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Inbox: Former Attorney Sentenced For Dispensary Bribery Scheme

O’Donovan attempted to bribe the Medford chief of police to obtain approval for a client to sell recreational marijuana

For anybody who is interested in the lengthy and seedy story behind how a former Somerville official and attorney threw it all away in an attempt to get a pot shop open in neighboring Medford—whether as a cautionary tale, or just because you’re into political thrillers with a cannabis twist—we encourage you to read the excellent longform account of the matter by journalist Gintautus Dumcius of Commonwealth Beacon. As far as we can tell, Sean O’Donovan received the second harshest punishment in the short history of Mass recreational cannabis behind Jasiel Correia II, the former mayor of Fall River who was caught soliciting bribes from cannabis companies in exchange for host community approval. 

But if you’re just here for the highlights and results, there’s little need to look further than last week’s announcement by the US Attorney’s Office in Mass about O’Donovan, who “was sentenced by Senior U.S. District Court Judge William G. Young to two years in prison to be followed by three years of supervised release,” and also “ordered to pay a fine of $150,000 and a $300 special assessment” after being “convicted by a federal jury on two counts of honest services wire fraud and one count of bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds.” More from the DOJ below:

O’Donovan sought to corrupt the City of Medford’s political process for selecting retail marijuana companies by attempting to influence the Medford Police Chief in connection with O’Donovan’s client’s recreational marijuana business. At the time, the Chief had recently been appointed to serve on a committee to rank such applications on behalf of the Mayor, who would ultimately select three applicants to open retail marijuana stores in Medford. 

O’Donovan approached the Chief’s relative and offered to pay as much as $50,000 in tax-free cash to the Chief’s relative in exchange for the Chief’s official support for his client’s anticipated application to sell recreational marijuana in Medford. Specifically, O’Donovan sought to have the Chief favorably rank his client’s application and, separately, to advise and pressure the Mayor to select the client. O’Donovan was slated to receive a stream of income of at least $100,000 annually from his client’s marijuana business if its Medford application was successful. After the relative informed the Chief of O’Donovan’s corrupt offer, the Chief immediately alerted federal authorities. Both the Chief and his relative cooperated with the investigation. O’Donovan never informed his client of the bribery scheme.

“Driven by greed, Mr. O’Donovan tried his hand at an old school bribery scheme in which he tried to bribe a police chief for the sake of lining his own pockets. Fortunately, his attempt was promptly thwarted by the integrity of the Police Chief he targeted, as he immediately reported him to federal authorities,” Acting US Attorney Joshua S. Levy said. “Our office remains committed to rooting out corruption in public offices. Today’s sentence should serve as a warning to anyone who thinks they can corrupt government officials for personal gain: your conduct will be uncovered, and will land you in federal prison – regardless of who you are.”

“O’Donovan thought he was beyond the reach of the law when he orchestrated a back-door deal, funded by bribes, to line his own pockets. In doing so, he betrayed his client, and all hard-working businesses trying to play by the rules,” said Jodi Cohen, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Boston Division. “Such blatant corruption is toxic to the public trust, and today’s sentence makes it clear that crime truly does not pay. The FBI is committed to stamping out corruption, and we are very grateful to the Medford Police Chief and his brother who worked with us to thwart his shameful scheme.”

Following the sentencing, Law360 reported that O’Donovan will file an appeal, but a judge ruled that he won’t be able to delay going to prison to wait for the proceedings to pan out.