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Keller @ Large: Is US Attorney Bending Law In Boston City Hall Corruption Probe?

BOSTON (CBS) - Normally when I hear a defense lawyer lashing out at the prosecution, I go into spin-receiving mode, heavy on the skepticism.

But my ears perked up Wednesday when I heard William Cintolo dismiss the federal extortion charges against Boston city official Tim Sullivan with a barnyard epithet, noting that the indictment of his client for allegedly strong-arming a local company into hiring union labor for its project contains "no allegation that he received any money, that he received any gifts, that he received any dinner or anything of that nature."

If so, that is problematic.

The federal statute being invoked here by the U.S. Attorney specifically bans the "unlawful taking or obtaining of personal property" from the victim. The term "payment" is specifically mentioned.

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz. (Photo credit: Karyn Regal-WBZ NewsRadio 1030)

But there is no mention in the indictment of Sullivan or his co-defendant receiving anything for themselves. They are accused only of pursuing wages and benefits for others, i.e. union workers.

Is this now illegal?

If so, we're going to need many, many more prisons to house all the public officials who have promoted project labor agreements over the years, in which contractors are encouraged to hire union labor.

What about the prevailing wage laws, which set wages at the higher rates preferred by labor?

We'll see what comes out in court. I don't have much sympathy for corrupt public officials – who does?

But neither should we have much patience for prosecutions that bend the law beyond recognition in pursuit of pelts.

Listen to Jon's commentary:

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