Lelling: Trump’s point man in Massachusetts

Andrew Lelling, the US Attorney for Massachusetts, is emerging as a loyal Donald Trump lieutenant in one of the bluest states in the country.

Little was known about Lelling when Trump nominated him for the post last September. He had worked the previous 12 years in the office, first under Michael Sullivan and then Carmen Ortiz, an appointee of Barack Obama. He focused on international drug trafficking and white collar crime, including the prosecution of executives associated with a billion-dollar pyramid scheme and Carlos Rafael, the infamous Codfather of New Bedford. Prior to coming to Massachusetts, he worked as an assistant US attorney in Virginia and at the Department of Justice’s civil rights division.

Under Lelling, the US Attorney’s office appears to be functioning much as it always has, except the office seems preoccupied with immigration issues. There’s been a sharp uptick in press releases about prosecutions, and what’s distinctive about the press releases is how they highlight the nationality and immigration status of the defendants.

“One of the things we wanted to highlight, in keeping with the president’s priorities, was to at least bring into the public conversation that there is some fraction of the illegal immigrant population in this country that is committing a number of other offenses,” Lelling told CommonWealth’s Jack Sullivan. “My position on this is if you have someone who is in the United States illegally and commits an offense, we should be bringing to the public’s attention that correlation.”

The drumbeat on immigration ratcheted up a notch Thursday when Attorney General Jeff Sessions came to town and joined Lelling in announcing the prosecution of more than two dozen people for identity and benefit theft. As the first paragraph of the press release noted, nearly all of them were “unlawfully present in the United States.”

The defendants allegedly stole the identities of US citizens and used those identities to obtain state identification cards, federal benefits, and public housing subsidies. “These government programs are intended to help the poor, the elderly, American citizens, not those who are trespassing in the country,” Sessions said at a news conference at the federal courthouse in Boston, standing next to Lelling. “This kind of fraud is a theft from our seniors, a theft from our taxpayers, and a theft from the needy. A theft from America.”

Lelling praised Sessions as a leader who has “rededicated the Department of Justice to the rule of law,” while Sessions said he had given the go-ahead for Lelling to hire five more prosecutors.

“I’m excited to see this office thrive,” Sessions said. “The public servants in this office are doing great work.”

Boston Herald columnist Joe Battenfeld said the anti-immigration focus of Sessions and Lelling is no accident. He said Sessions keeps coming back to Boston and New England to talk about illegal immigration and sanctuary cities to put would-be presidential contenders such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Deval Patrick on the defensive.

At Thursday’s press conference, Sessions said Boston is one of the top areas in the country for illegal immigration, with an estimated 180,000 people living here without documentation.

“I can’t imagine why a city or a county or a state would think that someone who enters the country illegally who is subject to being deported for that alone is somehow to be protected even when they commit serious offenses,” he said.

BRUCE MOHL


BEACON HILL

Gov. Charlie Baker trimmed $49 million before signing a $41.7 billion state budget. Now lawmakers have a few days to override some of his vetoes. (State House News)

Some budget highlights: The governor reversed course and supported a boost in funding for regional transit authorities but refused to budge on a pilot project to test whether toll prices could be used to reduce congestion. He also vetoed nearly $4 million from a privately financed legislative slush fund, but that veto, if history is guide, is likely to be overturned. (CommonWealth)

Sen. Karen Spilka of Ashland was formally elected the president of the Senate. (MetroWest Daily News)

Another day, another former state Republican Party official charged with wrongdoing after being planted in a state parks patronage post, this one an indictment charging Christine Cedrone with stealing money from a client of her now-closed law practice. (Boston Globe)

Massachusetts isn’t the only state doing away with antiquated anti-abortion laws still on the books. (Governing)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Police were called to town hall in Rockland to break up an argument between Selectman Edward Kimball and residents seeking to recall him for his role in what we here at CommonWealth call 50 Shades of Rockland. (Patriot Ledger)

The National Weather Service confirmed two tornadoes touched down in central Massachusetts, hitting the towns of Douglas, Uxbridge, and Northbridge. (Telegram & Gazette)

With a boom in Quincy in construction of higher-end housing and lots of people struggling to make rent, 950 applications were received for a lottery for 114 rent-subsidized units to be included in a 140-unit building going up at Quincy Point. (Patriot Ledger)

A developer is proposing to tear down the Lynnway Mart Indoor Mall & Flea Market and replace it with a $191 million apartment project. (Daily Item)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

Special counsel Robert Mueller is zeroing in on President Trump’s voluminous Twitter feed to assess whether statements there amount to efforts to obstruct his investigation. (New York

Times)

In a speech in Boston, Attorney General Jeff Sessions defended his deputy, Rod Rosenstein, and decried a House Republican effort to impeach him. (Boston Globe)

US Rep. Seth Moulton says the fishing industry also needs relief from the emerging trade war. (Gloucester Times)

ELECTIONS

In the crowded Suffolk County Democratic primary for district attorney, black and progressive groups are trying to winnow the field and coalesce all their support behind one candidate — but not everyone is happy about it. (CommonWealth)

Former governor Michael Dukakis warns Democrats that the upset win of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in New York should not be viewed as a roadmap for Democratic victories across the country. “It’s a mistake to exaggerate the importance of what happened in the Bronx,” he said. “I mean, that’s not the country.” (WGBH)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

The Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council, which faced blistering criticism for not including any women in its list of 20 finalists for an annual awards program, will reopen nominations and include five additional candidates. (Boston Globe)

A Texas company is going out of business and taking with it a technology that has allowed farmers markets in Massachusetts and across the country to process healthy food transactions with food stamp users. A South Coast Today editorial explained the problem and pressed government officials to come up with a solution.

Laid off workers at the abruptly closed Necco plant in Revere are in high demand in the region’s tight labor market. (Boston Globe)

Wall Street unfriends Facebook. (Wall Street Journal)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

Mercy Medical Center in Springfield is coming under fire for its handling of high-risk pregnancies. (Boston Globe)

David Passafaro, a former top aide to Boston mayor Tom Menino and executive at Suffolk Construction, is taking the helm at New England Baptist Hospital. (Boston Globe)

TRANSPORTATION

The Worcester Regional Transit Authority holds off on making service cuts and hopes to land additional money from the state by agreeing to management and operational changes. (Telegram & Gazette) Meanwhile, the Berkshire Regional Transit Authority plans to hike some fares and to make some service cuts, but is hopeful it can boost ridership by add some evening service. (Berkshire Eagle)

GAMBLING/MARIJUANA

Massachusetts marijuana regulators asked cities and towns to abide by the law when pressing would-be pot entrepreneurs for financial benefits. (Associated Press)

Kijana Rose, a ganja yoga instructor from Roslindale, has been given priority status in seeking a license to sell marijuana but is finding that priority status doesn’t help her jump through all the hurdles in the way of her actually winning a license. (WBUR)

Brockton Mayor Bill Carpenter is backing off from his proposal to concentrate six pot shops in downtown Brockton. (The Enterprise)

A cannabis technology company says the Massachusetts pot sector will eventually employ as many as 20,000 people. (Boston Globe)

The state Cannabis Control Commission approved three new retail marijuana shops, but sales of recreational pot can’t begin until the panel licenses a testing lab and that hasn’t yet happened. (Boston Herald)

The Stronach Group outlined plans for a 100 acre horse-racing facility in Lancaster. (Lowell Sun)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

The Bristol County sheriff’s office said inmates at the house of correction have resumed eating meals, halting a protest about the quality of food and the high prices of items at the commissary. For example, a 2.4 ounce container of Oreos sells for $1.13 at the commissary and for 38 cents on Target.com. (South Coast Today)

Families of victims of homicide are renewing their call for Boston police to commit more resources to unsolved murder investigations. (Boston Herald)

MEDIA

The Boston Globe and WBUR canceled their Season Ticket sports podcast after four months because it failed to attract sufficient listeners. (Lenfest Institute)