For decades as a public employee, John Lynch solved problems for the people of Boston, helping small businesses and small-time developers navigate the Byzantine byways of City Hall.
But occasionally, Lynch branched out on his own, running a side business helping property developers with needed permits or closing deals, often using his City Hall e-mail address to conduct his private activities, documents released Friday by the Walsh administration show.
According to federal prosecutors, Lynch’s private consulting crossed the line into illegality when he accepted a bribe from a developer to influence a vote on his project before the Boston Zoning Board of Appeal. E-mails from Lynch’s City Hall account also suggest there were at least two projects where he took money from developers while helping them.
“John Lynch had an opportunity to work for the city that he called home, and it’s a job that he held for more than 40 years,” said Mayor Martin J. Walsh, in a statement Friday. “What he chose to do with that opportunity was decidedly reckless, unethical and, unfortunately as we now know, criminal.”
In response to a public records request from the Globe, Walsh officials released records from Lynch’s e-mail account as a city employee for the Department of Neighborhood Development and the Boston Planning & Development Agency. They paint a picture of a city staffer who would happily help a hardware store get a sign permit or a food truck line up inspections, but who was also in position to accept a $50,000 bribe to help a developer at the zoning board.
Lynch’s lawyer, Hank Brennan, would not comment on the overall content of the e-mails, but noted there are some circumstances where city employees may be allowed to conduct outside work that does not conflict with their employment. Brennan noted that Lynch has pleaded guilty to taking a bribe, and he regrets his actions.
Brennan described Lynch as “somebody who fixes problems for those in need, helping people throughout the city achieve their goals, create centers that help citizens.”
“Mr. Lynch had spent his career helping people from all walks of life, people in need, under privileged, and people who lacked opportunity.”
The scandal has roiled the Walsh administration and Boston’s real estate world in recent weeks, and a second document released Friday indicates federal prosecutors have also focused on a former zoning board member who had done business with Lynch. Prosecutors have requested documents from the city involving Craig Galvin, a prominent Dorchester real estate agent, according to a report commissioned by the Walsh administration. The Globe reported that Galvin worked as a consultant on several projects that came before the ZBA during his time on the board. He stepped down from the board in September.
A spokeswoman for Galvin said in a statement that he resigned to focus on his profession and that “we remain confident in the ongoing process.”
The report, from former federal prosecutor Brian Kelly, looked into the circumstances of the case at the heart of the bribe: a series of votes in 2017 in which the zoning board first killed, and then revived, permits to turn a warehouse on H Street in South Boston into an 11-unit condo building.
Kelly said Friday that the three current ZBA members who were on the board at the time did nothing wrong. But it shed little new light on the episode itself because several key players — among them Lynch, Galvin, H Street developer Steven Turner, and William “Buddy” Christopher, the city building commissioner then — all declined to talk with him.
No one other than Lynch — who pled guilty and is scheduled for sentencing in January — has been charged. Lynch and Turner had known each other for years, trading notes about real estate opportunities around the city, and setting up meetings together with city staff, neighbors, and real estate brokers on various projects. In 2015, Lynch helped Turner schedule a zoning board vote for a small development site on Kimball Street in Dorchester, according to e-mails he sent to other city employees about it.
A sales contract that was included in the city documents released Friday indicates Lynch received a $3,000 “brokers fee” for his work on the Kimball Street project.
It appears Lynch acted as a broker on Turner’s H Street condo project as well.
In Feb. 2017, he e-mailed Michael Moore, a Dorchester-based developer who bought and ultimately built the project, about negotiations with Turner.
“I followed up with Turner,” Lynch wrote using his city e-mail account. “This is the second time he changes the deal after I brought him someone.”
Two months later, it was Lynch — again from his city account — who asked zoning board staff to schedule a vote extending zoning changes for the H Street project. And it was Lynch who told a city staffer that Turner would miss that hearing, which prompted the board members to vote, 5-1, to deny the extension and effectively kill the project. Galvin was the lone dissenter.
Two weeks later, after Turner submitted a letter to the city, H Street was back on the zoning board’s agenda, and this time the panel, without opposition, approved the extension of the permits. Turner eventually sold the site to Moore for $4 million, and federal prosecutors say the permit extension boosted its value by at least $500,000. There are no further details about the payment to Lynch or whether he may have affected the second, successful vote.
Lynch’s e-mails with Turner differ little, in tone or substance, from countless others he wrote in his longtime position as an operations specialist in the city’s Office of Business Development, advising small businesses and everyday residents on how to cut red tape. He would set up meetings with city bureaucrats, wrangle inspections and permits, even schedule hearings before the ZBA, for typically appreciative citizens.
“Thank you SO much for helping with all this,” wrote a South End woman who Lynch had helped on a home renovation in 2016. “I just cannot thank you enough.”
But there were other rewards for Lynch. In 2018, he received $49,250 from the $1.125 million sale of a large empty lot on Browning Street in Dorchester, according to a settlement document shared by the city. Plans called for three three-deckers to be built a year earlier; as the project neared a vote at the ZBA, Lynch was e-mailing architects and contractors about it.
“My friend will be looking to sell with all permits,” Lynch wrote. “He hasn’t talked price but I will start that discussion.”
Brennan, Lynch’s lawyer, said there was no wrongdoing involved in the Browning Street development, even though Lynch was contacting clients with his city e-mail address.
“If the law precludes public workers from earning money outside their primary role as a public figure, then such a rule would decimate the world of politics and the public arena as we know it today,” he said.
But on Friday morning, as the Walsh administration prepared to release Kelly’s report and thousands of Lynch’s e-mails, city employees received a two-page e-mail blast from the administration’s top lawyer, Eugene O’Flaherty. The subject line: “Reminder of Ethics Requirements.”
Tim Logan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.