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Editorial

DOJ labor probe needs timely resolution

Timothy Sullivan, the acting director of Intergovernmental Relations for the City of Boston, is pictured as he leaves the Moakley Federal Courthouse following his arraignment in June.
Timothy Sullivan, the acting director of Intergovernmental Relations for the City of Boston, is pictured as he leaves the Moakley Federal Courthouse following his arraignment in June. (Jim Davis/Globe Staff)

In 2017, the US attorney’s office in Boston must perform a difficult balancing act. Its ongoing investigation into labor practices in the region has produced convictions and indictments, and should be completed as thoroughly as possible. But the probe has also raised nagging questions about Mayor Marty Walsh and City Hall — questions that should also be answered as quickly as possible. Well before Walsh faces reelection, voters deserve a resolution to the long-running inquiry.

For a reminder why, look no further than the FBI’s last-minute involvement in the presidential election, when director James B. Comey raised the prospect of further allegations against Hillary Clinton — only to withdraw them a few days before the election. It was wrong then, and it would be wrong in October 2017 for prosecutors to spring any big last-minute surprises on the city.

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The federal investigation involves allegations that labor leaders might have used illegal tactics to coerce real estate developers into hiring union workers during the hot construction market of the last few years. Walsh, a former labor leader, was reportedly recorded on a wiretap in 2012 discussing a development project in Boston, and saying that the developer could face permitting problems unless it hired union labor on a separate project in Somerville. City permits aren’t supposed to be chits in private labor negotiations, and any threat to deny them could be construed as illegal extortion.

Those conversations predated Walsh’s election as mayor in 2013. But the inquiry has also resulted in indictments of two Walsh administration officials, Kenneth Brissette and Timothy Sullivan, who prosecutors say pressured a local music festival in 2014 to hire union labor by threatening to deny city permits. Both Brissette and Sullivan have maintained their innocence, and nobody, including the prosecutors, has alleged any wrongdoing by Walsh.

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The mayor could certainly help himself by directly answering questions about whether he’s testified before the grand jury, and, if so, divulging what he said. But the greater burden now is on US Attorney Carmen Ortiz, and potentially her successor. The wiretapped conversation happened in 2012, and the music festival was in 2014. Unless there’s far more to the inquiry than is publicly known, investigators should be able to decide soon whether further charges are merited . It wouldn’t be fair to Walsh, or to voters, to let the matter linger.