SALEM — Congressman John Tierney denied once again yesterday that he knew anything about his in-laws’ illegal gambling operation and said his convicted brother-in-law, Daniel Eremian, was “angry” and “lashing out” when he told The Salem News on Thursday that the congressman “knew everything.”
“His comments are totally inconsistent and totally bizarre,” Tierney said yesterday in an interview. “He professed his innocence to everyone (in court) minutes before and then said I knew everything illegal he was doing.”
Eremian made his comments outside a Boston courtroom moments after he was sentenced to three years in prison for his part in a multimillion-dollar illegal gambling operation in Antigua run by his older brother, Robert Eremian.
Along with calling Tierney “the biggest liar in the world,” Eremian said Tierney had sat next to bookies at Fenway Park and that his claims of ignorance about the family business were “hogwash.”
Tierney said he was caught off guard by Eremian’s comments.
“I was incredulous,” he said. “Where the hell is this coming from? I don’t know why he would inflict all this pain on his sister.”
Eremian’s sister is Tierney’s wife, Patrice, who was sentenced to 30 days in prison in 2011 after pleading guilty to helping her brother Robert Eremian file fraudulent tax returns in connection with the offshore gambling operation.
Patrice Tierney managed a bank account for her brother, through which some $7 million flowed, which she used to pay his taxes, maintain his property, and support his wife and children. She also received $223,000 in what she described as “gifts” from her brother.
John Tierney said he believed Robert Eremian’s offshore betting company, called Sports Off Shore, was legal and cited the fact that a judge allowed him to return to Antigua to work for the company in 2002, after he had been convicted of tax evasion.
A federal judge, an Antiguan immigration officer and the U.S. Attorney’s Office all signed off on Robert Eremian’s return to Antigua to continue work at Sports Off Shore. Because of that, Tierney said he and his wife had no reason to question the legality of the enterprise there.
In court, Patrice Tierney admitted that she should have asked more questions about the nature of the business and acknowledged being “willfully blind.”
The court “believed she should have known,” John Tierney said yesterday.
Should he have known, too?
“Obviously, if there is a court order allowing Robert Eremian to go down there, they believed it was legal. A judge signed off on it, a probation supervisor thought it was appropriate, and so I think it is perfectly reasonable for someone to assume it was a legitimate source of income,” Tierney said.
“People can disagree if they want to disagree. But if a judge and a probation supervisor don’t think it’s unreasonable, why would I think it was?”
Tierney said he learned about the bank account his wife was managing “sometime shortly after the court order” that allowed Robert Eremian to go back to Antigua. Tierney said he never questioned whether the money was legitimate.
“The judge gave him the order allowing him to go. They knew he was gambling, we knew he was gambling ... and we knew the judge gave him permission,” Tierney said. “We assumed (the money) was (obtained by) legal means.”
Robert Eremian’s “kids were up here floundering. He assumed that (Patrice) would take care of it,” Tierney said.
As for Daniel Eremian, Tierney said, “I’ve never gotten along with Daniel. I can tell you some things the judges and prosecutors have said about my wife and how she is, and I can tell you that Danny is not from the same DNA.”
On the allegation that he sat with bookies at Fenway Park: “There are 37,000 people in Fenway Park, and I’m sure there’s a bookie in there somewhere, but not sitting with me,” Tierney said.
Tierney’s Republican opponent, Richard Tisei, was quick to pounce on Daniel Eremian’s comments and reiterated yesterday that he thinks the congressman’s story doesn’t hold water.
“According to court records, John Tierney’s two brothers-in-law, his father-in-law, stepson and wife were all working for an illegal gambling operation for close to a decade,” Tisei said in an interview yesterday.
“And to have all of this activity taking place around him, I think most people look at this — especially with his brother-in-law’s statements yesterday — and just don’t believe him. It doesn’t make sense. He has not been honest or forthright.”
How deep an effect this will have on the 6th District congressional race remains to be seen.
Tierney said the Eremian incident will not prevent him from moving forward in the campaign. He said he has not received any calls from fellow Democrats asking him to step aside in light of the controversy.
“I have been contacted by the Democratic Party, and they are with me 100 percent,” Tierney said. “They are ready to walk with me and campaign with me in the streets. I am a hardworking and honest congressman, and all my colleagues feel that way. They think this whole thing is ridiculous.”
The Massachusetts Democratic Party fired off a press release unequivocally standing by Tierney.
“John Tierney has been an excellent congressman — from leading the charge on health care reform to fighting for lower interest rates on student loans — and that’s why Massachusetts Democrats support him,” said John Walsh, state party chairman.
Asked if there’s any chance that the party is seeking another candidate in the event that Tierney is forced to step aside, Kevin Franck, communications director for the state Democratic Party, said no.
Walsh’s statement, he said, “should be pretty clear and put those (rumors) to bed. We are 100 percent behind the congressman. From the people in our grass-roots organization all the way up to the top leadership, there isn’t a thought of that anywhere.”