Feds charge Massachusetts real estate executive with funneling illegal campaign donations

By Glen Johnson, AP
Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Real estate VP accused of campaign fund scheme

BOSTON — A former senior official with a major Boston real estate development firm was charged Tuesday with underwriting illegal campaign contributions to an array of local, state and federal candidates, allegedly by encouraging the firm’s vendors to make donations and then improperly reimbursing them.

In a statement, Martin Raffol, 54, of Natick appeared to admit the charges leveled by U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz. They included one count of scheming to conceal material information from the Federal Election Commission and witness tampering.

Raffol had been executive vice president of Winn Residential Co.

“As an employee, Marty was directed to raise large amounts of money for politicians. The pressure was intense and in his attempts to satisfy these directives, some of the contributions violated federal campaign laws and regulations,” said Raffol’s attorney, Doug Brooks. “Marty never personally benefited from these efforts.”

Federal officials said in their statement that Raffol tried to boost contributions to candidates who supported Winn’s projects by soliciting donations from the company’s vendors. He then allegedly reimbursed the vendors, violating laws requiring accurate donor disclosure.

The statement does not reveal the precise identity of the vendor-donors or the candidates who received the illegal contributions. The statement says Raffol generated $30,000 in illegal donations to candidates for state and local office, including governor, lieutenant governor and mayor of Boston, as well as more than $12,000 to U.S. House candidates.

State campaign finance records show Raffol personally making legal contributions of $1,000 to Gov. Deval Patrick, $500 each to Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino and former state Treasurer Shannon O’Brien, and $200 to former House Speaker Thomas Finneran.

Spokesman for Menino, Patrick and several Massachusetts congressmen were seeking more information about the charges and alleged donations before making comment.

A Winn spokesman said Raffol was fired Tuesday after being put on leave late last year when the company learned of the allegations.

“There are no allegations of any wrongdoing beyond the charges against Mr. Raffol,” spokesman Alan Eisner said.

Neither the company nor its executives knew of the reimbursements or authorized them, he said.

The company also said it took steps “to ensure that our internal controls were strengthened and such behavior will not occur in the future.”

Winn Residential and other Winn entities have been involved in series of high-profile city projects, including an aborted effort to put an $810 million development in airspace over the Massachusetts Turnpike.

Until last year, the Winn empire had been led by developer Arthur Winn, who in 2004 made a legal, $10,000 donation to a fund former state Sen. Dianne Wilkerson had set up to help with her personal finances. Less than two years later, Wilkerson won Senate approval for $4.3 million in state subsidies for the Turnpike project, known as Columbus Center. The House did not agree and the funding died.

Wilkerson was subsequently accused of accepting bribes, though not related to Winn or the Columbus Center project. She resigned as senator and is now awaiting federal trial.

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