SALEM -- Amid a roomful of media, embattled Congressman John Tierney stood at a podium at the Hawthorne Hotel this afternoon and again declared that he knew nothing of his in-laws' illegal, multi-million-dollar offshore gambling operation.
"Let me be 100-percent clear. As I have said numerous times and consistently from the beginning, including the first day any news broke on this: I believed at that time that my brother-in-law was working in a legitimate, legal online gambling business in Antigua," Tierney said in an opening statement, before reporters grilled the eight-term Democrat from Salem for nearly an hour.
"I believed this because Robert (Eremian's) parole officer believed it. I believed it because the U.S. attorney believed it. And I believed it because a United States District Court judge believed it."
Tierney's brothers-in-law, Robert and Daniel Eremian, were indicted on federal racketeering and illegal gaming charges in 2010, and Tierney has maintained since that that is when he learned they were engaged in illegal gambling. He has often cited a 2002 court order allowing Robert Eremian to return to Antigua to work after a tax evasion conviction as the reason he never suspected any wrongdoing.
"I was always a bit skeptical because I knew their history of gambling problems in Massachusetts, but then you verify," Tierney said yesterday, again speaking of the court order.
For several years after Eremian returned to Antigua, Tierney's wife, Patrice, managed a bank account in Salem where Robert Eremian deposited more than $7 million over the years, funds she used to pay her brother's taxes and support his family still living in Massachusetts, occasionally keeping some money for herself, according to court documents.
Patrice Tierney pleaded guilty in 2010 to aiding her brother Robert in filing false tax returns and was sentenced to 30 days in prison in 2011. In the process, she admitted to being "willfully blind" to the actual source of her brother's millions.
Asked point blank if Tierney, like his wife, was "willfully blind" to the source of his criminal in-laws' gambling enterprise, Tierney said, "No."
"Yes, I was aware that both of Patrice's brothers had a checkered legal history and were involved in the gambling business in some capacity," Tierney said. "But clearly, the court and the authorities who oversaw his legal situation thought Robert had turned his life around."
The scandal ratcheted up in the last week when Daniel Eremian told The Salem News outside a Boston courtroom that Tierney "knew everything" about the family business and was "the biggest liar in the world" for claiming otherwise. A day later, Robert Eremian, who is now a federal fugitive still living in Antigua, backed up his brother, telling the Boston Globe that Tierney knew about the business.
His in-laws' accusations were made, Tierney reasons, because they are "very angry and bitter, and maybe angry that their brother-in-law the congressman did not make this situation go away."
Tierney's eyes dampened a couple of times during the hour-long press conference as he described how "painful" the whole situation has been for his wife.
"I'm not asking anyone to feel sorry for me," he said. "But I will acknowledge that it has been difficult to endure watching Patrice's pain and her family's disintegration dragged into the public spotlight again and again to serve my opponent's political motives."
Tierney is facing Republican challenger Richard Tisei in the general election in November.