You call that extortion?

Was Boston Calling’s hiring of union labor in 2014 an extorted demand? Or a bargaining chip?

While federal prosecutors continue to make their case that it was the former, a key witness in the criminal trial acknowledged under cross-examination that it was the latter.

That certainly fogs things up for prosecutors who are trying to prove that Ken Brissette and Timothy Sullivan, who have served as top aides to Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, bureaucratically muscled the concert promoters into hiring union workers. If the concert promoter Crash Line Productions viewed those hires as leverage in a related negotiation with City Hall, then that’s a slightly different story.

Brian Appel, one of the founders of Crash Line, walked a fine line in his testimony. Under questioning by federal prosecutors, he said he concluded the best way to obtain permits he needed for the festival was to hire the union workers. He said that feeling intensified after former Boston Police commissioner William Evans ripped the promoter for running an “unsafe and embarrassing event in the mayor’s backyard.”

Assistant US Attorney Laura Kaplan, in her opening statement Tuesday, summed up the prosecution’s key argument. “The defendants knowingly and willingly used Crash Line’s fear of economic harm to force Crash Line to hire nine [union] workers it didn’t want and didn’t need,” Kaplan told jurors in her opening statement Tuesday.

But when questioned on Thursday by lawyers for the defendants, Appeal testified that he thought discussions about hiring union labor could be beneficial in his company’s long-running pursuit of a multi-year lease for City Hall Plaza.

“We thought if we’re going to have a conversation about unions . . . perhaps we can get a lease extension,” Appel said on the stand, noting Walsh’s background in union labor.

“It was more, ‘Let’s use it as a bargaining chip,’” William Cintolo, one of the defense attorneys, suggested.

“Yes,” Appel responded.

Maria Cramer, who is covering the trial for the Boston Globe, highlighted the exchange in her story Friday.

Kaplan and other federal prosecutors already have a delicate task convincing a jury that Brissette and Sullivan committed the crime of extortion. That’s because there were no threats of violence and neither of them stood to gain monetarily.

The federal courts in recent years have raised the bar for proving corruption cases. The US Supreme Court in 2016 overturned the bribery conviction of former Virginia governor  Robert McDonnell, determining that small political favors didn’t meet the threshold for corrupt official acts, even if distasteful. Locally, a federal appeals court tossed the conviction of former state probation department officials in a patronage case, scolding federal prosecutors for overstepping their bounds and “using federal criminal statutes to police the hiring practices of these Massachusetts state officials.”

The case against Sullivan and Brissette had been dismissed earlier on the grounds that their behavior didn’t qualify as extortion because they didn’t personally benefit from the hires, but an appeals court disagreed, ruling that prosecutors didn’t have to prove the aides personally benefitted. The decision allowed the case to proceed to trial.

ANDY METZGER

 

 

BEACON HILL

Gov. Charlie Baker itemizes all his administration has done on the transportation front, and then looks ahead with an $18 billion bond bill that includes a tax credit designed to encourage telecommuting (and decrease congestion) and a pledge to steer to the MBTA half of the money gained from a planned charge on the carbon in automobile fuels. (CommonWealth) Here’s what business liked about Baker’s transportation bond bill. (Boston Globe)

The late state budget means financial aid packages are going out late to students at UMass schools. Tuition rates are expected to rise 2.5 percent. (CommonWealth)

CommonWealth looks closer at a budget item for fire services that just keeps on ballooning.

Many state officials, including Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders, find a lot to like about supervised drug consumption sites. But how to make them happen when they violate federal law? Sudders outlines how it could be done. (CommonWealth)

The Massachusetts Senate passed a bill banning marriages for anyone under 18. (MassLive)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

National Guard activated to aid with Cape Cod cleanup. (State House News) In 1977, a twister ripped up a 14-foot tall sign for the Yarmouth Drive-In Theater, one of three tornadoes to hit Cape Cod in more than 50 years. (Cape Cod Times)

Gloucester lifeguards are staging a “sick out” over a dispute about the firing of two colleagues, so the city is staffing beaches with EMTs. (Gloucester Daily Times)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

The number of House Democrats looking to impeach President Trump rises to 100, with two of the latest additions from Massachusetts — Reps. Katherine Clark and Lori Trahan. (Boston Globe)

ELECTIONS

The reelection campaign of Jasiel Correia II is getting most of its money from marijuana interests and officials with the health care firm Prima CARE. (Herald News)

Nick Henry, a soldier who served under the command of Seth Moulton, describes how the future congressmen was a smart, prepared, and caring marine platoon leader in the battle of Najaf during one of Moulton’s four combat tours in Iraq. (WBUR)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

The nation’s automakers, rejecting President Trump’s pollution rule, strike a deal with California. (New York Times)

Vertex, the state’s second-largest biotech by stock market value, names a woman — Reshma Kewalramani  — as president and CEO. (Boston Globe)

TRANSPORTATION 

A Providence-bound commuter rail train caught fire and had to be evacuated. (Boston Herald)

On a visit to renovated Wollaston Station, MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak said Red Line service will improve in the next few weeks, and as it does the MBTA will rebound from its recent dip in ridership. (Patriot Ledger)

State transportation officials unveil the design of a new I-495 interchange that is intended to make getting on and off much easier and safer. (MetroWest Daily News)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Officials are warning people to avoid contact with the Charles River between the BU Bridge and the Museum of Science because of the presence of toxic algae. (MassLive)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

The firing of a correction officer at MCI-Shirley is upheld by the Civil Service Commission after tapes of phone calls reveal the officer talked much like the inmates he was overseeing. (Telegram & Gazette)

MEDIA

Dan Kennedy sees a common villain in private equity, blaming investors for hollowing out the newspaper industry and stripping the retail industry. (Media Nation)