The former city official at the center of a widening City Hall bribery scandal pleaded guilty Thursday afternoon in federal court in Boston.
John M. Lynch, 66, admitted to accepting a $50,000 bribe from a Boston real estate developer to lobby a member of the Zoning Board of Appeal in May 2017 to help get a condo project in South Boston approved.
Assistant US Attorney Dustin Chao told Judge Patti B. Saris during the hearing that Lynch “acted corruptly” and knew that he was taking a bribe.
The developer “paid $50,000 in the course of installments to Mr. Lynch for his official assistance in obtaining a key vote from the Zoning Board of Appeal,” Chao told the judge. “The value of that [vote] resulted in a $500,000 profit to the developer.”
When Saris asked Lynch if he disagreed with the government’s account, Lynch said, in a soft voice, “I do not, your honor.” He did not comment otherwise.
The judge set sentencing for Jan. 24 and allowed Lynch to remain free in the meantime.
“I think that’s appropriate given your ties to the community,” Saris said.
According to court documents, Lynch could serve 46 to 57 months in prison under a deal with federal prosecutors. He also pleaded guilty to filing a false tax return.
The charges, first disclosed in a federal court filing in August, have rippled through City Hall, with Mayor Martin J. Walsh’s onetime close aide and former head of the inspectional services department taking a leave of absence, and a zoning board member involved in the project resigning this week.
The zoning board is the gatekeeper for thousands of small and medium-size developments across Boston, and its decisions have changed the landscape of the city. City councilors have called for reforms, and Walsh commissioned an outside review of the board’s policies and procedures. Walsh also hired former federal prosecutor Brian Kelly to investigate the situation involving the circumstances surrounding the South Boston development, and whether there was other wrongdoing.
“I’ve asked him to be as quick as possible,” Walsh said Thursday. “I don’t want this to be a prolonged, dragged-out thing, for obvious reasons.”
Walsh commented after an event Thursday morning just a mile from the federal court house. The mayor was joined by housing advocates, top aides, and city councilors as he signed a bill to make it easier for the city to require affordable housing funding from new development. The measure needs approval from the state Legislature.
The event was a reminder of the city’s pressing need for more housing, at lower prices, and that development will grind forward, despite concerns with the zoning board and its permitting process.
“Wherever we go, in any neighborhood, we hear about housing,” Walsh said. “We learn about people being pushed out of the city of Boston, about not being able to afford to live here. This is an issue we have to keep working on.”
Prosecutors said Lynch took the $50,000 bribe to help the developer get an extension for a zoning variance that was initially granted in 2013. Lynch directed a member of the zoning board to act on behalf of the developer, securing a key vote that allowed the project to go forward, according to court documents. The vote, according to prosecutors, increased the profit on the sale of the project by more than a half-million dollars.
The prosecutors did not identify the developer or the vote at issue, but two people familiar with the case confirmed the property was a multi-unit condo development on H Street in South Boston, and the developer was Steve Turner. He has not responded to requests for comment.
The zoning board member who allegedly acted at Lynch’s direction was not identified, and there was no suggestion in court records that he or she committed a crime.
Craig Galvin, a Dorchester-based realtor who was appointed to the zoning board by Walsh in 2016, resigned Sunday night amid ongoing scrutiny of the case.
Last week, the mayor’s special adviser, William “Buddy” Christopher, also agreed to a temporary leave, without pay, pending the review. As the former head of the Inspectional Services Department, Christopher’s staff oversaw the zoning board duties. Before he joined City Hall in 2014, he had been the original architect for the H Street project, and his former architectural firm — now managed by his son — continued to manage the project at the time of the 2017 vote.