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Menino ex-aide gets probation, not prison, in drug case

Forbes apologizes for his conduct

By Akilah Johnson
Globe Staff / January 19, 2011

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The tense hand-wringing in federal court yesterday gave way to triumphant pats of joy when a former aide to Mayor Thomas M. Menino was sentenced to probation instead of prison for selling OxyContin and cocaine.

John M. Forbes, 31, who served as Menino’s liaison to East Boston until his December 2009 arrest, faced up to 20 years in prison after pleading guilty in October to charges of possession with intent to distribute the opium-derived pain killer and conspiracy to distribute cocaine.

US District Court Judge Richard G. Stearns ordered him to serve five years’ probation and 1,800 hours of community service. And before that sentence was handed out yesterday, Forbes went so far as to thank the court for the 13-month ordeal that culminated in that moment.

“This was the best thing that happened in my life,’’ Forbes told the judge. “For 10 years, I was under the power of addiction, and I used to say to my wife all the time, ‘When will this all end?’ Well, there’s this saying in AA, ‘Be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it.’ And I got it on Dec. 16 when I was arrested. There was this feeling of relief.’’

Forbes apologized to the community for his conduct. But more important, he said, was the remorse he felt for the pain he caused the more than 50 family members and friends, including his parish priest, who crowded the courtroom.

According to prosecutors, Forbes and his codefendant, Lawrence R. Taylor, 61, of Swampscott, sold and conspired to sell the drugs to a cooperating government witness between August and December 2009. Taylor has admitted to his role in the scheme and was sentenced in August to 51 months in prison, authorities said.

The US Drug Enforcement Administration began investigating Forbes around June 2008, according to court documents. He sold a government informant 125 OxyContin tablets in August 2009 and was arrested while trying to sell 10 ounces of cocaine to the informant, records show.

Rosemary C. Scapicchio, a lawyer for Forbes, argued that her client’s actions stemmed not from criminal malice but from his drug addiction that caused him to do uncharacteristic things to support his habit. He was up to a five-pill-a-day habit, she said.

But, she said, he has spent the days since his arrest getting clean and helping others. He completed a 128-day residential treatment program, attends numerous 12-step program meetings, and mentors other addicts. His goal, she said, is to open a drug treatment center in East Boston.

Forbes had worked for the mayor since 2004. He comes from a large East Boston family active in the community and was seen as a well-respected fix-it man who helped residents take care of basic concerns about trash, burned-out street lights, and other city services. He resigned from his job shortly after his arrest.

His recovery, Scapicchio said, was a success story that should be rewarded. “The message that we want to send to other people in Mr. Forbes’s situation, who find themselves in the throes of addiction, is that he can be a source of hope,’’ she said. “He’s the success story. He’s the one they can point to and say, ‘He made it.’ ’’

Stearns agreed, saying it is not often that the court sees defendants like Forbes who turn their lives around.

While Stearns said that he found valid the prosecution’s argument that Forbes should go to jail for the same amount of time as his codefendant to avoid a sentencing disparity, the overwhelming support for Forbes tipped the scales of justice in favor of probation.

More than 80 people wrote letters of support, including Robert E. Travaglini, former Senate president; Councilor Salvatore LaMattina; community leaders; and his former high school principal. Two of his drug counselors spoke on his behalf during yesterday’s sentencing hearing.

“If they all believe that Mr. Forbes is worthy of a second chance, I leave the court knowing that he has not one but 100 probation officers,’’ Stearns said.

US Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz disagreed with the decision, saying in a statement that “the defendant’s conduct deserved jail time.’’

In court, prosecutor Jeffrey Cohen argued that Forbes tried to minimize his culpability, despite his guilty plea.

“The government questions if there was acceptance of responsibility for his conduct, which goes against the letters,’’ said Cohen, who called Forbes’s actions brazen, reckless, and arrogant. “He was in the business of selling OxyContin. We caught him. The seriousness of the offense cannot be minimized.’’

Akilah Johnson can be reached at ajohnson@globe.com.