After AG Healey Punts On Thornton Law Dem Donor Probe, Essex DA Declines To Pursue Criminal Charges

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BOSTON — The law firm that saw one of its most powerful attorneys step down from his post as state representative months before word leaked regarding the firm’s track record of reimbursing its lawyers and their spouses for political donations made to both Massachusetts and national Democrats will not be subject to criminal charges.

The announcement concerning the Thornton Law Firm, which employs former state Representative Garrett Bradley, a Democrat from Hingham, landed Wednesday, more than a year after Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey appointed a special prosecutor to investigate the firm. Healey was one of scores of Democrats who received campaign donations through Thornton Law. In March 2017 Healey announced she would be recusing herself from the investigation, which has since been completed by Essex County District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett’s office. 

“While our investigation did not find sufficient evidence to support a criminal charge, we are recommending enhancements to current state campaign finance laws to address the ambiguities in the law that gave rise to these allegations,” Blodgett said in a prepared statement Wednesday. 

A press release issued by Blodgett’s office notes that it was the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance that pushed Healey to open a criminal investigation into Thornton Law, and noted that Healey punted the matter to Blodgett “to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest.”

Healey in October returned the $4,500 in donations she received from Thornton Law following a Boston Globe report outlining the alleged scheme. 

The press release briefly outlined the investigation into Thornton Law’s political dealings. Blodgett’s office apparently “conducted a forensic examination of the materials and documents turned over from OCPF to determine if the campaign contributions were in fact made with personal funds and not those of the Thornton Law Firm.”

“Over the course of the investigation, a certified fraud examiner employed by the Essex County District Attorney’s Office spent over 280 hours reviewing all materials provided by OCPF, examining materials, documents, individual partner bank records, and reviewed all relevant campaign finance laws, regulations, relevant OCPF opinions, interpretive bulletins and memorandums,” the release stated. “This investigation concurred with the OCPF review that there was a pattern of contributions from nine current or former partners and seven of their spouses and deposits of the same or similar amounts to their accounts.

“However, there was not adequate evidence to conclude that contributions were made with partnership funds or that the Thornton Law Firm reimbursed partners with firm funds for their contributions.” 

Bradley is a managing partner at Thornton. Blodgett’s office did not name the nine “current or former partners” identified by OCPF. 

Blodgett in his press release did, however, issue a series of recommendations for the Office of Campaign and Political Finance, including requiring that limited liability partnership accounts be “maintained in accordance with an acceptable accounting practice, such as Generally Accepted Accounting Principles” — a recommendation that suggests investigators failed to find a paper trail.

Additional recommendations include the establishment of “an annual statement by partners, signed under penalties of perjury that campaign contributions were made with personal funds and not partnership funds” and a requirement that “partners use their own personal checking accounts for campaign contributions, rather than using accounts created by the partnership to hold the equity interest of individual partners for such activity.”

Coincidentally, before he walked away from Beacon Hill it was Bradley who had been named by House Speaker Robert DeLeo (D-Winthrop) to lead a committee assigned to study current election laws. In addition, Bradley once sponsored a bill to require the disclosure of identities of citizens donating to so-called “electioneering organizations.”

The state’s campaign-finance agency has declined to comment on Blodgett’s decision not to prosecute Bradley or anyone else at Thornton Law.