A Somerville attorney is facing charges after he tried to bribe a Massachusetts police chief in order to secure approval for a marijuana dispensary, the FBI said Friday.
Sean O’Donovan was taken into custody in West Yarmouth, officials said.
According to the indictment, a client approached O’Donovan for help in obtaining the permits and approvals necessary to run a marijuana dispensary in Medford.
The recreational sale and use of marijuana was legalized in Massachusetts in November 2016. State law provides for the licensure and operation of recreational adult-use marijuana establishments in Massachusetts, which are regulated by the Cannabis Control Commission.
An agreement between the client and O’Donovan said that if the client received approval, O’Donovan would receive 1 percent of the annual gross profit of the business, which was estimated to be about $100,000 per year.
Medford adopted an ordinance in 2020 that allowed only three dispensaries in the city. It also created an advisory panel to review applications of parties interested in operating a dispensary in Medford. The panel was comprised of several people, including the Medford chief of police.
Officials allege O’Donovan “devised and intended to devise a scheme to deprive the citizens of Medford” through bribery and kickbacks.
DOJ Official Press Release
Somerville Attorney Indicted for Attempting to Bribe Medford Police Chief
BOSTON – A Somerville attorney was arrested today on charges that he engaged in a scheme to bribe the Medford Chief of Police.
Sean O’Donovan, 54, was indicted on two counts of honest services wire fraud and one count of bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds. O’Donovan will make an initial appearance in federal court in Boston this afternoon.
“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,” said United States Attorney Rachael S. Rollins. “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.”
“Today, the FBI arrested attorney Sean O’Donovan for allegedly engaging in a pay-to-play scheme in which he tried to capitalize on his insider access, in attempting to bribe the Medford Police Chief, for his own financial benefit,” said Joseph R. Bonavolonta, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Boston Division. “It is vitally important that host community agreements be awarded through a fair and transparent process, not through back-door deals funded by bribes to those in positions of power. We believe what we have uncovered in this case is not only an affront to all the hard-working businesses that play by the rules, but a betrayal of Mr. O’Donovan’s client and the community’s trust.”
According to the indictment, in late 2018, a company involved in the cultivation and retail sale of medical and recreational marijuana (the Client) retained O’Donovan as a consultant to assist in obtaining a Host Community Agreement (HCA) with the City of Medford. Under Massachusetts law, recreational marijuana retail establishments are required to sign an HCA with cities to obtain an operational license. In 2020, Medford established a local Cannabis Advisory Committee (CAC), composed of five Medford officials, including the Medford Chief of Police (Chief). The Medford CAC is tasked with reviewing, interviewing and ranking marijuana retail applicants on behalf of the Mayor of Medford, who has final authority to decide which applicants are selected.
It is alleged that in February 2021, O’Donovan approached Individual 1 and offered to pay Individual 1 $25,000 to speak with the Chief about the Client’s anticipated application for an HCA with Medford. Individual 1 is a close relative of the Chief and subsequently informed the Chief of O’Donovan’s offer. The Chief immediately alerted federal authorities of the alleged bribe.
Over the course of the investigation, O’Donovan, believing he had an agreement with Individual 1 and the Chief, offered to pay Individual 1 approximately $25,000 in exchange for the Chief’s favorable action on the Client’s application. Specifically, O’Donovan sought to have the Chief favorably rank the Client HCA application in his role on the Medford CAC and have the Chief advising and pressuring the Mayor to enter into an HCA with the Client.
According to the indictment, O’Donovan took steps to conceal the true purpose of the planned bribe payment. For example, O’Donovan allegedly proposed falsely characterizing a payment as a loan to Individual 1 and offered to pay the bribe money in cash, stating, “If I give you cash, there will be no trace.” It is further alleged that O’Donovan rejected the idea of a contract with Individual 1, explaining that he did not “think that’s a good paper trail.” On or about October 11, 2021, O’Donovan met with Individual 1 and allegedly provided Individual 1 with $2,000 in cash as a down payment on the bribe. It is further alleged that O’Donovan was slated to receive a stream of income of at least $100,000 annually from the Client’s marijuana business if its Medford application were successful.
According to the indictment, O’Donovan never informed the Client of his bribery scheme with Individual 1. In October 2021, when O’Donovan proposed that the Client hire Individual 1 as a consultant, the Client rejected the proposal and told O’Donovan that the Client was an “above board company.”
The charge of honest services wire fraud provides for a sentence of up to 20 years in prison, up to three years of supervised release, and a fine of up to $250,000. The charge of federal programs bribery provides for a sentence of up to 10 years in prison, up to three years of supervised release, and a fine of up to $250,000. Sentences are imposed by a federal district court judge based upon the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and statutes which govern the determination of a sentence in a criminal case.
U.S. Attorney Rollins; Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite, Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division; and FBI SAC Bonavolonta made the announcement today. The Department of Justice commends the Medford Chief of Police for immediately bringing this matter to the attention of federal law enforcement. Assistant U.S. Attorney Kristina E. Barclay of Rollins’ Public Corruption & Special Prosecutions Unit and Trial Attorney Jonathan E. Jacobson of the Department of Justice’s Public Integrity Section are prosecuting the case.
The details contained in the indictment are allegations. The defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.
His website appears to be a thing of the past