Edwards Calls City Hall Convictions a ‘Sad’ Day for Boston

City Councilor Lydia Edwards spoke out strongly last week against the guilty verdict of two City Hall employees in the Boston Calling extortion case, saying the verdict sets a damaging precedent for public servants looking to promote good jobs.

The City of Boston’s Director of Intergovernmental Affairs, Timothy Sullivan, and Kenneth Brissette, the Director of the City’s Office of Tourism, Sports and Entertainment, were convicted this month by a federal jury in Boston in connection with extorting a music festival production company (Boston Calling) operating on City Hall Plaza. 

Brissette and Sullivan both were convicted of Hobbs Act conspiracy, and Brissette was also convicted of Hobbs Act extortion.  The Court has not yet scheduled sentencing dates.

Edwards said the convictions represented a sad day for the City.

“Today is a sad day for Boston,” said Edwards. “This verdict creates a terrible and damaging precedent that will have a chilling effect on advocates and public servants who seek to protect and improve the lives of those in our city while receiving no personal benefit whatsoever. As stewards of the public good, it is our obligation to advance the economic security and physical safety of all people. For elected officials, that is in fact why voters put us into office: to look out for the many against the interests of the few. 

“The decision will make it harder to combat displacement, to secure living wages from unscrupulous corporations, to hold industries accountable, to ensure we deliver mitigation from projects with serious community impacts and to level the playing field,” she continued. “The only people who benefit from this decision are powerful corporations and institutions that are seeking to evade responsibility to the public and their employees.”

But the federal government saw it much differently, saying everyone should be able to do business in Boston without being harassed.

“This (month), a federal jury convicted Kenneth Brissette and Timothy Sullivan of extorting a private business to hire union labor that they did not want or need,” said United States Attorney Andrew E. Lelling. “Private companies that want to do business in Boston have the right to hire anyone they want – union or not – without fear of being threatened with economic disaster by government officials. That is the law. This was a hard-fought victory, and one that reaffirms our commitment to take on cases that are in the public interest.”

Between June and September 2014, while a music festival production company was awaiting the issuance of certain permits and approvals required for its event, and seeking an agreement from the City of Boston to use City Hall Plaza for events beyond 2017, Brissette and Sullivan repeatedly advised the company that it would need to hire members of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) Local 11 to work the event.

Local 11 had attempted to obtain work from the production company since March 2013. The production company told Brissette and Sullivan that it had already entered into a contract with a non-union company and hired all of its labor. Nevertheless, on Sept. 2, 2014, three days before the music festival was scheduled to begin, Brissette and Sullivan insisted that half of the production company’s labor force consist of union members. The production company agreed to hire nine members of Local 11 and entered into a contract with the union because they feared the company would be financially ruined if they did not accede to these City officials’ demands.

The charge of extortion provides a sentence of up to 20 years in prison, three years of supervised release and a fine of $250,000. The charge of conspiracy to extort provides a sentence of up to 20 years in prison, three years of supervised release and a fine of $250,000.

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