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Federal Courts Reject Leniency Pleas from Politically-Connected Defendants

by David M. Reutter

Despite a prosecutor’s request for a probationary sentence, a Massachusetts federal judge sentenced Patrice Tierney, 60, the wife of U.S. Representative John F. Tierney, to 30 days in prison followed by five months on house arrest as part of two years’ supervised release. She also must pay $2,900 in court costs and fines.

In October 2010, Tierney pleaded guilty to four counts of aiding and abetting the filing of false tax returns for a federal fugitive who fled the county after being indicted on charges of illegal gambling and money laundering.

From the early 1980’s to 2001, Tierney’s brother, Robert Eremian, ran a large-scale illegal gambling business. After state police raided his office in 1996, Eremian fled to Antigua in the West Indies where he set up another gambling business. Between 2003 and 2009, Patrice Tierney paid the bills for her brother’s three children and their mother, balanced Eremian’s bank account and provided information to his tax preparer that resulted in the false tax filings.

Those filings were false because rather than being paid legitimate commissions as a consultant, which is what Tierney said she believed her brother was doing, Eremian’s bank account collected more than $7 million in illegal gambling profits. Tierney received about $20,000 to $30,000 annually from the account as “gifts.”

At her sentencing hearing on January 13, 2011, the prosecutor requested that Tierney receive 90 days on house arrest plus two years probation. He noted that she was a first-time offender, the wife of a Congressman, and her conviction had drawn media attention and shame that served as its own punishment.

“You’re saying that because she’s married to a Congressman – who’s not implicated in this in any way, shape or form – this generates some media interest?” asked U.S. District Court Judge William G. Young. “And because of that, you’re saying the shame and general public awareness warrants probation?”

“In this particular case, yes, that is general deterrence,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Fred M. Wyshak, Jr.

The judge disagreed. “She should get the sentence that anyone else would get,” said Young. He also rejected Tierney’s attorney’s position that she was a good person who made a mistake. “This isn’t a mistake,” Judge Young stated. “People aren’t guilty of tax crimes because they make mistakes.”

Tierney reported to the minimum-security Danbury Federal Correctional Institution to serve her 30-day sentence in February 2011. Her case was one of three in as many weeks in which federal courts rejected special treatment for people with political connections.
Former Massachusetts State Senator Dianne Wilkerson saw her pleas for leniency denied when a federal judge sentenced her on January 6, 2011 to 3½ years in prison.

Wilkerson pleaded guilty to eight counts of attempted extortion for taking $23,500 in bribes related to a liquor license and legislation to allow a commercial development in her district. The FBI had audio and video recordings of Wilkerson taking the bribes; in one case she stuffed ten $100 bills down her bra at a restaurant. While accepting responsibility, Wilkerson also sought to downplay her actions.

“If it was possible to do something criminal without being criminal, that would be me,” she said at her sentencing hearing. She had served in the state senate for 16 years.

Former Boston City Councilor Chuck Turner, 70, also was implicated in the investigation, for taking a $1,000 bribe. He was convicted on one count of attempted extortion and three counts of lying to FBI agents, and sentenced on January 25, 2011 to three years in federal prison plus three years supervised release. Turner has maintained his innocence.

The court in Wilkerson’s case said Massachusetts politicians have been engaging in political corruption without fear of serious consequences.

PLN has previously reported some of the rare cases in which people with political connections who commit crimes have received prison sentences comparable to those routinely given to defendants without such connections. [See: PLN, April 2010, p.22].
We look forward to a continuation of this trend. But for now, it is like getting hit by lightning. It happens, but not often.

Sources: Boston Globe,,,

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