Trial Begins for 2 Boston Officials Accused of Extortion

Opening statements for the trial of Kenneth Brissette and Timothy Sullivan are scheduled to begin Tuesday

Two aides of Boston Mayor Marty Walsh are on trial for extortion charges after allegedly bullying organizers of the Boston Calling music festival into hiring union workers.

City tourism chief Kenneth Brissette and Director of intergovernmental relations Timothy Sullivan -- who are both on paid leave -- allegedly told organizers of the 2014 Boston Calling music festival that if they didn't hire union workers, workers would picket.

The prosecution said in its opening argument Tuesday that organizers never had to hire union labor for the festival until Walsh was elected and that obtaining permits became more difficult. The prosecutors allege the promoter was forced to hire union workers as payback to a union and political supporter of Walsh.

"The evidence will show that the defendants forced the promoter to hire union workers to please their boss, the mayor, who owed a debt to the unions," Assistant US Attorney Kristina Barclay said during opening statements.

The defense claimed the defendants were just doing their job, saying the defendants asked Crash Line Productions, the company behind the festival, to hire union workers because the union was going to picket on City Hall and they did not want to see that happen.

"Neither of these men had a wrongful purpose," defense attorney Bill Kettlewell said. "Their purpose was to make sure the city and concert could coexist without a union picket."

Defense lawyers argued obtaining permits was more difficult because the Boston Police Department was worried about the safety of its liquor license.

The arguments came amid speculation that Walsh may have to testify, which would make him the first sitting mayor to take the stand in a criminal trial in nearly 100 years.

Walsh responded to questions from reporters about the case at a separate event Tuesday.

"This is a trial. This is the first day and as it goes on, there will be more testimony given so I don't think it's appropriate for me to talk about every time I'm mentioned or somebody's mentioned. It's a trial, so we'll see what happened towards the end of it," Walsh said.

The charges against Brissette and Sullivan were originally dismissed, but later reinstated after an appeals court sided with the federal government.

NBC10 Boston legal analyst Michael Coyne said it could still be a difficult burden of proof for federal prosecutors.

"Especially in a case where the defendants are going to argue that they did not receive any personal benefit from it, that they were simply trying to encourage more jobs, which one would argue is their responsibility to the people they serve," Coyne said.

The trial is expected to last two weeks.

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