The Cost of Investigating a Telephone Call: Mayor Martin Walsh’s Purchase of a Pig in a Poke

2015 11 29_3161“Stealing-is-Stealing” U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz sought to make sure that a call someone made from City Hall in Boston to a couple of businesses telling them if they let some reality show use their premises the next day they may be picketed would be noticed by including it in an indictment. It had no connection to the crime charged. Yet, it certainly received a lot of headlines.

She was talking about the recent indictment of five Teamsters. Let me remind you what she said: “In the course of this alleged conspiracy, they managed to chase a legitimate business out of the City of Boston and then harassed the cast and crew when they set up shop in Milton, This kind of conduct reflects poorly on our city and must be addressed for what it is – not union organizing, but criminal extortion.”

We who follow events in Boston have come to expect our U.S. Attorney to make normal activities into crimes. We saw it in the probation commissioner case where patronage was turned into racketeering. We see it now where picketing is turned into racketeering.

Her indictment of labor picketers reminds me of the days of the late 19th and early 20th Century when labor strikes were considered the work of anarchists. They were violently suppressed by federal and state troops. The strikers were condemned by the media and often indicted, sometimes for murder, even though most of those who dies were strikers. At least back then labor fought back while now it is silent.

Picketing, slow downs, sit downs, and strikes are all work actions designed to get union members a better deal. They have never been thought of as extortion. Stealing-Is-Stealing comes along and normal labor activities are turned into crimes..

The indictment against the Teamsters that included the City Hall telephone call spurred some frantic panicked activity by Boston’s mayor Marty Walsh. He immediately sought the help of a former federal prosecutor, Brian Kelly, who is now working for a private firm. When asked why he was hired Kelly responded: “There are serious allegations involved here, and the city is simply being prudent and wants to make sure it gets to the bottom of the situation.”

Serious allegations? What’s so serious about a guy from City Hall calling a business and saying he’s heard there will be pickets outside their  business the next day if they host an event?

Anyway, let’s assume that they are serious. The investigation into them began on October 1, 2015. Keep in mind this is a discrete event — a telephone call from one person to two businesses. The person is known as are the businesses. How long do you think it should take to get to the bottom of this: an hour, a day, a week, a month? More?

What about two months and counting even though on October 2  it is reported: “The Globe, citing two sources, says the aide was Kenneth Brissette, director of tourism, sports, and entertainment for the administration.”

Kelly is being paid $625 an hour; his helper another $285, making the city liable for $910 an hour to find out what is already known. According to the Boston Herald in late October the Mayor said Kelly’s investigation should be wrapped up in a month.

Well we are over two months into the investigation. It seems the Mayor is starting to panic. He knows this is a nothing investigation and he hired Kelly just to put on a show. Apparently Kelly didn’t get the word that he was just supposed to be wallpaper.

The Mayor’s probably taken a look at some of the bills being submitted by Kelly and recognizing he let a fox in the hen’s house. All those hours spent with his friends in the U.S. Attorney’s office “investigating” the matter are beginning to add up.

The latest news is the Mayor has capped Kelly’s pay at $50,000.  Not a bad amount to find out who made a telephone call and why. But the cap talk is just for cover. It  isn’t really a cap, the Mayor’s office says:” “Attorney Kelly has been instructed to complete a thorough and comprehensive review and compensation for his work will be updated accordingly should it exceed that amount,”  Should he exceed it? Better, when he exceeds it.  

Here we are in December. The nothing “investigation” is still on going. The Mayor should recognize Kelly won’t rest until he gets to the bottom of this. As he said, there are serious matters involved and you can bet he will hold on to this case like a junk yard dog hangs on to your leg. He will leave no stone unturned. That there was nothing to investigate in the first place means the investigation is into nothingness which must be endless.

I can hardly wait to see the “report” Kelly will issue; or better yet his time sheet.  They, however, will probably be held in confidence. When it is over we’ll wonder what the whole fuss was about. I guess only Stealing-Is Stealing knows.


  1. This low-level Teamsters case is a three-way shakedown by former AUSAs Brian T. Kelly, Tom Frongillo, and Paul V. Kelly of the City of Boston and Mayor Walsh for legal fees. As long as Mayor Walsh takes care of this love triangle, AUSAs Fred Wyshak and Laura Kaplan will leave Boston alone and look for a few “chumps” to indict with less political juice like the Everett Mayor (no disrespect). Especially, now that the Wynn casino licensing is complete, they do not need him anymore.

  2. As the City’s client, isn’t Kelly only supposed to investigate as directed by the Mayor? If the Mayor tells him to stop, he should, as he is not acting as a criminal investigator, but through an attorney-client relationship.

    • Dave:

      That is the trap the Mayor has fallen into. If he dares tell Kelly to stop then the media will be all over him writing:“Mayor Cuts Short Investigation” which will be followed up with an editorial “What Does Mayor Have to Hide” and some gossip columnist will write: “Kelly Fired After Closing In on Mayor” and there will an editorial demanding the U.S. Attorney to look into Kelly’s firing.

      The politics of it requires the Mayor to let Kelly eat from the city trough until he is full; and that could take a long time.

  3. “We who follow events in Boston have come to expect our U.S. Attorney to make normal activities into crimes. We saw it in the probation commissioner case where patronage was turned into racketeering. We see it now where picketing is turned into racketeering.”

    “I call it the law of the instrument, and it may be formulated as follows: Give a small boy a hammer, and he will find that everything he encounters needs pounding.” – Abraham Kaplan (1964), with variants attributed to Abraham Maslow (1966) and others.

    • Ed:

      I guess that is what we are watching happening at the U.S. Attorney’s office: the small boys (and girls) have been given the racketeering hammer and feel compelled to use it.