The trial of two Boston City Hall aides who have been charged with extortion began on Monday. The pair, Kenneth Brissette and Timothy Sullivan, allegedly threatened to withhold permits from concert promoter Crash Line Productions if union stagehands were not hired for the music festival Boston Calling in 2014.
At the time, the festival was held at City Hall Plaza. It has since moved to Harvard Stadium.
In Monday’s court proceedings, Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh, BC ’09, and Boston College Chief of Police Bill Evans, the former City of Boston police commissioner, were named as potential witnesses. Not everyone listed will be called to the stand, said U.S. District Judge Leo T. Sorokin, according to The Boston Globe.
Brissette and Sullivan have both denied the charges. The pair was indicted in 2016, but, in 2018, Sorokin ruled that the Hobbs Act, which prohibits “actual or attempted robbery or extortion affecting interstate or foreign commerce ‘in any way or degree,’” did not apply to them because it could not be proved that they were benefiting personally from union stagehands being hired.
That decision was vacated in March, after the Court of Appeals for the First Circuit ruled that the judge had misinterpreted the law. The prosecutors don’t need to prove that the pair personally gained from the extortion—they only need to prove that hiring union workers could be politically beneficial to Walsh, who is a former labor organizer and was elected mayor with union support, the court said.
“They benefited, because they perceived they were advancing Mayor Walsh’s agenda and were trying, in a new administration, to advance their own agenda,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Laura Kaplan to Sorokin during a hearing on July 18, according to The Boston Globe.
Walsh has denied that the union has influenced him or his staff.
“We’ve never insisted that anybody who works on City Hall Plaza bring union or nonunion on the plaza, we’ve never done that,” Walsh said in March after the dismissal, according to The Boston Globe.
Brissette and Sullivan returned to work at City Hall after the charges were dismissed in March—they had been suspended without pay since the indictment.
If Walsh takes the stand, it will be the first time in almost 100 years that a sitting Boston mayor will be put under oath in a criminal trial, according to the Globe. James Curley took the stand in a 1924 case that charged attorneys Daniel Coakley and William Corcoran with the extortion of $100,000 from movie executives.
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