Boston pol pleads guilty, avoids jail

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BOSTON (AP) – Saying “I shamed myself,” former House Speaker Thomas Finneran pleaded guilty Friday to obstructing justice and apologized for lying about his role in a redistricting plan that diluted the clout of minority voters.

Under the terms of a plea deal with prosecutors, the former lawmaker – once so powerful he was dubbed “King Tom” – will not serve any prison time. Prosecutors also agreed to drop three perjury charges in exchange for Finneran’s guilty plea on the obstruction charge.

Finneran, a Democrat who represented the Mattapan section of Boston, apologized to his constituents and to the people of Massachusetts.

“I embarrassed myself. I shamed myself. I shamed my family,” Finneran said, choking back tears as he spoke in a federal courtroom packed with about 100 family members, friends and political colleagues.

“It was a divergence from a code of conduct that I have tried to follow in my personal and professional life, for the entirety of my life,” he said.

Under the deal, Finneran will pay a $25,000 fine and be placed on 18 months of unsupervised probation. He has also agreed not to seek political office for at least five years.

Separately, Finneran still faces a possible suspension of his law license or disbarment by the state Board of Bar Overseers.

Assistant U.S. Attorney John McNeil said prosecutors do not believe that Finneran held any “racial animus” or that he intentionally tried to dilute the voting power of minorities in his district or other districts.

McNeil said Finneran’s sensitivity to criticism of the redistricting plan “ultimately drove his obstruction of justice in this case.”

Finneran served as a member of the House of Representatives for 26 years, rising through the ranks to become the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee and then, in 1996, House speaker, a position that made him one of the most powerful people on Beacon Hill.

Known for his authoritarian style, Finneran, 56, once pushed through a rules change that eliminated term limits for House speakers.

Finneran resigned in 2004 and was accused in a June 2005 indictment of lying during his testimony in a voting rights lawsuit. The suit claimed a 2001 law that drew up new legislative district boundaries discriminated against blacks and other minority voters in Boston while protecting incumbents, including Finneran.

Finneran’s trial was scheduled to begin Jan. 16.

As part of the deal, Finneran admitted making false and misleading statements under oath during his Nov. 14, 2003 testimony in the voting rights lawsuit when he was asked whether he had seen and reviewed a redistricting plan before it was filed with the clerk of the House of Representatives.

In accepting the guilty plea, U.S. District Judge Richard Stearns asked Finneran why he had misrepresented his role in the redistricting plan. Under state law and House rules, Finneran was free to help draft the legislative map before it was released

Finneran said he was offended and angered by the claims of racial bias made in the lawsuit.

“For 26 years, I had represented a largely minority district. I took great pride in my service to that district,” Finneran said, his voice shaking.

“I was angered by it, and I think, quite frankly your honor, it led to this entire series of events that leads us here today,” he said.

In a transcript of his 2003 testimony, Finneran repeatedly denied seeing the plan until it was filed with the House clerk, when all members of the House see the plan.

“Did you review any of the redistricting plans as the process proceeded?” Finneran was asked.

“Not as the process proceeded, No sir,” he responded.

“So the first time you saw a redistricting plan was when the redistricting committee disseminated its plan to the full House, is that your testimony?”

“That is my testimony. Yes, sir,” Finneran responded.

The indictment cited several meetings Finneran conducted before the formal release of the redistricting map, including one in which he reviewed a redistricting plan for each district in the state, including his own.

Finneran initially denied the charges and suggested the case against him was politically motivated, referring to the “questionable motives and machinations of the U.S. attorney’s office.” U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan is a Republican.

Although Finneran delivered an emotional apology inside court, outside court he defended himself, noting that he voluntarily testified in the voting rights lawsuit “because of my pride in the work of the Redistricting Committee in drafting a committee plan which both created and protected minority legislative districts.”

Finneran said that during his testimony, he was “quickly drawn in to political and combative questions which I answered in a political and combative manner.”

“That was my mistake and no one else’s and I will regret that mistake for the rest of my life,” he said.

Since leaving the Legislature, Finneran has been president of the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council, where he earns a salary of about $416,000 plus bonuses. Finneran’s future with the council is uncertain.

Michael Webb, chairman of the council’s board of directors, said in a statement Friday that the board “understands the seriousness of today’s developments in court,” and will meet soon to discuss Finneran.

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