Boston official arrested on extortion charge, US Attorney says

Mayor Marty Walsh said he was "deeply concerned" about the news.

Ken Brissette, Director of Tourism and Sports for the City of Boston.
Ken Brissette, director of tourism for the city of Boston. –Wendy Maeda/The Boston Globe

The city of Boston’s chief tourism and entertainment official was indicted by a federal grand jury on an extortion charge for allegedly pressuring a local music festival to hire union workers, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Kenneth Brissette, 52, is the director of the Boston Office of Tourism, Sports and Entertainment, and helped secure permits for festivals and events in the city. He is on paid administrative leave, according to a statement by the city of Boston.

According to the indictment, Brissette “repeatedly advised” a twice-yearly music festival that it would need to hire union members to hold the event.

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The Boston Globe reported last month that federal officials were investigating Brissette’s role in Boston Calling, the biannual concert on City Hall Plaza.

Three days before its September 2014 event, the music festival hired eight union workers and one foreman from the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Local 11, according to the indictment. The city of Boston issued permits for the festival shortly thereafter, the indictment alleges.

Brissette pleaded not guilty Thursday afternoon.

In a statement released by his attorney, Brissette said the charge against him “is factually and legally flawed.”

“I intend to fight these false charges with everything at my disposal,” he said. “I look forward to my ultimate vindication in the United States District Court.”

The indictment says “at least one other City Hall employee,” who was not named, also advised organizers to hire union workers.

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh said he was “deeply concerned” about Brissette’s indictment in a statement Thursday.

“Everyone who knows Ken knows him to be a good and hardworking person,” Walsh said. “We will continue to work with the U.S. Attorney’s Office to get to the bottom of this. Everyone in my administration should know that there is only one way to do things and that is the right way.”

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The extortion charge has a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, three years of supervised release, and a fine of $250,000.

Brissette had previously been implicated in a 2014 incident involving the reality TV program Top Chef. Filming for one of the show’s episodes was met with intense labor protests for its use of nonunion workers, and eventually led to indictments for several members of the Teamsters Local 25.

That indictment noted that a City Hall official had contacted restaurants that were set to be on the program. An internal City Hall report found that Brissette had contacted the restaurants to warn them about the possibility of protests. The report said Brissette did not collude with the Teamsters or act on the whim of other city officials.

The city report was prepared by Brian Kelly, an outside attorney. Kelly is still working with the city, and his fee increased in early 2016.

“The original contracted amount did not anticipate the complexity and protracted nature of these matters and was insufficient to meet the costs of the services being rendered,” the city’s top lawyer, Eugene O’Flaherty, told the Globe.

Walsh spokeswoman Laura Oggeri said Kelly is reviewing the Boston Calling allegations against Brissette.

This week’s indictment charges Brissette for the Boston Calling-related allegations, but also details circumstances that appear to match the Top Chef incident. Brissette allegedly told city and state officials that he had “pulled” permits from a reality TV production company due to the labor dispute, according to the indictment.

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The indictment says Brissette made “similar demands” for the music festival just months later, despite city and state officials telling him his conduct around Top Chef had been improper.

The Globe has reported that Brissette’s boss, Walsh, a former labor leader, is also being probed by the feds for his own role in a labor dispute at Somerville’s Assembly Row in 2012, while he was still a state representative.

Walsh has denied using bullying tactics while serving as the head of the Boston Building Trades.

Brissette, formerly of the state’s Office of Travel and Tourism, was hired in 2014, shortly after the start of Walsh’s term as mayor.

In late April, the city announced it had brought in outside consultants to review the tourism office.

Representatives from Top Chef and Boston Calling declined to comment. A representative from IATSE, Local 11 did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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