Kevin White, the Feds, and the press

Some thoughts are dashing around in my mind about a topic that thus far has gotten little play in the aftermath of Kevin White's death. Since the Phoenix did so much of the best reporting on the White political era, I figured I'd post my thoughts on the website.

Little has been said about the role the press played in keeping Kevin White from running for a fifth term as mayor, and in keeping him from moving into national politics. A little (too little) has been said about Bill Weld's role, but almost nothing has been said or written about the press' role. How can this be ignored so? Can it be because the press played such an ignoble role in driving White to make his decision not to run and would prefer not to dredge it up? Maybe it's the desire not to speak ill of the dead. Maybe the fact that there are few journalists working today who actually remember those days. But whatever the reason, the lack of coverage seems odd. History, even if nothing else, requires some mention.

Ted Anzalone was investigated, then indicted, for several cash transactions as well as one more serious charge - that he joined a lower-level city hall operative named George Collatos, who had a history of shady dealings, in extorting cash from a private businessman who did (and wanted to continue doing) business with the city of Boston. When I began my representation of Anzalone, I started to follow the press coverage very carefully, especially the coverage of the sprawling federal investigation (it often was really more jihad than legitimate criminal investigation) by The Boston Globe and The New York Times (then separately owned newspapers). From time to time, I took very serious issue with the coverage by, especially, Marty Nolan (but also several others) in the Globe and Fox Butterfield in the Times. I realized that both Nolan and Butterfield must have been getting a lot of their stuff - much of it utterly incorrect factually and legally - from the politically ambitious press orchestrator Bill Weld or his minions.

I recall sending various letters and some supporting documents and other materials to Butterfield, Nolan and other members of the Fourth Estate to protest the skewed and inaccurate coverage in their respective papers. One occasion in particular sticks in my mind and in my craw. A story emerged that Joanne Prevost Anzalone, Ted's wife, had purchased a townhouse or some such building from the City of Boston for the crony-special sum of one dollar! As Ted's lawyer, I knew a lot about the financial affairs of both Joanne ("Joie") and Ted, and I knew this to be nonsense. Joie paid fair market value for the townhouse. I did some investigation and realized where the story came from. Someone must have dropped a dime to the effect that on the legal document transferring the property from the city into Joie's name, it used the phrase "for one dollar and other good and valuable consideration." What the media did not understand was that this was an ancient phrase used in most such legal documents, especially real estate contracts and deeds; it did not reflect the actual purchase price. The "one dollar" was a legal construct, a legal fiction, meant to connote that money was paid for the property. One finds this language in myriad such real estate sale documents and deeds. Yet a media storm erupted that the city had facilitated the sale of a valuable property to the Anzalone family for a dollar!

So I sent numerous documents to both the Globe and to Butterfield at the Times. I accompanied it with a pretty harsh cover letter about the media's fawning (toward Weld) and vicious (toward the Anzalones and White) inaccurate coverage of the whole investigation. I recall the result of my troubles: Marty Nolan didn't talk to me for years afterwards. Fox Butterfield, to his credit, became curious and took me to lunch at Maison Robert (the French restaurant then-located in the Old City Hall across from the Parker House) and allowed me to vent on his terrible coverage and his allowing himself and his newspaper to be pawns of Bill Weld's political ambitions. (I recall bringing with me to that upscale restaurant a large stack of papers and documents and plunking them down on the table.) Still, however, the Globe and the Times vied with one another for the dubious privilege of running the Government's propaganda line purveyed to a voracious press and a gullible public by an ambitious pol.

I did finally allow one media request for a face-to-face interview of Ted Anzalone while he was still in legal jeopardy. (I don't remember the stage of the case, but it was before he won both the money-laundering and the extortion cases.) (See pp. 14-27 of my book Three Felonies a Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent for a reminder of what the prosecutions were about and how the Weld team acted - badly!) That interview was conducted by Ric Kahn and appeared on the front page of The Boston Phoenix in the mid-1980s sometime.  Kahn also wrote a later piece in the Phoenix issue of September 24, 1985 ("To Catch a Liar") recounting the tale of how the feds were shamed into prosecuting their chief witness in the extortion trial against Anzalone, a low level City Hall operative named George Collatos. The charge against Collatos was for perjury committed on the witness stand at the trial in which Weld's boys were trying to convince a jury, on the basis of Collatos' testimony, that Anzalone worked with Collatos to extort money from a city contractor. What did Collatos lie about? Well, during the weeks leading up to Anzalone's extortion trial, Collatos met with Anzalone and threatened that unless Anzalone got Kevin White to fork over big bucks to Collatos, Collatos would lie at Anzalone's upcoming extortion trial and tell the jury that Anzalone extorted money from city contractors. But in exchange for a big payoff, Collatos told Anzalone, he would tell the truth - that Anzalone did not engage in the extortion being charged in Anzalone's indictment. Collatos' perjurious testimony at Anzalone's trial blew up in his and the prosecutors' faces, as recounted by Kahn's Phoenix piece. And so Weld's team, publicly embarrassed, felt pressured to prosecute Collatos for perjury. (Interestingly, this was Collatos' second perjury trial. His first occurred years earlier, and while in prison serving his sentence for perjury he decided to become a government witness against Anzalone, the pathway to a get-out-of-jail-free card then, and now.) The press seemingly never did catch on to the dangers inherent in this Department of Justice method for getting and grooming witnesses. They can get a vulnerable witness to say just about anything. These prosecutorial tactics are seen as somehow necessary for fighting crime and corruption. In truth, these tactics should be deemed criminal and corrupt - and, indeed, they would be prosecuted as felonies if engaged in by a defense lawyer.

In any event, the major news media did not do truth and justice any service in piling onto Kevin White and Ted Anzalone. The combination of the feds and the media wrecked Anzalone's law practice (he never returned to it after he won his criminal cases) and wrecked Kevin White's political career. In fact, one may recall that when White left City Hall after pressure from the feds and the news media caused him to decline another run for the mayoralty, he went to Boston University to a teaching perch, hired by then-BU President John Silber. As soon as that job was announced, Weld's boys subpoenaed Silber to the grand jury that was still hunting for the Great White, to ask Silber whether the post-mayoralty job given by BU/Silber to Kevin White was a pre-agreed payback by BU for White's having facilitated, while mayor, the sale (at a low price) of a city-owned building (it was the Armory on Commonwealth Avenue, I believe) to BU. Obviously, if Mayor White had engineered such a sale-on-the-cheap in exchange for the promise of a post-mayoralty job, it would be fodder for a bribery/extortion case. (Vague memory tells me Silber was not a happy camper at being used this way to further Weld's ambitions.) In any event, Silber reportedly gave the grand jury and the feds a few words to remember him by, and this final effort to "get" White was closed down with no indictments.

Weld went on to a post at the Department of Justice and the governorship; White retired from political life and taught at BU for the rest of his career. Anzalone never returned to the practice of law. The Globe and the Times went on to cover the next victims of the feds, and, with little critical thought nor attention paid to that hallowed concept of "balance," continued to do the feds' bidding. (The uncritical press coverage of federal prosecutors remains stuck in my craw. I love many things about the Globe and the Times; I am a loyal reader of the newsprint editions of both papers; but they still do a terrible job of reporting what federal prosecutors really do and how they "make" their criminal cases - some involving true crime, but too many involving innocent victims of unsavory prosecutorial tactics that distort rather than uncover truth.)

Let me tell one more story that has too long gone unreported: Toward the beginning of the grand jury investigation focusing on White, lawyers for the various political players started to meet once a week, at the Parkman House, to discuss the investigation, to trade information, to compare notes, and to help one another strategize. One day one of the members of our group of lawyers reported to the group that he had gotten a phone call from someone at the U.S. Attorney's office saying that Weld's office learned about these weekly meetings and considered them to be improper, perhaps even a conspiracy to obstruct justice! Weld's office was never too subtle in its inability, or unwillingness, to draw a distinction between legitimate defense tactics and strategies on the one hand, and criminal obstruction of justice on the other. Obstruction of Weld's ambitions, after all, did not equate with obstruction of justice. Our lawyers' group continued to meet.

A similar incident occurred during Anzalone's extortion trial. As I noted above, we were able to prove at the trial that the government's chief witness, George Collatos, had threatened Anzalone that he would lie at the trial, and would claim that Anzalone extorted a contractor, unless White paid a large bribe to Collatos. We proved this because we secreted two witnesses in the basement of the restaurant where Collatos made the threat to Anzalone. When the prosecutors learned of this the day before we were scheduled to produce in the trial courtroom our two eavesdropping witnesses who overheard Collatos' threat, they went ballistic. That night, FBI agents visited the homes of our two witnesses and threatened that if they testified, they would expose themselves to indictment for an ancient common law and federal crime called "misprision of a felony" because they had witnessed a federal felony - extortion committed by the government's own witness! - and did not report it to law enforcement authorities! After the court proceedings the following day, when the Feds' lead witness got exposed and devastated, it was not our defense witnesses who were in the hot seat. The press dutifully reported all of these events, as they had to since they occurred in open court, but somehow the deeper lessons of the prosecution were not learned by the press, except for Kahn's insightful coverage in the Phoenix. The papers still, with very rare exceptions (the Whitey Bulger escapades being one of those exceptions), give fawning and essentially uncritical coverage to federal prosecutions and the fundamentally corrupt techniques by which such prosecutions are built.

The feds' plan for turning Anzalone into a witness against White is recounted in Three Felonies a Day. It was an entirely dishonest and shameful campaign.  In fact, after Anzalone had won both his criminal cases, I expected that he would receive a grand jury subpoena, finally, to tell all he knew about White. That subpoena never arrived. Why? Well, could it be because, without Anzalone facing a long prison sentence, Weld's office no longer had the leverage over him to teach him, in the phrase immortalized by my friend and former law school teacher Alan Dershowitz, "not only how to sing, but also how to compose"?

The Weld campaign against Kevin White, especially that aspect of it that planned to use Ted Anzalone as a tool, wrecked both men's aspirations. The newspapers, that until the very end assumed, without evidence, that White was corrupt and that Anzalone was his bag-man, never apologized. They just went on to the next victim.

This is what comes to my mind as I think about the death of Kevin H. White.  White did a Hell of a lot more for democracy and decency, and civic life, than the U.S. Attorney's office. May Kevin White Rest-in-Peace.

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