EXCLUSIVE: Two senior officials for the city of Boston – including the head of its film office – have been placed on administrative leave after being indicted in an alleged extortion scheme to force a music festival producer to employ members of IATSE Stagehands Local 11. Their indictments stem from an FBI investigation launched after a Deadline exposé of the city’s film office, which had sought to curry favor with union leaders by withholding city permits sought by nonunion producers.
Kenneth Brissette, the director of the Office of Tourism, Sports and Entertainment – the city’s film permit office – and Timothy Sullivan, chief of staff of Boston’s office of Intergovernmental Relations, have been replaced pending the outcome of their criminal cases. “They’ve been placed on paid administrative leave,” a spokesman for the mayor’s office told Deadline.
The two men were arrested on charges that they’d told producers of the 2014 Boston Calling music festival that they wouldn’t issue them the necessary city permits unless they hired Local 11’s members. Brissette was indicted on May 19, and Sullivan was indicted on June 29. Both pleaded not guilty this month.
“Local 11 had attempted to obtain work from the company since March 2013,” the U.S. Attorney’s office said. “The company told Brissette and Sullivan that it had already entered into a contract with a non-union company and hired all of its labor. Nevertheless, Brissette and Sullivan allegedly insisted that half of the company’s labor force consist of union members, although they ultimately agreed that eight members of Local 11 would suffice. As a result of these City officials’ demands three days before the music festival the company entered into a contract with Local 11 for eight additional laborers and one foreman. Shortly thereafter, the City of Boston issued the necessary permits.”
The FBI began its investigation of the city’s film permit office after Deadline reported that city officials had withheld filming permits for Top Chef while it was involved in a bitter labor dispute with Boston Teamsters Local 25. As first reported here in August 2014, members of the Teamsters local – five of whom later would be indicted for attempted extortion – threatened Top Chef host Padma Lakshmi and several other members of her crew and slashed the tires of production vehicles during a picket action against the nonunion show.
Two days later, Deadline reported that the Mayor’s Office of Tourism had withheld permits on the show. By that time, Boston Mayor Martin Walsh already had made a guest appearance on the show before learning that it was a nonunion shoot. “The mayor’s office said he felt ‘sideswiped,’” a source familiar with the situation said, “and because of that, they held up the show’s permits for a couple of days and threatened to not issue permits for the rest of the shoot.”
As Deadline reported at that time, withholding film permits because of a show’s union status is a violation of Massachusetts state law.
In announcing the indictments against Brissette for allegedly extorting the music festival to hire IATSE members, the U.S. Attorney’s office noted that he had done the same thing with regards to Top Chef and the Boston Teamsters local. “In closely related activity in the summer of 2014, Brissette was involved in pressuring a non-union production company filming a reality television show in Boston to hire union workers. When the chief of operations for the City of Boston and the director of the Massachusetts State Film Office learned that Brissette had been pressuring a non-union film company to hire union workers, they separately told Brissette that it was not legal to withhold city permits based on a company’s union or non-union status and could not discriminate on the basis of whether or not a company was union or non-union.”
If convicted, Brissette and Sullivan face up to 20 years in prison, three years of supervised release and fines of $250,000 each.
If convicted, the five Teamsters face up to 20 years in prison and fines of $250,000, though actual sentences for federal crimes typically are less than the maximum penalties.