Harold Brown died last week. May he rest in peace. He was one of the biggest apartment and building owners in the City of Boston. I’m not sure when I first heard about him. For years as an assistant district attorney I was the arson prosecutor in Norfolk County. I believe I tried more arson cases than any other assistant da in the state. They were very difficult cases to prosecute. I learned it was good to have a motive or a sleazy looking defendant.
I may have heard of Harold Brown’s name at that time. One of the person’s he employed was caught up in an arson investigation and prosecuted in Suffolk County. (I think the arson may have been on one of Brown’s buildings.) The facts are vague now but one I remember is even after the guy was indicted (or even convicted) Brown still kept him in his employ. I thought that unusual for a guy who owned lots of apartment buildings.
Then came the 75 State Street matter in the 1980s that was pushed and pushed and pushed by the Boston Globe in its attempt to muddy up the name of its number one enemy Bill Bulger. The facts of it are simple. Bill’s partner Tom Finnerty approached Harold Brown and made a deal that he would represent/assist him in his plans to build 75 State Street in exchange for several hundreds of thousand dollars. Brown agreed and paid him $500,000. Finnerty at the time was the law partner of Bill Bulger. He gave half of what he received to Bill Bulger. Bulger would claim what he received was an advance on an expected fee coming from another client but the money seemed to be a split of the Brown money.
Finnerty had no experience in the law relating to construction or business finance but he was a schmoozer. He was the equivalent of what we call lobbyists today. He could ensure because of his relationships with people in the city and state that things ran smoothly for Brown. In that business, the bureaucracy can always cause problems that can cause costly delays so you need someone who knows his way around roadblocks. Finnerty was hired to be that man.
When Finnerty was not paid the rest of the money over $500,000 he sued Brown. Brown hired a couple of lawyers who had no love for Bill Bulger and with the help of the Boston Globe alleged Finnerty had extorted money from Brown and was assisted in that by Bill.
The long and short of it is that after battering Bulger around for months – four or five federal and state investigations – all agreed no crimes were committed. After FBI Agent John Connolly was tried and convicted in 2002 Harold Brown was approached by the media and asked about Bill Bulger’s involvement in 75 State Street. He filed an affidavit dated June 16, 2003, noting there were five federal and state investigations that found he did nothing criminal. He noted that it was Finnerty’s lawsuit that caused those investigations adding “neither in that suit nor at any subsequent time have I indicated that Senator Bulger had any involvement in my project. That is because he had none. That simple fact did not stop the media snow ball.”
He ended his affidavit saying: I”I am sorry that the lawsuit caused others to speculate about Senator Bulger’s conduct concerning me and pleased to help him dispel the myth. The truth is simple. Mr. Bulger played no role in connection with my project.”
Keep in mind that Harold Brown was close to being a billionaire so he had no incentive to do anything other than tell the truth. Also, any political power that Bill Bulger had to adversely affect Brown was non-existent at the time. He was being battered around by the media and resigned as president of the University of Massachusetts in August 2003.
Long before I heard of or read that affidavit I was inclined to think poorly of Harold Brown. I decided to see what I could learn about him out of curiosity. I came to admire the man.
This is all from memory that I did years ago so forgive me any errors. Harold Brown grew up in Dorchester. He graduated from MIT. He served in the Navy during WWII and Korea. At some point after that, I believe in 1954, he bought a small apartment building. With his own hands he began to remodel it. He would sleep at night among the plaster and debris working hard to improve it. He gained his wealth in a step-by-step process relying on his own toughness, brawn and brains.
He did get into a couple of jams as he went on. He got caught greasing a the palms of a greedy city employee who was interfering with his work. He wore a wire for the feds to entrap other greedy people; I’m not sure that he did or didn’t get any others.
Overall you have to say Harold Brown is a person to respect for what he accomplished. No one helped him. He did it on his own. How could I not admire the guy for doing that? May he rest in peace.