BOSTON, DEC. 15, 2014 – Citing past cases and expanded gambling’s “fertile ground” for public corruption, FBI officials in Boston launched a toll-free tip line Monday and a billboard campaign that targets government wrongdoing.
The number of public corruption cases hasn’t dropped despite some recent convictions, according to Vincent Lisi, special agent in charge of the Boston office.
“The fact that they aren’t decreasing, coupled with the potential that they could be increasing with legalized gaming, causes us some concern,” he said.
Two resort casinos are on track to open in Massachusetts in the next few years – with licenses handed out to MGM in Springfield and Wynn Resorts in Everett – after lawmakers approved a 2011 law allowing up to three casinos and a slot parlor.
FBI officials highlighted previous successful corruption cases, including efforts involving a Maine selectman who was sentenced to seven years on extortion and fraud charges in June, former House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi’s conviction leading to an eight-year sentence in Sept. 2011, the third of three former North Providence councilmen sentenced to 71 months in May 2011, former Boston City Councilor Chuck Turner’s 36-month sentence set in Jan. 2011, and former Sen. Dianne Wilkerson pleading guilty to extortion in June 2010.
“There have been the prosecutions, there have been the convictions, three of the last four speakers of the House, this is continuous,” said Lucy Ziobro, assistant special agent in charge of white collar crimes and public corruption, referring to former House Speakers Charles Flaherty, Thomas Finneran, and DiMasi. “It’s not just Boston. It’s in small towns like Chelsea, Maine. It’s down in Providence. It’s pervasive.”
Ziobro said the FBI is seeking to remind the public that they have a role. “They need to help us so we can help them,” she said.
The dedicated tip line is 1-844-NOBRIBE (1-844-662-7423). The FBI will “absolutely strive” to protect tipsters’ identities, Lisi said.
The billboards, which will be located throughout the region, are being donated by owners like Clear Channel as a “public service,” according to Lisi.
The FBI will also buy ads on Facebook, the popular social networking site. Tips can be submitted online at tips.fbi.gov.
Asked about the federal investigation into state probation department hiring, Lisi said the case was “completely closed” and they did not have regrets in how the case was handled.
In July, the former probation commissioner, John O’Brien, and two of his former deputies were convicted on public corruption charges in connection with operating a fraudulent hiring system designed to guarantee jobs to applicants recommended by legislators. No legislators were charged in the case.
Lisi declined to comment on the case involving Charles Lightbody, one of three men charged in connection with allegedly hiding from Wynn and state gaming regulators the financial interest of a felon in a parcel of land in Everett.
“That case is ongoing,” Lisi said, when asked if there will be additional arrests.
FBI officials were also asked about medical marijuana, given their concerns about expanded gambling.
Lisi said both the casino industry and the burgeoning medical marijuana industry have “several factors” that make them similar, but the FBI hasn’t done an analysis about whether their concerns with expanded gambling overlap with medical marijuana.
The implementation of a voter-approved ballot question to bring medical marijuana to the Bay State has hit speed bumps as state officials say they are attempting to vet proposals for dispensaries and ballot proponents say patients desperately need access to the relief the law promised.
Harvard University earlier this month released some results from a survey that said Massachusetts was not as corrupt as other states.
The survey included U.S. Justice Department figures that say 20,000 public officials and private individuals were convicted of corruption in the last 20 years. More than 5,000 are “awaiting trial, the overwhelming majority of cases having originated in state and local governments,” Harvard researchers said in a blog post.