SALEM — Amid a roomful of media, embattled Congressman John Tierney stood at a podium at the Hawthorne Hotel on Tuesday and again declared that he knew nothing of his in-laws' illegal, multi-million-dollar offshore gambling operation.
"Let me be 100 percent clear," Tierney said in an opening statement, before reporters grilled the eight-term Democrat from Salem for nearly an hour. "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.
"I believed this because Robert (Eremian's) parole officer believed it," he said. "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 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, 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, money 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, the Times' sister paper, 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."
The accusations and Tierney's press conference also came amid increasing heat in his re-election bid against Republican challenger Richard Tisei, a former state senator and Charles Baker's lieutenant governor running mate in the 2010 race for the governor's seat.
In a response issued Tuesday night, the Tisei campaign derider Tierney's press conference, titling its campaign statement "half-truths in Salem."
"John Tierney now acknowledges that gambling was going on, but that he didn't know it was illegal," said Tisei's campaign manager Paul Moore. "Did he visit Casablanca or Antigua?
"Acting shocked, he now claims that he only knew of the criminal enterprise once the voters began to know during the trial of Daniel Eremian several months ago," Moore added. "It shows enormous disregard for the intelligence of the voters that John Tierney would continue to peddle that falsehood."
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."
Jesse Roman can be reached at email@example.com.