What’s the endgame for Brian Joyce?
It’s one thing when the local paper runs a series of stories that raise questions about your ethics and actions as a state senator. And maybe there’s a little more heat when you have to enter into an agreement with the State Ethics Commission to settle some of those pesky allegations, though it helps to not have to admit anything.
But the bar is raised to a whole other level when agents wearing jackets stenciled with the letters “FBI” and “IRS” come knocking on your office door bearing paper granting them power to scour your files in a “court-authorized” investigation. Sen. Brian Joyce, you just became a lot more embattled.
“He’s never been popular” among his colleagues, Boston Globe State House bureau chief Frank Phillips, as much a fixture in the building as the marble floors, said on Greater Boston. “He’s getting more and more isolated. If he has a friend or two, I don’t know about it. The Senate leadership would very much like to see him go.”
US Attorney Carmen Ortiz’s office is saying very little other than confirming the federal agents were at Joyce’s Canton law office stemming from “court-authorized activity in connection with an ongoing investigation.” Most speculation centers on the Globe’s stories about Joyce over the last year, including the most recent one in January about the Milton Democrat receiving free dry cleaning, either because of his position as senator (as the store owner claims) or to settle legal debts (as Joyce asserts).
The dry cleaning dust-up is just the latest in the laundry list of alleged ethical slip-ups by Joyce. Last year, the Globe ran a story about Joyce getting a massive discount on high-end sunglasses from a local manufacturer that he gave to colleagues at Christmas. Joyce was forced to cut another check for the difference.
He also had to settle a finding by the Office of Campaign and Political Finance that he used his campaign account to pay for part of his son’s high school graduation party, which he claimed was partly a political event to justify the outlay.
Taken individually or even as a whole, it’s hard to see how those incidents rise to the level of a federal case and why his office would be the focus of a raid. But one of the more overlooked aspects of Joyce’s ethical and legal quandaries is his representation and alleged lobbying and legislating on behalf of some of his firm’s clients, such as the private Peabody insurance company Energi; Dunkin’ Donuts and its franchisees; and a local biotech company called Organogenesis.
A Globe story last May detailed a slew of questionable actions by Joyce, suggesting a blurring of the bright line between private attorney and elected official, something state law frowns upon. If free dry cleaning and discounted designer sunglasses don’t do it for a federal investigation, misusing a public office sure as heck will, as Ortiz has shown in the past.
Joyce has maintained he’s done nothing wrong and insisted he’s received clearance from the Ethics Commission on many of his actions. But settlements with the agency plus an ongoing investigation raise questions about what kind of green light he got. And federal prosecutors aren’t bound by civil agreements with the state.
Predictably, the state GOP called for Joyce’s immediate resignation while Gov. Charlie Baker, who had said an ethics investigation was in order after the dry cleaning stories, was a little more circumspect. “It’ll take its course and go wherever it goes,” Baker said.
Joyce, as the Globe’s Phillips noted, is being squeezed into his own little corner in the Senate. Once a rising star under Senate President Stan Rosenberg, Joyce was forced to give up his post as assistant majority whip and his only position now is chairman of the Special Committee to Improve Government, which Howie Carr, who has labeled the senator “Multiple Choice Joyce,” found ironic and amusing. Carr had some suggestions on how the committee chairman could improve government.
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