Top Boston Tourism Official Pleads Not Guilty To Extortion

Boston’s top tourism official pleaded not guilty Thursday to pressuring a production company into hiring union workers by withholding required city permits and approvals for a music festival.

Kenneth Brissette, 52, director of the Office of Tourism, Sports, and Entertainment, entered his plea to a federal extortion charge during arraignment in federal court in Boston.

Photo: Michael Dwyer/AP, file
The director of the Boston Office of Tourism, Sports, and Entertainment, faces reporters during a news conference.

Authorities say the production company had contracted with a nonunion company to provide workers for a September 2014 festival. They say Brissette forced them to hire members of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Local 11, by withholding required permits and approvals. Prosecutors say when the company hired union workers, permits were issued.

Brissette called the indictment against him “factually and legally flawed.”

“I intend to fight these false charges with everything at my disposal,” he said in a statement released by his attorney, William Kettlewell. “I look forward to my ultimate vindication.”

A magistrate judge ordered him released on a $25,000 unsecured bond. He is due back in court on July 12.

In a statement, Boston Mayor Martin Walsh, the former leader of a union representing construction workers, said he is “deeply concerned about today’s news.”

“Everyone who knows Ken knows him to be a good and hardworking person,” Walsh said. “We will continue to work with the U.S. attorney’s office to get to the bottom of this. Everyone in my administration should know that there is only one way to do things and that is the right way.”

The indictment against Brissette alleges that between July and September 2014, Brissette and at least one other unnamed city official repeatedly advised the company that it would need to hire members of the union to work at the music festival. It alleges that Brissette insisted that half the company’s workforce should be union members, but later agreed that eight union members would be enough.

“As a result of Brissette’s demands three days before the music festival, the company entered into a contract with Local 11 for eight additional laborers and one foreman,” U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz’s office said in a news release.

Soon after, the city issued permits, the statement said.

The indictment also alleges that Brissette pressured a nonunion production company filming the TV show “Top Chef” to hire union workers.

When the chief of operations for the city and the director of the Massachusetts State Film Office learned that Brissette had been pressuring the company, each told him that it was illegal to withhold city permits based on a company’s union or nonunion status, according to the indictment.

Last year, five Teamsters were charged with extortion in the “Top Chef” case. They have pleaded not guilty.

Laura Oggeri, a spokeswoman for Walsh, said Brissette has been placed on paid administrative leave.