What Were the Biggest Stories in Massachusetts for 2019?

From an indicted mayor to 'Operation Varsity Blues' to the criminal case that was eventually dropped against actor Kevin Spacey, plenty of stories made headlines in Bay State courtrooms

lori loughlin felicity huffman at court
Mark Garfinkel/NBC10 Boston

2019's biggest stories in Massachusetts played out in the courtroom.

Dozens of wealthy and privileged parents — some of them Hollywood stars — were ensnared in a nationwide college admissions bribery scandal. A judge tossed a sexual assault case against actor Kevin Spacey after his accuser refused to testify.

The state's highest court upheld Michelle Carter's manslaughter conviction for sending her suicidal boyfriend a barrage of text messages urging him to kill himself. Pharmaceutical company executives were found guilty of bribing doctors to prescribe a highly addictive opioid. And Massachusetts' attorney general launched fresh legal challenges to the Trump administration's immigration policies.

A look back at those and other top stories:


Federal prosecutors dubbed it "Operation Varsity Blues," and the scope was staggering: affluent and influential parents indicted for paying bribes to rig their children's test scores or get them admitted to elite universities as recruited athletes. "Desperate Housewives" star Felicity Huffman pleaded guilty and served two weeks in prison, but "Full House" actress Lori Loughlin and her fashion designer husband maintained their innocence and are expected to stand trial in 2020.


Prosecutors dropped a criminal case against Kevin Spacey alleging he groped an 18-year-old man at a Nantucket bar in 2016. The "House of Cards" actor's accuser invoked his Fifth Amendment right not to testify about text messages from the night of the alleged encounter. Los Angeles prosecutors later tossed a separate sexual battery charge against Spacey after the accuser in that case died.


The state's highest court upheld Michelle Carter's 2017 involuntary manslaughter conviction in the suicide death of her despondent boyfriend, to whom she had sent insistent text messages urging him to take his own life, and the state Parole Board denied her request for early release. Carter's lawyers maintain her texts were free speech and have appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which hasn't yet decided whether it will take up the case.


A jury convicted a pharmaceutical company founder of racketeering conspiracy for paying doctors millions in bribes to prescribe his company's highly addictive fentanyl spray — even using a stripper-turned-sales-rep to give a physician a lap dance. Convicted along with John Kapoor, the 76-year-old former chairman of Insys Therapeutics, were four other ex-employees of the Chandler, Arizona-based company and the former exotic dancer.


Massachusetts' Democratic attorney general, Maura Healey, and the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union mounted fresh legal challenges of the Trump administration's tough policies on immigration. Lawsuits in federal court in Boston highlighted some detainees' need for medical treatment and the government's strict cap on the number of refugees fleeing disaster and strife abroad.


Jasiel Correia had seemed almost bulletproof. In March, voters in Fall River reelected the embattled mayor after he was charged in 2018 with defrauding investors in an app he developed to bankroll a lavish lifestyle. But Correia's political good fortunes ran out — federal authorities indicted the 27-year-old for allegedly stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from marijuana companies. In November, voters unceremoniously threw him out of office.


Continuing Massachusetts' tradition of producing presidential candidates, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren jumped into the race for the Democratic nomination early, followed by U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton, who exited in August. Much later, former governor Deval Patrick, the state's first black governor, declared his candidacy. Ex-Gov. William Weld, a Republican, launched a challenge to President Donald Trump. And Democratic congressman Joe Kennedy III, a grandson of Robert F. Kennedy, announced a primary run against U.S. Sen. Edward Markey.


Nearly half a century after it began generating electricity, the Pilgrim nuclear power plant permanently shut down. Environmentalists had clamored for decades for the closure of the state's only remaining reactor. The decommissioning of the complex in Plymouth, which came online in 1972, left Seabrook in New Hampshire and Millstone in Connecticut as New England's only still-operating commercial nuclear plants.


Responding to growing concerns about the health effects of vaping, Massachusetts became the first state to ban flavored tobacco and nicotine vaping products. Anti-smoking groups hailed the ban, which restricts the sale and consumption of flavored vaping products and will do the same for menthol cigarettes starting June 1, 2020. It came after Republican Gov. Charlie Baker declared a public health emergency and imposed a temporary ban.


Massachusetts' third casino, Encore Boston Harbor, opened in the gritty suburb of Everett after months of uncertainty. Las Vegas-based Wynn Resorts' glitzy $2.6 billion complex had been beset by legal troubles and a failed attempt to sell the complex to rival MGM Resorts. Encore features a 671-room bronzed-toned hotel tower, a gambling floor with 3,100 slot machines and 231 table games, and 15 bars and restaurants.

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