Boston, MA – A Massachusetts attorney was arrested by federal agents in West Yarmouth on Friday for trying to bribe the Medford police chief.
The incident began in late 2018 when a company that grew and sold medical and recreational marijuana retained 54-year-old attorney Sean O’Donovan to help them get a Host Community Agreement (HCA) with the city of Medford, according to a press release posted by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) on June 24.
Massachusetts law requires that companies obtain an HCA to get operational licenses in communities where they want to do business.
Medford set up a Cannabis Advisory Committee (CAC) that was tasked with reviewing, interviewing, and ranking retail marijuana applicants to recommend to the mayor for approval, the press release read.
The committee is made up of five Medford officials, a group that included Medford Police Chief Jack Buckley.
The mayor has the final authority on who gets the HCA and the license, according to DOJ.
Prosecutors said that O’Donovan approached a close relative of Chief Buckley in February of 2021 and offered them $25,000 to speak to the police chief about his client’s application.
The relative told Chief Buckley about the offer and the police chief immediately reported the attempted bribe to federal authorities, the press release read.
First Assistant U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts Joshua Levy said a grand jury indicted O’Donovan on two counts of honest services wire fraud and one count of bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds, the Boston Globe reported.
“This is a case about greed and attempted public corruption,” Levy said at a press briefing when the arrest was announced.
The indictment said that O’Donovan believed he had an agreement with the chief’s relative and the chief, and offered to pay them $25,000 for the police chief to bless his client’s application.
He also took steps to hide the bribe by offering to pay the police chief’s relative in cash while calling the money a loan, the Boston Globe reported.
“If I give you cash, there will be no trace,” O’Donovan reportedly told him.
The attorney allegedly met with the chief’s relative on six occasions at multiple locations in Somerville over a period of a few months while the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) surreptitiously recorded the meetings, the Boston Globe reported.
“Time after time, we caught on camera, what we believe to be O’Donovan’s attempts to game the system and unfairly get ahead of his client’s competitors,” FBI Boston Special Agent in Charge Joseph Bonavolonta told reporters.
Prosecutors said that O’Donovan made a $2,000 down payment on the bribe in October of 2021, the Boston Globe reported.
“It is vitally important that host community agreements are awarded through a fair and transparent process — not through backdoor deals by bribes to those in positions of power,” Agent Bonavolonta said. “Today’s arrest should be a clear signal to others who think they are beyond the reach of the law that anytime an allegation of corruption is brought to our attention the FBI will thoroughly investigate it.”
Levy said that if O’Donovan’s plan had succeeded, he stood to receive one percent of the new dispensary’s profits in addition to his $7,500 monthly retainer, the Boston Globe reported.
Prosecutors said the bribery scheme would have netted the attorney at least $100,000 a year.
“This case is about attempted corruption of government officials. I commend the chief of police in Medford for reporting this illegal behavior to the FBI immediately,” U.S. Attorney Rachael Rollins said in a written statement. “We must ensure that greed and unethical conduct do not undermine the proper functioning of city governments across our Commonwealth. This prosecution does just that.”
Each of the wire fraud charges that O’Donovan is facing carries up to 20 years in prison, three years of supervised release, and a maximum fine of $250,000 if he is convicted, the Boston Globe reported.
The bribery charge also carries a prison sentence of up to 10 years behind bars if O’Donovan is convicted.