Boston's Tourism Chief Accused of Union-Related Extortion - NBC 7 San Diego
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Boston's Tourism Chief Accused of Union-Related Extortion

Kenneth Brissette faced charges related to the production of the Boston Calling music festival and the reality show "Top Chef"

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Boston's 'Minister of Fun' Pleads Not Guilty to Extortion

    The city of Boston's top tourism official plead not guilty on Thursday afternoon on charges that he forced companies to hire union labor. (Published Thursday, May 19, 2016)

    The city of Boston's top tourism official pleaded not guilty on Thursday afternoon to charges that he forced companies to hire union labor.

    Kenneth Brissette, 52, director of the city's Office of Tourism, Sports and Entertainment, charged with extorting production companies involved with the Boston Calling Music festival and the reality show "Top Chef."

    A judge released Brissette on $25,000 unsecured bond. He is not allowed to leave the country and cannot have any contact with witnesses. 

    Brissette, who referred to himself as the city's "Minister of Fun" in a 2015 Boston Globe interview, was hired to the newly-created position in April of 2014. The press release announcing his hiring said he would work to bring major athletic and cultural events, conventions and conferences to Boston, and aggressively market the city nationally and internationally.

    He is currently on paid administrative leave.

    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."

    Boston Mayor Marty Walsh issued a statement Thursday saying he is concerned by the indictment.

    "I'm deeply saddened by today's events," Walsh said. "It's devastating."

    Walsh says he had nothing to do with and no knowledge of the extortion charges leveled against Brisette.

    "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 released Thursday said Brissette extorted a company, which had already contracted with a non-union company to provide workers for the September 2014 Boston Calling music festival, to hire members of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Local 11.

    According to the indictment, in order to stage its twice-yearly musical festivals, the company was required to apply for and receive permits from the City of Boston for each festival. In his role as director of the Office of Tourism, Sports and Entertainment, Brissette assists companies seeking to stage events in Boston in securing permits to use at public areas in the city.

    The indictment alleges that between July and September 2014, while the company was awaiting the issuance of permits and approvals required for the Boston Calling music festival in Boston City Hall Plaza, Brissette and at least one other city official repeatedly advised the company that it would need to hire members of Local 11 to work at the festival. Local 11 had attempted to obtain work from the company since March 2013. The company told Brissette that it had already entered into a contract with a non-union company and hired all of its labor. Nevertheless, Brissette allegedly insisted that half of the company’s labor force consist of union members, although he ultimately agreed that eight would suffice.

    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. Shortly thereafter, the City of Boston issued the necessary permits.

    In closely related activity in the summer of 2014, the indictment said Brissette was involved in pressuring a non-union production company filming the reality show "Top Chef" to hire union workers.

    When the chief of operations for the City of Boston and the director of the Massachusetts State Film Office learned that Brissette had been pressuring a non-union film company to hire union workers, each of them told him that it was illegal to withhold city permits based on a company's union or nonunion status.

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

    Michael McCormack was a first-year city councilor back in 1982 when then-U.S. attorney William Weld was investigating the administration of Boston Mayor Kevin White. McCormick said it was a toxic environment at City Hall with rumors and stories every day.

    McCormick said, "As we know, there are other grand jury subpoenas that have been delivered to other employees in the Walsh administration and all that does is Ray's rumor and innuendo."

    Brissette has more than a decade of municipal marketing and tourism experience. Before being hired by the city, he spent eight years as the chief operating officer of the Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism.

    From 1995-2001 he worked at several companies focused on travel industry marketing, management and business development. In these positions he developed tour programs, and directed tours throughout the South Pacific, Canada, and the United States.