U.S. News

Trial of two Boston officials canceled after prosecution dealt setback

BOSTON (Reuters) - A federal judge on Wednesday called off next week’s trial of two members of Boston Mayor Marty Walsh’s administration accused of extorting a music festival production company into using union labor after a court ruling jeopardized the prosecution’s case.

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U.S. District Judge Leo Sorokin’s action came after prosecutors said they would not oppose dismissing the case against Kenneth Brissette and Timothy Sullivan as long as they retained the right to appeal a ruling he issued on Monday.

Sorokin declined in that decision to reconsider a proposed jury instruction that would require prosecutors to prove that the two city officials personally benefited from union workers being hired for the 2014 festival.

Prosecutors have contended that the ruling incorrectly interpreted the federal extortion law, the Hobbs Act. But in court filings on Wednesday, they conceded they lacked evidence to establish the two men obtained a personal benefit.

They also did not oppose a defense motion to dismiss the case so long as the prosecution could appeal. Sorokin subsequently canceled next Monday’s trial and said in an order he would rule on the dismissal motion “promptly.”

A spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling declined to comment. Lawyers for Brissette and Sullivan did not respond to requests for comment.

The decision marked another setback for federal prosecutors in Boston after jurors in August in a related case acquitted four Teamsters union members of charges they tried to extort jobs from a production company filming “Top Chef” in 2014.

Sullivan was the city’s chief of staff of intergovernmental relations and Brissette was the head of tourism under Walsh, a Democrat and ex-union leader who took office in 2014.

Prosecutors said that the defendants demanded in 2014 that a non-union production company behind a popular music festival called Boston Calling hire members of a local union, Local 11 of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees.

The company was awaiting permits for the 2014 festival and an extension of a licensing agreement. It only received the permits after agreeing to hire union workers amid threats by Sullivan and Brissette of a picket, prosecutors said.

They said Brissette previously withheld permits in a push for Teamsters to work on “Top Chef.”

The case has faced challenges after a federal appeals court in September made it more difficult to prove extortion in cases involving unions, prompting prosecutors to revise the charges against Sullivan and Brissette.

Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; Editing by Peter Cooney