John Tierney says court order that was challenged at trial comforted him regarding relatives’ gambling

US Representative John F. Tierney left the podium after holding a news conference on July 3 in Salem.
US Representative John F. Tierney left the podium after holding a news conference on July 3 in Salem.
Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff

US Representative John F. Tierney said repeatedly earlier this month that he had no idea his relatives were involved in an illegal gambling ring, citing what he labeled as a “court order” allowing his brother-in-law Robert Eremian to return to the Caribbean in 2002 to serve as a software consultant to a legal offshore betting operation.

Yet Tierney sat in court last fall as his wife, Patrice, testified in the trial of another of her brothers, and listened as a federal judge labeled that document as no absolution for Eremian’s alleged return to a life of illegal gambling activity.

The congressman also made his statement knowing Patrice Tierney had pleaded guilty in her own case to being “willfully blind” to some of the more obvious signs of her brother’s alleged return to crime.

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“There is no evidence that this court or the Probation Office was ever told the nature of what the business was in Antigua, or what was happening in Massachusetts,” Judge Patti B. Saris told jurors last November as the document was introduced into evidence during the trial of Robert Eremian’s brother Daniel.

In a private sidebar conversation with attorneys in the case, including one representing Patrice Tierney, the judge was even more blunt.

“[W]hat I’m not going to let happen, especially with the entire press corps out there, is for you to make the argument that Judge [Joseph L.] Tauro of this court said it was OK, or the Probation Office of this court,” Saris told Daniel Eremian’s attorney, Marc S. Nurik, according to the trial transcript.

Saris added in the same sidebar conversation: “I will allow this in [to evidence], but I would do this with a curative instruction that there is no evidence that Judge Tauro understood the full scope of what was happening that you’ve heard about in this trial, because the one thing that’s undisputed is all these hundreds of thousands of dollars of cash collections in paper bags, and people placing calls. There is no idea, nothing that I think either [Probation Officer] Pam Lombardini or Judge Tauro would have known about that, based on what you’ve just told me.”

Nonetheless, during a July 3 news conference, called after both Robert and Daniel Eremian claimed late last month that John Tierney “knew everything” about what authorities label an illegal enterprise, the congressman repeatedly referenced the 2002 document as justification for him and his wife not to suspect her brothers of criminal activity.

A report in the Boston Sunday Globe, based review of court records and other publicly available information, showed that “John Tierney had ample reason to be wary of his brothers-in-law during his 15 years of marriage to their sister and many opportunities over the last decade to learn that their Antigua-based gambling business was illegally targeting American gamblers.”

Tierney’s argument about what he knew—or could have reasonably been expected to know—is not a casual one; the Salem Democrat faces high political stakes.

He is being challenged for a ninth term this fall by former state Senate Minority Leader Richard Tisei of Wakefield, who has made the Eremian ring a campaign issue. National Republicans are casting the race as one of their best pickup opportunities in the country.

“I believed at the time that my brother-in-law was working in a legitimate, on-line gambling business in Antigua,” Tierney told reporters earlier this month during the opening statement of his news conference. “I believed this because Robert’s parole officer—supervising parole officer—believed it. I believed it because the assistant US Attorney working on his 2002 case believed it. And I believed it because a United States District Court judge believed it. Each of them—the supervising probation officer, the US Attorney, and federal District Court judge—had each given him expressed permission, in court, to go to Antigua for that work.”

He repeated the theme throughout the 42-minute session, saying at one point that when skeptical constituents ask him about the case, he allays their concerns by citing the document.

It is not a court order drafted by a judge, per se, but a judge’s signature on a probation officer’s memorandum.

“When they knew he was there on court order, they get it quite clearly,” Tierney told reporters as he related his conversations with voters in the Sixth Congressional District.

The prosecutor for the trial of Daniel Eremian, who was accused of being involved with the same conspiracy with Robert Eremian, had a much less charitable view of the document as he sought to limit Patrice Tierney’s use of it during her testimony last November.

“Mr. [Robert] Eremian’s representation to Judge Tauro and to the US Attorney’s office was, again, that he was just a computer consultant, not the owner, not the operator. He lied to Probation about what he was doing, and they should not be able to profit,” Assistant US Attorney Fred M. Wyshak Jr. said to Saris.

In a follow-up interview with the Globe three days after his news conference, Tierney said that Saris “was saying you can’t use that to say that the judge, the probation officer, and the US Attorney had sent them down there to do something illegal.”

But, he said, “most reasonable people” believe a probation officer would have monitored Eremian, to ensure that wasn’t the case.

“It’s why you have supervising probation officers,” to check out employers, where they live, and where they work, the congressman told the Globe.

The Sunday Globe story said that “federal probation officials say they seldom travel to other countries to check on probationers because they have no jurisdiction.”

Robert Eremian has a long criminal history, including a 1978 conviction in Maine for marijuana distribution.

In 1995, authorities raided his Lynnfield home as part of a gambling probe, and in 1998, he was indicted. The case dragged on for four years, until he reached a plea bargain with the US Attorney’s office.

Robert Eremian agreed to plead guilty to tax evasion, and on Oct. 8, 2002, was sentenced to two years probation and $58,422 in restitution to the Internal Revenue Service.

He paid the restitution on the spot.

A little more that a month later, Lombardini wrote to Tauro, a respected jurist who has served as chief judge of the US District Court in Boston, and asked for his approval to allow Robert Eremian to work part-time in Antigua.

“There, he is employed as a software consultant for ‘SOS’ [Sports Off Shore],” Lombardini wrote.

She said the government of Antigua had no objection, nor did the prosecutor who handled the gambling/tax evasion case, Assistant US Attorney Jeffrey Auerhahn.

“Mr. Eremian is proposing that he spend every other month in Antigua,” Lombardini told Tauro. “While in the United States, he will reside with his mother in Beverly, Mass.”

Tauro signed the request in thick black marker on Nov. 20, 2002.

Over the next eight years, prosecutors allege, Eremian emerged as far more than a software consultant to Sports Off Shore. Rather, they say, he was its operator and the mastermind of a conspiracy to funnel US cash—not just online bets—to the offshore operation.

Prosecutors said he used Daniel Eremian and others to collect his debts and handle other US aspects of the business.

Robert Eremian, Daniel Eremian, Todd Lyons of Beverly, and a fourth defendant, Richard Sullivan of Marblehead, were the focus of a 442-count indictment in 2010 accusing them of racketeering, money laundering, and operating an illegal gambling business, among other charges.

Daniel Eremian and Lyons were convicted in December, and they began service their sentences late last month.

Patrice Tierney also became ensnared in the case. She pleaded guilty in October 2010 to being “willfully blind” to the operation as she managed a Massachusetts bank account for her brother that received what authorities said were at least $7 million in illegal gambling profits.

She also acknowledged that she provided information to his tax preparer that mischaracterized his profits as commissions. Patrice Tierney spent 30 days in jail and continues to serve out two years of probation.

Robert Eremian, however, has not faced trial or punishment. He and Sullivan remain fugitives from justice in Antigua, an island nation does not have an extradition treaty with the US.

Testimony during the trial of Lyons and Daniel Eremian provided insight into the alleged conspiracy, though.

It also offered the only chance yet for Patrice Tierney to testify publicly about what she knew about it, and any admitted “red flags” she may have overlooked during the span between when Tauro agreed in 2002 to let Robert Eremian return part-time to Antigua, and when Eremian was indicted anew in 2010.

For example, Patrice Tierney acknowledged on the witness stand that she continued to work for her brother even after she learned in 2009 that he was under investigation by federal authorities.

She also said she received checks from associates of her brother—but made out in her name—that she deposited into his account. And she was asked about a time she took $250,000 out of her brother’s account, paid for a bank check made out to “Benevolence Funding,” and sent it to him in Antigua.

Prosecutors alleged Benevolence Funding was one of Robert Eremian’s sham companies to launder gambling profits, and Wyshak asked Patrice Eremian if she should have been suspicious about cutting a check not in her brother’s name, but in the name of an entity that sounded like a charity.

“It’s possible a red flag. I should have asked what Benevolence fund was,” she testified.

Such details propelled Saris, the judge who presided over the trial of Lyons and Daniel Eremian, to object in her strong terms to the suggestion that the probation memo Tauro signed somehow gave consent for a future Robert Eremian conspiracy.

“My concern is, any implication that Judge Tauro blessed this by letting him go is inappropriate, and that is essentially the inference you’re seeking to leave,” the judge told Nurik in a sidebar conversation as the defense attorney prepared to ask Patrice Tierney about the document.