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Two City Hall officials may have to face extortion charges after all

A federal court today reinstated extortion charges against two City Hall officials who allegedly leaned on the company that runs the Boston Calling festival to hire members of a particular union.

US District Court Judge Leo Sorokin had dismissed the charges against Kenneth Brissette and Timothy Sullivan a year ago, just days before they were to go on trial. Brissette was director of the city's Office of Tourism, Sports, and Entertainment, which held power over the required permits, while Sullivan was Mayor Walsh's chief of staff for intergovernmental relations.

But in a ruling today, the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Boston vacated his dismissal, sending the case back to him for potential trial, saying Sorokin had too narrowly defined the proof the government would need to show to win an extortion trial.

Sorokin had dismissed the case against the two because the government had provided no proof they had earned any "personal benefit" from repeatedly telling Boston Calling organizers to hire members of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, local 11, for an upcoming Boston Calling festival on City Hall Plaza in 2014. Such proof, Sorokin said, was a requirement for a successful prosecution under the federal Hobbs Act, which governs extortion cases.

Sorokin ruled that the act's definition of extortion - "the obtaining of property from another, with his consent, induced by wrongful use of actual or threatened force, violence, or fear, or under color of official right" - coupled with some court cases means that the party being extorted has to give up something of value and the party doing the extortion has to take it.

But the appeals court ruled today that Sorokin had used too narrow a definition of the Hobbs Act and related court decisions and that even if Brissette and Sullivan did not personally profit from the alleged outcome - in which Boston Calling agreed to hire a crew of Local 11 workers - a jury should decide whether they are guilty of extortion. The court said that an extortion case can be made even against people who have not directly benefited from that extortion, if prosecutors can show they instilled a sense of "economic fear" in order " to achieve a wrongful purpose."

The court emphasized it was not taking a position on whether Brissette and Sullivan did this, but said that was why it was sending the court back down to district court, where a jury could hear evidence on the issue.

In fact, the court emphasized it is mindful that even "fear of economic harm" can be a legitimate part of both business and government negotiations, and that courts must be careful not to do anything to prevent the "legitimate exercises of official authority."

The court concluded that proof of "obtaining of property:"

[M]ay be satisfied by evidence showing that the defendants induced the victim's consent to transfer property to third parties the
defendants identified, even where the defendants do not incur any personal benefit from the transfer and even where the transfer takes the form of wages paid for real rather than fictitious work.

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Comments

The city has every right to decide that when it rents out its own property (City Hall Plaza) for an event, the event-holder will use union labor.

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Even if that's true, do they have he right to say which Union?

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That's decided by the existing territory boundaries the unions already have in place.

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Right to work...

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The voters certainly have a right to help guide these labor policies. Especially when they deal with public property.

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knowing that he was a supporter of unions. Is there anything wrong with his administration enacting policies that favor union labor on city property?

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It's the old, you can go a long way with a kind word, but you can go a lot further with a kind word and a gun.

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they were requiring that the event-holder use Boston residents as labor. When they require only that the event-holder use union labor - who may or may not be Boston residents - I have a problem with that. One more example of the City's administration caring more about unions than about the residents of Boston.

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If only Boston residents were allowed to work in the city of Boston as a condition of city permits, we'd all be worse off.

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that the City Government doesn't make union labor a requirement for use of city property. This guy did. If it were an official position, transparent to voters, it would be a different situation.

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The city may have a right to require dogs be licensed and the license tag be attached to the dog's collar, but the clerk at city hall who hands out licenses certainly dosen't have the right to refuse me a dog license unless I buy the collar from his cousin.

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no, they are asking you to buy a collar that fits the legal qualifications of a collar, not pick up a piece of string out the trash and demand that that it is a collar because america!

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no, they are asking you to buy a collar that fits the legal qualifications of a collar, not pick up a piece of string out the trash and demand that that it is a collar because america!

In which case, of course, the clerk could show me the documented legal definition of a collar and reject my dog license application on the grounds that my collar didn't qualify.

Similarly, if there had been a legal requirement that an event permittee on City Hall Plaza use a particular union, then you would have a point. But there wasn't; this was just a case of city employees making up and enforcing a rule that didn't actually exist.

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I've worked both white and blue collar jobs and have never once belonged to a union, are you saying my work isn't good enough based off of that one fact? So let's say manufacturers A & B both make collars that meets all legal qualifications, but you are being "forced" to buy a collar from B because the clerk at city hall only likes B, that's cool with you?

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Even if the feds have their facts right, they’re making a pretty radical challenge to the already limited power of local government. Voters routinely demand that cities and towns use permits, zoning approvals, and contracting power as leverage to advance their values. Affordable housing, open space, design preferences, parking minimums, community group donations, clean energy. You name it, this is how they get it. Wanting professional stagehands for a concert on city property doesn’t seem any different.

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Isn't the issue that the city didn't have any law on the books requiring use of union labor in this scenario but these city employees tried to strong arm the concert organizers to hire them anyway? A lot of places have very strong AV/theater tech unions - Marty could set that up here if he wanted but hasn't.

Boston Calling wasn't trying to skirt some regulation, they were being told to do something not required by local ordinance which is just one step below suggesting they donate to the Walsh re-election campaign to get better treatment by the city.

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If Boston Calling were operating on private property (as they now are, at Harvard), I'd agree with you. But they were renting city-owned property, so the city can reasonably require union labor as part of the rental contract.

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If the city has a statute/by law (unsure correct term) that says in order to rent this space, these requirements must be met and lists union labor, police, detail, etc... then you're 100% right.

If the city just says you need permits x, y, z, and to hire a police detail, etc... but doesn't specifically require that union labor is used, then no, the city should not come back to the event organizers and say hey, you also need to hire union labor. That's coercion.

To be clear, I'm fine if the mayor, as a union guy, wants to change the rules for renting city land to require union labor. But he can't/shouldn't be able to just strong arm people to follow his preferences because he's mayor. That's one step towards the Chinese system where you have to hire the local party boss's nephew to get a permit.

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Ron, I think the issue here is that it isn't official city policy/ordinance that union labor be used on all city-owned property event leases. It's that this particular event was *strongly encouraged wink wink* to hire union labor, even when it wasn't needed or otherwise required.

If everyone has to follow a set of rules requiring union labor, then that can be built into an event's business model. If you go in to the permitting process being told that something isn't required "but you'll find the process much easier if you do this one non-required thing that happens to cost money and is otherwise unnecessary" then yeah. That's an issue in my mind.

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This is what I was trying to say, only done more coherently.

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It's that this particular event was *strongly encouraged wink wink* to hire union labor,

Not just union labor, but a specific union.

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Of course it would be a union that corresponded to the position. Why are you pretending that matters?

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Of course it would be a union that corresponded to the position. Why are you pretending that matters?

there is plenty of overlap; in some cases the exact same job could easily be defined as belonging to any of several different unions.

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[edit: I see ParkWayne and CraigInDaVille already made this point pretty nicely.]

The city may possibly be within its rights to require union labor on city property. It could do so via the city council enacting legislation, or by city agencies enacting and publishing policy via some transparent, open mechanism.

That's not what happened here. This is a case of two city employees, acting well outside their authority, trying to force an applicant to hire a specific union of those employee's choosing.

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Oh, so this is about values??? That would be funny if this was a skit from Saturday Night Live. Next, you'll be shocked that gambling is going on.

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People want to get involved when they desire to implement a rise in the minimum wage ect. with no consideration of the economic implications, but yet dont like it when organized labor stands up and dares to be represented at the table. Double standard at work here.

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Pro-union posters seem to be skipping over the fact that if there isn't a regulation requiring the event use union labor, then yes it's a problem when the city tries to exert pressure to use union labor.

I'm fine if the Walsh administration wants to strengthen requirements for events using city property to use fairly paid employees, or union employees or whatever is feasible. What's not acceptable is to behave as if these requirements exist and threaten punitive action by the city if the requirements aren't met.

It's like if the city wanted people to drive electric vehicles, didn't pass a law requiring their use and then only ticketed gas cars. Fix the policy, THEN enforce it.

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When organized labor fights for good pay, safe working conditions, and decent hours, I'm entirely for organized labor.

When I rent a trade show booth at a convention center, and I run out to my car to bring in another box of brochures, and four Teamsters hanging out in the hallway suggest that I'd be a lot less likely to fall down and break my kneecaps if I hired them to carry the box instead of carrying it myself, then I'm against organized labor.

It's neither all good nor all bad. There's no double standard in supporting the good while opposing the abuse.

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You get upset when the Teamsters won't work for you for free?

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what?

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No one seems to remember that Boston Calling didn't pay most of its employees. They were "volunteers" that had to agree to work 3 shifts. And they were required to provide a deposit up front so they could be charged for a 3 day ticket if they didn't work hard enough.

https://www.masslive.com/politics/2016/12/emails_show_wage_debate_in_ags...

The Work Exchange Team, which provided staffing for the festival, offered fans access to the concerts in exchange for an application fee, $200 deposit and work at the show, according to an email from a Department of Labor Standards lawyer.

To talk about these arrests out of context of Boston Calling's history of abusive employment practices is dishonest.

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I don't see anything in this ruling stating that the problem was that union labor was being requested, just how.

This is decision, as I read it, is more concerned with the original judgement that corruption could only be found if there was a personal benefit to the accused. If that was the standard then you'd essentially legalize political bagmen and fixers - to take an extreme example, a Michael Cohen type operator couldn't be found guilty (of this type of crime) if he was only doing it to benefit his boss or employer, not himself. I don't think we want that either.

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Boston calling had already hired non-union labor. They protested that union labor was un-needed. The Boston Calling outfit was violating minimum wage laws, and city hall negotiated with them before issuing permits. The new employees in the us attorney's office want to break unions. The article I linked shows that the MA attorney general's office was looking at the wage violations. But keep pretending that supporting unions is a crime.

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Thanks Cinnamngrl!

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But keep pretending that supporting unions is a crime.

How about you quit pretending that extortion, even in support of what would otherwise be a good cause, even when the victim is a bad guy, is not a crime.

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Whether Boston Calling is the good guys or the bad guys isn't at issue here, any more than the question of whether a victim was a prostitute or a nun is at issue in a rape trial.

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The new employees in the us attorney's office want to break unions.

Very fake news. It was President Obama's Justice Department who sought these Grand Jury indictments, handed down on May 27, 2016, almost seven months before President Trump and his new team took office. Obama's crew also indicted several Boston Teamsters in a case involving alleged intimidation of Top Chef star Padma Lakshmi, a self-described woman of color.

The bigger question is, does anyone believe these two City Hall buffoons took the initiative to act without the blessing of the Mayor, a longtime labor leader? As for the city requiring union labor, isn't that illegal? I know there is a prevailing wage law (non-union companies must pay the union rate) on certain public works projects but I don't think non-union companies can be disallowed on that basis alone. I may have missed it but I don't see any law in the complaint requiring union labor.

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Sorokin decided as he did based on a recent Supreme Court interpretation of the Hobbs Act. I don't see this ending at this level.

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