A Massachusetts attorney accused of attempting to bribe a police chief to approve a pot shop in his town called the charges against him "manufactured" by the FBI, according to a motion to dismiss Thursday.
Sean O'Donovan wrote in the motion that "no portion" of his payments to an unnamed relative of the police chief of Medford, Massachusetts, was intended to benefit or bribe the chief, but instead was lobbying activity protected by the First Amendment. "Investigators' attempt to create a crime, for the sole purpose of prosecuting Mr. O'Donovan, constitutes outrageous government conduct warranting dismissal under the due process clause, "O'Donovan's motion states.
O'Donovan wrote that he never had any direct contact with the chief. When he met with the relative, he said he "made clear" that "he did not want to ask the chief for any favors" but just wanted the chief to look at the application for his client to open a pot shop in Medford.
The chief was part of a town panel that reviews marijuana applications. O'Donovan said he did offer the relative between $25,000 and $50,000 for his efforts, as well as a consulting position with the client, but this does not constitute a quid pro quo between him and the chief.
O'Donovan believed that without his lobbying of the chief's relative, no one on the panel would have even looked at his client's application, and other applicants would have flexed political influence to gain an advantage, the motion claims.
Recorded conversations between O'Donovan and the relative, who was directed by the FBI to setup more meetings with O'Donovan, quote the attorney as saying the chief was "as straight and honest as they get." O'Donovan reiterated multiple times that he was not looking for special treatment from the chief, just for him to take a look at his client's application and base a decision on its merits, per the motion.
Acting at the FBI's direction, the relative began setting up meetings with O'Donovan and falsely told him that the chief had been approached by another applicant, requesting part of the payments that O'Donovan had promised for the lobbying efforts, according to the motion. O'Donovan initially told the relative that the payments would only be made if the efforts were successful, but eventually gave the relative $2,000, the motion said.
O'Donovan argued that the chief's awareness that his relative was being paid by O'Donovan to speak with him cannot "transform lobbying into bribery."
The motion asserts that many lobbyists throughout the political world have some relationship with the officials they are hired to lobby.
"The present indictment seeks to criminalize this particular lobbying arrangement because, and only because, of Individual 1's familial relationship with the chief," the motion states. "But the arrangement proposed by Mr. O'Donovan falls comfortably within the category of constitutionally protected lobbying."
Neither the state of Massachusetts nor the city of Medford has laws preventing family members from lobbying public officials, per the motion.
O'Donovan was hired by Theory Wellness in 2018 to assist with its bid to open a shop in Medford. He was paid a $7,500 monthly retainer and would have received 1% of the store's gross profits if it had been approved, according to court documents. Prosecutors said Theory was not aware of O'Donovan's plan to give money to the relative and fired him after the indictment was issued in June. O'Donovan was charged with honest services wire fraud and bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds.
"We contend that the government prosecution of an attorney for hiring a lobbyist to try and advocate for an attorney's client is outside the precedential scope of both honest services fraud and program bribery," said O'Donovan's attorney Martin Weinberg.
The Massachusetts U.S. Attorney's Office did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Thursday.
The government is represented by Kristina E. Barclay of the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Massachusetts.
O'Donovan is represented by Martin G. Weinberg of Martin G. Weinberg Law PC.
The case is USA v. Sean O'Donovan, case number 1:22-cr-10141, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts.