Federal judge won’t intervene in Tran prosecution

Dismisses claims alleging political bias against Healey

A FEDERAL JUDGE has declined to intervene to stop Attorney General Maura Healey’s prosecution of congressional candidate Dean Tran. 

Tran, a Republican former state senator who is challenging Democratic US Rep. Lori Trahan in the 3rd District, was indicted on six counts related to his alleged attempt to steal guns that had belonged to an elderly constituent’s late husband.  

Tran pleaded not guilty and challenged the prosecution in federal court. He argued that the prosecution by Healey, a Democrat running for governor, was politically motivated and asked a judge to pause court proceedings in Worcester Superior Court until after the November election and prohibit Healey from participating.  

In a statement after the charges were filed, Tran accused Healey of “partisan corruption” and the charges were “categorically false.” 

On Tuesday, US District Court Judge Leo Sorokin dismissed Tran’s complaint and let the state criminal case proceed. 

As laid out in Sorokin’s ruling, the indictments charge that Tran approached an elderly constituent, Laura Williams, and intimidated her into signing a pre-written contract in which she sold him at least eight of her late husband’s guns for $1,500. He returned the guns when asked the next day. But he later returned, forced his way into the house, demanded the keys to Williams’ gun safe, and stole a Colt .45 while she hid in her bedroom. The gun was returned to her yard nine months later with an anonymous letter. Tran allegedly gave conflicting statements to the police about the incident. 

The incident occurred in June  2019, and Healey only filed charges this summer. Tran alleged that the charges were politically motivated, since he was running for Congress, and Healey was racially biased against him. Tran is of Vietnamese descent. 

Sorokin dismissed Tran’s complaint, citing a law that prevents a federal court from intervening in state criminal proceedings. There is an exception for certain exceptional circumstances, including if a state official brings a proceeding in bad faith as a form of harassment. 

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Shira Schoenberg

Reporter, CommonWealth

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state's foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama's 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state's foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama's 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

Sorokin wrote that if Tran has concerns about bias, the proper forum for him to raise them is in his defense against the state criminal charges. Sorokin said Tran’s arguments that the charges have no hope of conviction “utterly fail on the merits.” Tran accused Healey of bias, But Sorokin said Tran makes no argument against the grand jury that returned the indictments.  

While Tran suggested Healey announced the charges to obtain Trahan’s endorsement for her gubernatorial race, Sorkin said Tran “alleges no facts that plausibly support the occurrence of such an exchange.” Tran also “offers no facts to indicate that his prosecution is racially motivated,” Sorokin wrote.