By Ethan Forman
---- — The U.S. House Committee on Ethics is considering whether to investigate Congressman John Tierney and will announce its decision on or before Sept. 11.
The House Committee on Ethics did not state what the matter was about, but Tierney confirmed it concerns familiar questions about his failure to disclose money that his wife, Patrice, received from her brother in return for managing a bank account for him. Tierney has said the money was a family gift and did not need to be disclosed under Congressional rules.
“I welcome the opportunity to finally put this issue to rest after years of my opponents attacking me and my family,” Tierney said Friday. “For more than three years, they have tried repeatedly to misrepresent gifts my wife received from her brother in appreciation for caring for their dying mother and his three children who were without parental supervision.
“There is nothing new,” Tierney added, “that has not already been reviewed in both a court of law and by the voters of my district who sent me back to Congress in two subsequent elections.”
Tierney, a Salem Democrat, represents a Congressional district that includes Gloucester and all of Cape Ann.
The Committee on Ethics posted a brief statement on its website Friday saying that Chairman K. Michael Conaway, R-Texas, and ranking member Linda Sanchez, D-Calif., “have jointly decided to extend the matter regarding Rep. John Tierney, which was transmitted to the committee by the Office of Congressional Ethics on June 13, 2013.
“The committee notes that the mere fact of a referral or an extension, and the mandatory disclosure of such an extension and the name of the subject of the matter, does not itself indicate that any violation has occurred, or reflect any judgment on behalf of the Committee.”
The issue revolves around Patrice Tierney’s brothers, Robert and Daniel Eremian, who prosecutors say ran an illegal offshore betting business in Antigua. While her brother Robert was living out of the country, Patrice managed a bank account for him here. She wrote regular checks to herself from that account, which she characterized as gifts from her brother.
Prosecutors said she received $223,000 over the years from her brother — a figure the Tierneys have disputed.
In 2010, Patrice pleaded guilty to helping her brother file false tax returns, and admitted to being “willfully blind” to the illegal source of her brother’s millions. She served 30 days in prison, followed by two years of probation, including five months of home confinement.
Daniel Eremian was convicted of illegal gambling; Robert Eremian remains a fugitive from justice and is believed to be living in Antigua.
The issue for the congressman is whether he should have disclosed the income from his wife’s brother. Congressional rules say family gifts do not have to be disclosed, and the Tierneys have maintained the money was a gift, in gratitude for Patrice’s help in caring for her brother’s family and their mother.
Tierney and his backers have also cited an excerpt from case’s transcript that as a sign that Tierney had no involvement or knowledge of any wrongdoing. In it, Judge William Young challenged prosecutors and indicated to the “congressman, who is not implicated in this in any way, shape or form...”
Others have questioned whether the money should be regarded not as a gift, but as payment for handling her brother’s bank account. If that is the case, then the income should have been disclosed.
Since the allegations first surfaced in 2010, Tierney has been re-elected twice, once beating Boxford attorney and Republican conservative Bill Hudak, and again this past fall when he rallied, according to polls, and pulled out a close race against former Republican state Sen. Richard Tisei.
Next year, Tierney is facing two challengers for the Democratic nomination, from former Marine and Salem resident Seth Moulton and from Middleton attorney Marisa DeFranco.
“While political opponents have spent millions of dollars to twist the facts and distort the truth for their own gain, I appreciate that the Ethics Committee has not prejudged the matter,” Tierney’s statement said. “I hope the committee will expedite its review, and I am confident it will find the allegations meritless, as they have no foundation in law or fact.”
Massachusetts Republican Party Chairwoman Kirsten Hughes also issued a statement Friday:
“John Tierney isn’t fooling anyone when he claims it is ethical for him to benefit from money sent by his fugitive brother-in-law,” she said. “Tierney is not above the law, and it is our hope the Ethics Committee will see beyond his laughable excuses and hold the congressman accountable for his actions.”
Republicans have repeatedly called for an investigation of Tierney.
But the congressman also has his backers. Emily Bittner, national press secretary for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, issued a statement that said the group “stands squarely behind John Tierney.”
“With the millions spent against Rep. Tierney on this issue, and the rampant media attention over the last three years, it is no surprise that the Ethics Committee is reviewing the matter,” Bittner’s statement read.
“Despite the fact that Rep. Tierney has never been implicated in any of his wife’s family’s legal issues, his political opponents continue these desperate and political attacks in a fruitless attempt to win this congressional seat.”
Ethan Forman can be reached at email@example.com.