March 22, 2018 / 10:18 PM / 8 months ago

U.S. judge tosses extortion case against Boston city officials

BOSTON (Reuters) - A federal judge on Thursday dismissed a criminal case against two members of Boston Mayor Marty Walsh’s administration accused of illegally pressuring a music festival production company into hiring union labor.

FILE PHOTO: Kenneth Brissette (L), director of tourism, sports and entertainment for the city of Boston and defense attorney William Kettlewell, enter federal court in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S., December 4, 2017. Photo taken December 4, 2017. REUTERS/Nate Raymond/File Photo

The decision by U.S. District Judge Leo Sorokin came a day after he called off a trial scheduled to begin next week in the extortion case brought against the two city officials, Kenneth Brissette and Timothy Sullivan.

The dismissal 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.

Prosecutors did not oppose dismissing the case against Brissette, 53, and Sullivan, 38, but reserved the right to appeal, in light of a proposed jury instruction Sorokin issued that they contended incorrectly interpreted the Hobbs Act federal extortion law.

Sorokin had ruled that prosecutors had to prove that the two officials personally benefited from union workers being hired for a 2014 music festival. Prosecutors conceded they lacked evidence to establish that the men obtained such a benefit.

Prosecutors may now ask a federal appeals court to reverse Sorokin’s decision, a fact the judge acknowledged in explaining why he dismissed the case.

William Kettlewell, Brissette’s lawyer, said in a statement the defense had long argued that U.S. Supreme Court precedent required the “legally deficient indictment” to be dismissed. Both men were first charged in 2016.

“Dismissal was the only result the law could abide,” he said.

A spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling declined to comment. Sullivan’s lawyer did not respond to a request for comment.

Sullivan was the city’s chief of staff of intergovernmental relations and Brissette was the head of tourism under Walsh, a Democrat and former union leader who took office in 2014. Both have been on paid leave while the case was pending.

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, Crash Line Productions, 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.”

Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; Editing by Tom Brown

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