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Former BOP Employees Guilty of Assaulting a Prisoner and Taking Bribes at Troubled Federal Prison in Massachusetts

On July 10, 2023, a sentence of 12-months plus one day was handed to a former guard at the Federal Medical Center (FMC) in Danvers, Massachusetts, for brutally assaulting a mentally ill prisoner who was restrained. Seth M. Bourget, 43, was also ordered to serve two years of supervised release and pay a $100 special assessment.

The incident unfolded at the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) lockup four years earlier on July 18, 2019, when Bourget was accused of kneeing the unnamed prisoner and using a large shield to beat him. The prisoner, who was not only suffering severe mental illness but also handcuffed at the time, was left with a wound to the back of his head needing 12 staples to close.

Also charged with Bourget was fellow BOP guard Lt. Joseph M. Lavorato. The now-54-year-old was accused of falsifying his incident report and obstructing the subsequent investigation. But he was acquitted on both charges by a jury in federal court for the District of Massachusetts on April 7, 2022.

That same day, jurors also acquitted Bourget on one charge of deprivation of rights under color of law for allegedly kneeing the prisoner. But they hung on a companion charge for beating him with the shield. Prosecutors then took their case to another jury, which returned a guilty verdict after a seven-day trial on December 21, 2022. Judge Denise J. Casper then handed down sentencing. See: United States v. Bourget, USDC (D. Mass.), Case No. 1:20-cr-10029.

“When members of law enforcement demonstrate such poor judgment and gross misconduct, they undermine the exceptional work the vast majority of their colleagues do every day,” said U.S. Attorney Rachael Rollins.

Bourget plans an appeal. Meanwhile, on July 24, 2023, another BOP employee at the prison agreed to plead guilty to taking $140,000 in bribes from a prisoner with “ultra-high net worth.” Former counselor William S. Tidwell, 49, who handed out work and housing assignments, will accept charges in September 2023 of bribery in violation of official duties, making false statements to a bank and identity theft.

Prosecutors say that he took a $25,000 wire transfer from the prisoner’s business associate in 2018, before inking a property management agreement the next year that eventually paid him another $65,000. He also took a $50,000 loan from the business associate to buy a home, lying to a bank that it was a gift. See: United States v. Tidwell, USDC (D. Mass.), Case No. 1:23-cr-10193.

As if that weren’t enough, the prison got yet another black eye on May 23, 2023, when an investigation by STAT magazine found the medically vulnerable prisoners at FMC Devens were among the last held by BOP to get vaccinated for COVID-19. During the two months they waited after vaccines became available in December 2020, eight prisoners died from the disease. A BOP spokesperson said the prison’s first 600-dose vaccine allotment went entirely to staff but insisted this was “in-line with BOP guidance and strategy at the time, prioritizing staff vaccinations due to their daily travel between the community and the institution.”

“These findings are deeply concerning,” said U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), “especially if FMC Devens’s negligence contributed to higher COVID-19 infection rates and deaths that could have been prevented with a comprehensive testing and vaccination strategy.” 

Additional sources: Boston Globe, STAT, WBUR