Two top aides to Boston Mayor Martin Walsh are accused of strong arming concert officials into hiring union labor — a move prosecutors say amounted to extortion.
Prosecutors assert that Kenneth Brissette, the mayor’s director of tourism, sports and entertainment, and Timothy Sullivan, the Mayor’s chief of staff for intergovernmental affairs, engaged in union-related extortion by threatening to withhold city permits from a popular Boston music festival until it hired union labor.
The men are accused of specifically targeting the Boston Calling music festival, a biannual event staged downtown, repeatedly threatening the organizers into hiring union stagehands.
“The government may be able prove the defendants did benefit because they believed they were advancing Mayor Walsh’s agenda,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Laura J. Kaplan told the court, according to the Boston Herald.
Lawyers for the two officials asked a judge to dismiss the case Thursday, asserting that the actions did not amount to extortion. The defendant’s lawyers specifically argued that the evidence did not violate the federal Hobbs Act.
The Hobbs Act, originally passed in 1946 to combat labor-related racketeering, prohibits individuals from obstructing, delaying or affecting interstate commerce by threats of robbery or extortion. The lawyers argue that without proof that Brissette and Sullivan benefited from the wages paid to the unions, the two cannot be charged with a Hobbs Act violation.
“The defendants never received a dime, they never intended to receive a dime,” Brissette attorney Sara Silva said, adding that its an undisputed fact. The prosecutors argued that in order to show that extortion took place, they only have to show that the two aides were working on behalf of the union’s interests when they threatened to withhold the permits.
Lawyers for the aides further argued that the two were acting in their capacity as city workers by seeking jobs for their constituents. The lawyers also said that if anything was violated, it would be the National Labor Relations Act, which is not a criminal offense. “A violation of the National Labor Relations Act is not the same as extortion,” an attorney for the two aides said Thursday.
The judge did not rule on the motion to dismiss the charges, and a trial date has not yet been set.
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