By Julie Manganis
SALEM — After his wife pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting the filing of false tax returns last fall, Congressman John Tierney said she had been "deceived" by her brother about the true nature of his work on the island of Antigua, where prosecutors say he ran an illegal, offshore betting operation.
But yesterday, Patrice Tierney appeared to contradict that assertion, as she faced three hours of questioning about her handling of $5 million that passed through bank accounts held jointly by her and brother, Robert Eremian.
"Are you telling his jury, under oath, that your brother is still a gambling consultant?" prosecutor Fred Wyshak asked.
"Yes," Tierney responded.
Her lawyer, citing spousal privilege, cut off a line of questioning from a federal prosecutor about whether she had discussed with her congressman husband what, if anything, he had noticed during two visits to Robert Eremian's home.
It's her other brother, Daniel Eremian, and Todd Lyons, a Beverly man who allegedly worked for Sports Off Shore, who are on trial in U.S. District Court in Boston, where Patrice Tierney, 60, took the stand yesterday as a witness for the prosecution.
But most of the questions yesterday concerned Robert Eremian, currently a fugitive believed to be living in Antigua, which won't extradite him to the United States to face charges.
Tierney was accompanied to court by her lawyer, Donald Stern; her spokeswoman, Jennifer Flagg; and a family friend who was not identified. John Tierney, a Salem Democrat, was not in court.
Patrice Tierney, who spent a month in jail and is on probation, acknowledged yesterday that between 2004 and last year she took approximately $223,000 in what she described as "gifts" from Robert Eremian and her mother, Mary, who lived off money Robert Eremian supplied to her.
At the time, Tierney had been managing the money her brother sent to support his estranged wife, their children and his mother.
But she insisted yesterday, despite her plea last fall to being "willfully blind" as to the true source of the money her brother was sending, that she had no reason to doubt his claim to authorities that he was working as a "software consultant."
"He's very good with software," she testified.
"You reported his income was commissions from his consulting," Wyshak said.
"It's my belief it was true, that he was a consultant," Tierney said during testimony that quickly took an adversarial tone, even though she was the government's witness, testifying under an immunity agreement.
"I don't know who the owner (of the off-shore betting company) is," Tierney continued.
"You understand you're under oath and your immunity agreement doesn't protect you if you lie," Wyshak responded.
Tierney insisted that even though her brother owned the home where she had seen people on computers and using phones, in a room where there were also television sets tuned to various sporting events, that she had no reason to question the arrangement.
Nor did she question the amount of money coming into the United States from someone who claimed to be a software consultant.
Later in the morning, she conceded that she had some concerns about the nature of the business, concerns that were eased by a 2002 memo detailing an agreement between federal prosecutors, Robert Eremian's lawyer and a probation officer that he could return to Antigua to work as a "consultant."
"It made me feel like I could do the work for him," Tierney testified.
"Did you have some concerns?" Wyshak asked.
"Yes," Tierney responded.
By the end of the morning, she acknowledged that if the evidence prosecutors have compiled against her brothers is true, Robert Eremian had lied to her.
"My brother told me it was licensed and legal," she said.
"Did you tell your lawyer that you asked your brother about the legality of what he was doing and he said you didn't want to know?" Wyshak asked.
Tierney said she didn't recall.
Stern, outside court, said that's not his memory of the conversation he had with Wyshak during plea negotiations last fall.
Tierney made five trips to her brother's home, twice with her husband.
"And he was present and he observed the operations?" the prosecutor asked.
"He dined there," Tierney said.
Later, Stern and Flagg questioned the relevance of questions about the congressman.
"It's clear John Tierney had nothing to do with the substance of the case, and, frankly, any kind of questions were irrelevant," Stern said.
John Tierney was not present yesterday in court, but his opponent in last year's 6th District race, Bill Hudak, was, taking notes.
Hudak is one of two Republicans who have announced plans to run against Tierney next year. The other is former state Sen. Richard Tisei of Wakefield.
Courts reporter Julie Manganis may be reached at 978-338-2521 or firstname.lastname@example.org.