Finneran Indicted by Federal Jury - Perjury, Obstruction of Justice

June 7, 2005
Author: John J. Monahan

 

BOSTON - Democratic former House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran was indicted by a federal grand jury yesterday on three counts of perjury and one count of obstruction of justice, over his allegedly false testimony in a 2003 federal voting rights case investigating
racial gerrymandering.


The indictment charges that while testifying under oath in a trial in that case, and during pretrial depositions, Mr. Finneran repeatedly gave false and misleading testimony by denying he had personal knowledge of, or involvement in, the drawing of new legislative district lines for a statewide redistricting plan.


Federal officials charge, however, that he had several meetings and phone conversations with lawmakers from Worcester, Lowell, Newton and Springfield on changes to their districts and his own, before the 2001 redistricting plan was filed with the House Clerk.


The most serious charge, obstruction of justice, alleges that during testimony at the trial and in pretrial depositions, Mr. Finneran "knowingly and willfully" made false and misleading statements "with the intent to obstruct justice" by denying his involvement in the redistricting process, and knowledge of the plan before it was filed. He was also charged with obstruction for denying that he had calendars that showed times and dates of certain political events he attended, which federal prosecutors allege was false.


The federal court challenge to the redistricting plan was brought by black and Latino voters in Boston who claimed the plan squeezed black voters into a small number of districts and splintered the minority vote in other districts to protect white incumbents.


A three-judge federal appeals court agreed and forced a redrafting of the plan. The judges also publicly questioned Mr. Finneran's testimony that he was unaware of the details of the plan as it was being drafted, stating at the time that "circumstantial evidence strongly suggests the opposite."


Although each count of perjury carries a sentence of up to five years in prison, and the obstruction charge carries a maximum of ten years, U.S. Attorney Michael J. Sullivan said if convicted of all four counts, Mr. Finneran would face 16 to 21 months in jail under federal sentencing guidelines.


If the case goes to trial, numerous lawmakers who have already appeared before a federal grand jury in the matter may become key witnesses. They include state Rep. Thomas M. Petrolati, D-Ludlow, who was chairman of the Redistricting Committee and produced the redistricting plan, and state Reps. John P. Fresolo, D-Worcester, and Vincent A. Pedone, D-Worcester, who met with Mr. Petrolati and Mr. Finneran over a district boundary dispute while the plan was being drafted.


News of the indictment rocked Statehouse officials yesterday.


While it was widely known that the FBI and U.S. Attorney's office was conducting a grand jury investigation, many expected no indictment, a negotiated plea bargain or lesser charges.


Mr. Finneran left the Legislature while the investigation was under way last year to become director of the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council. He has said recently he planned to stay on in that post if indicted.