “This transgression was an aberration, and he readily admits and takes responsibility for his conduct. And he’s sorry to his friends, family, colleagues, and the countless members of the community that hold him in high regard.”
Walsh’s administration only recently drew weeks of unwanted attention from the federal trial of two other city workers in the Boston Calling case.
In that case, also brought by Lelling’s office, two City Hall workers — tourism head Kenneth Brissette and Tim Sullivan, head of intergovernmental affairs — are awaiting sentencing. Their lawyers have asked US District Judge Leo T. Sorokin to vacate the jury’s verdict with a finding that the evidence in the case did not legally constitute a crime.