75 State Street & The Boston Globe: RIP Harold Brown

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.

10 thoughts on “75 State Street & The Boston Globe: RIP Harold Brown

  1. Matt :

    When the Feds came to dig dirt on him with his Ex they got the door slammed in their faces .

    Tom and his Ex were a happy Complex

    We agreed once that we shared a mantra about women : WHATEVER MILADY WANTS !!!

    Alright, Matt , you have been let out of Harold’s Doghouse .

    Woof Woof Woof

    Anytime, Thazzzzzz’ a gooood boy !!!!!!!

  2. Brown’s associate who went to jail for arson was Robert Ward. As to possible arson, I think the best article was done in the old Real Paper by Art Jahnke.
    It was the Boston Redevelopment Authority which was the agency that Finnerty was hired to deal with on Brown’s behalf. Eddie McCormack made a fortune as gatekeeper for the BRA and it is my guess that Finnerty thought he could do the same thing.
    Sen Bulger hurt Finnerty’s case by his general lack of credibility. As you say, it was pretty clear that Finnerty and Bulger were splitting Brown’s fee, but Bulger denied and acted like he was the real victim.
    At Brown’s sentencing hearing, his attorney Harvey Silverglade (sorry about the spelling) submitted a petition from Brown’s tenants, asking the court to go easy on their beloved landlord. The “tenants” were actually from the McCormack housing project. Brown was not beloved by his actual tenants, to put it mildly.
    At some point after the conviction, while Brown was on probation, he got into a dispute with a commercial tenant on Brighton Ave and ripped up a sign, destroying the tenant’s property. Brown’s legal team had to scramble to smooth things over and keep him out of jail.
    In the ’80’s Brown took over a small bank, the University Bank and Trust Company. The Globe Real Estate section published a puff piece about his brilliant plan to have his real estate salespeople also handle the loans, so their commissions would depend on the loans being approved. The bank promptly went down the tubes, to the tune of $120 million. I can’t give all the blame to Brown. After all he went to the Globe, and the regulators approved his application, and they certainly knew about it because I hand delivered a sheaf of letters protesting this arrangement.
    Brown certainly had a gift for getting people, particularly those in the media, to say nice things about him. Everyone from Silverglade, who used his column in the Phoenix to benefit his client, to Bob Biederman, who,( after one of Browns tenants jumped to his death from a hotel that Brown was trying to evict him on) something to the effect of good riddance, there’s one less loser tenant but we’re getting a great new project built, to Howie Carr. There’s a threesome for you

    1. And as Bob colorfully relates Harold was a colorful guy .

      Good Doghouse to stay out of .

  3. Matt:

    At least the tobacconist of Great Britain Street, Tom Finnerty, who know I Well, never called Harold THE TORCH .

    Which you might as well have, based on an homage that seems to imply that he was offering more than a Homage to hang your Fireball 100 cap in to his felonious ” Match Man . ”

    That you make a devastating charge under cover of a musing about the oddity of means and ends in HAROLD WORLD is unfortunate . You are better than that . That is , because unsupported by any evidence that Harold was skulldugging around , a classic SMEAR.


    1. John:

      I did not suggest he torched anything. I was commenting on his loyalty to a man accused of torching a building. He may have known that the man had nothing to do with it despite the allegations of the Commonwealth. Most people would have run from him at the first sign of a problem. He stuck by his friends and co-workers.

      The information was publicly available. It was something that played into my thoughts about the man prior to the time that I learned more about him.

      As for Finnerty, who know what he said about Brown. He should have been very happy with the deal Brown entered into with him. Had he not been a little bit greedy in filing his suit after receiving his windfall he might have saved his friend Bill a ton of trouble.

  4. I tried a lot of civil arson cases in the 70’s and 80’s. It paid much better. The high profile criminal cases though, made jurors much more amenable. Good times.

    The biggest surprise about Brown was his marriage to Joe Nolan’s daughter.

    1. Brian:

      Glad to hear you tried arson cases. You do point to the years when there seemed to be plenty of them around. After that they seemed to go away. Perhaps it was the rise in property values that made them less profitable.

      That marriage was a big surprise. I always wondered what Nolan thought of it.

  5. Matt:

    Harold Brown was an Institution.

    Despite his documented descent into the lap of movie house horrors former Boston City Councillor Dave Scondras was a smart dude . I know he devised a mathematical model that predicted arson attempts indexed to the building’s insurance profile . This very successful model evolved out of the Symphony Row Fires .

    Is that a man yelling FIRE in a theater or did City Councillor Dave Scondras just have a ungrateful young moviegoer knock his teeth down his throat because that was NOT the popcorn.


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