Police arrested Boston's tourism chief Thursday morning following a federal grand jury's indictment of him for “union-related extortion.”
Kenneth Brissette, 52 — who works as Mayor Marty Walsh's director of tourism, sports and entertainment — is accused by federal investigators of extorting a music festival production company in 2014, withholding permits required to hold the event until organizers hired union laborers.
Federal prosecutors allege Brissette “and at least one other city official, repeatedly advised the company that it would need to hire members of [International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees] Local 11 to work at the music festival,” according to a statement from U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz.
“As a result of Brissette's demands,” the statement continues, “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.”
Brissette pleaded not guilty in federal court Thursday. A judge released him on a $25,000 unsecured bond and ordered that he not leave the country and not contact witnesses. He is on paid leave.
The festival was not named in the indictment, but federal investigators have been probing Brissette's dealings with the biannual festival Boston Calling.
A spokesman for Boston Calling declined to comment on Thursday.
Brissette earlier in the day released a statement calling his indictment “factually and legally flawed,” and said, “I intend to fight these false charges with everything at my disposal.”
Walsh on Thursday released a statement saying he was "deeply concerned" about Brissette's arrest and called his tourism czar “a good and hardworking person.”
Walsh told reporters Thursday he did not condone the activities alleged in the indictment and insisted he never told Brissette to withhold permits.
“I represent all the people of the city of Boston, whether they are union or non-union,” Walsh said.
Thursday’s indictment also cites Brissette’s dealings with a reality television show — which it did not name - that had planned to film in Boston.
It alleges he “was involved in pressuring a non-union production company … to hire union workers.”
Previously, investigators probed a 2014 "Top Chef" shoot in the city. Five teamsters were indicted on charges they illegally harassed and pressured the show’s production company to hire union help. They have pleaded not guilty.
A city-commissioned investigation — which differs from the indictment in its findings — did not find evidence Brissette committed a crime when he warned a pair of restaurants about the union’s plan to picket the production.
Brissette’s extortion charge carries a sentence of up to 20 years in prison, Ortiz's office said. Actual sentences are typically less severe. His next court date is July 12.