15 February 2021

I Never Realized How Much of a Menace She Was

Former Carmen Ortiz is perhaps best known for knowingly prosecuting Aaron Swartz to death, but it turns out that she was a corrupt piece of sh%$ on a par with Trump's worst appointments, though somehow she managed to stay in office throughout the entire Obama administration, probably due to her friendship with Eric "Place" Holder.

Among other things, she prosecuted Teamsters for picketing the show Top Chef for not using union drivers, and went after Mayor, now Labor Secretary, Marty Walsh for pressuring a concert promoter to hire experienced union workers as stage hands, claiming racketeering.  (She also made no secret of wanting to be Mayor, and Walsh's actions followed a spate of injuries and deaths resulting from sloppy stage work, including a fire in Rhode Island that killed over 100)

Particularly after her egregious behavior in the Shwartz case, there was a lot of pressure for Obama to fire her, but she stayed on through 2017.

It is that Marty Walsh has been picked by Biden as labor secretary is a sort of nail in the coffin for whatever shred of a political career she hoped to have.

It also might be a not so subtle way of throwing some (extremely mild) shade in Obama and Holder's way:

The last time Joe Biden was in the White House, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh seemed an unlikely nominee for a future labor secretary. Carmen Ortiz, President Barack Obama’s U.S. attorney for the District of Massachusetts, had Walsh in her crosshairs. One summer dawn in 2016 she sent FBI agents to arrest two of his staff under a federal racketeering indictment.

The Boston Globe, New England’s most powerful news outlet, known for its coverage of the Roman Catholic Church child abuse scandals, laid siege to the mayor’s office over his labor practices and union ties. The Globe had named Ortiz its 2011 “Bostonian of the Year.” Its reporters dug their foxholes wherever she pointed, and the paper cheered on her prosecution of Walsh’s staffers.

When “Top Chef” had filmed in Boston two years earlier, Walsh visited on set with the show’s host Padma Lakshmi. Outside, the Teamsters picketed for union jobs. Ortiz indicted them, also for racketeering extortion. And in a city obsessed with haute cuisine, Ortiz leveraged star power: At trial, Lakshmi would take the stand for the prosecution.

In Boston, Ortiz was considered a rising star and was expected to run for mayor herself, a task made easier by softening Walsh up. Hey, this is Boston. If you want finesse, watch a Bruins game; if you want blood, watch a City Council race. She was regularly talked of as a top-tier statewide candidate. The only question was whether she was destined for attorney general, the Senate, the governor’s mansion, or beyond.


Between Kennedy’s funeral and Holder’s exile, Ortiz and her then-chief of cybercrime, Stephen Heymann, indicted internet freedom activist Aaron Swartz on 14 felony counts for allegedly downloading too many academic journal articles. Swartz had used a simple script to download academic journal articles from the platform JSTOR, which provided its articles free to anyone on the MIT network. It’s not clear Swartz even violated the company’s terms of service; finding a crime anywhere in what he did took an awfully creative prosecutor.


Looking to avoid a trial, Heymann compared Swartz to a rapist. By refusing to plead guilty, the line went, Swartz had “revictimized” MIT. Swartz fervently resisted, but Ortiz and Heymann had a trump card.

The Honorable Nathaniel M. Gorton is well known to the Massachusetts Bar, whose members whisper he rarely meets an indictment he doesn’t like. He’s noted as a hanging judge; prosecutors go out of their way to get high-profile cases assigned to him. A legacy admission from the Gorton’s Seafood family to Dartmouth and then Columbia Law School, he was appointed to the bench by President George H.W. Bush after Bush campaigned beside his brother Sen. Slade Gorton.

After Swartz drew Gorton, his defense lawyers told Heymann the pressure of the case had rendered Swartz suicidal, his attorney later said he told prosecutors.

“Fine, we’ll lock him up,” Heymann responded.

Swartz killed himself shortly thereafter, in January 2013.

Within days of Swartz’s death, over 61,000 people digitally signed a White House petition to fire Ortiz — a singular distinction for a U.S. attorney. The Senate and House judiciary committees pilloried her.

Ortiz told the media that she and Heymann hadn’t known Swartz was on the brink of suicide and that if they had known, things might’ve been different. (Heymann’s knowledge only surfaced much later, along with his “Fine, we’ll lock him up” response.)

Ultimately Obama refused to sack Ortiz. She in turn refused to sack Heymann, though she did pick a new chief of cybercrime. Obama thus allowed Ortiz to save face, but she never recovered politically. Try as she might, it all went downhill for her from there, eventually culminating with Biden nominating Walsh for labor secretary.

Refused to sack Ortiz, because as I have noted, Barack Obama was the worst Constitutional law professor ever. ™

Outside the Boston Globe and Ortiz’s few remaining allies, the racketeering charges against Walsh’s staff garnered Ortiz all the wrong attention.

Merriam-Webster defines a racketeer as “a person who obtains money by an illegal enterprise usually involving intimidation.”

But Ortiz never accused Walsh or his staff of pocketing anything for themselves, or for his campaign, or for his administration. The indictment instead alleged that Walsh’s staff required a producer to hire local union stagehands for an outdoor rock concert. That’s business as usual for many in the heavily unionized capital of America’s bluest state.

“Is this illegal now?” mused CBS Boston anchor Jon Keller.

Legality aside, requiring experienced stagehands familiar with the particular outdoor venue was arguably a prudent public safety measure. A few years earlier, an outdoor stage collapsed during a Sugarland show in Indiana, killing seven.

A much deadlier incident eight years before that hit closer to Boston. One hundred people perished in smoke and flames in nearby West Warwick, Rhode Island, when a nightclub named The Station burned to the ground; over 200 were injured. The blaze started when the manager of a rock band ignited indoor stage pyrotechnics.

Yet when Walsh’s office insisted on better-vetted stagehands, Ortiz tried to make a federal case out of it.


Those cases would continue for years after Ortiz left office. Ortiz, however, had more immediate concerns. She had to find a job outside government. The Senate was no longer in the cards.

At or near the top of Ortiz’s list was Harvard Kennedy School. Philip Heymann, Ortiz’s mentor and the father of her former cybercrime chief, was a longtime Harvard professor. And of course the school is named after the family of her late supporter, Theodore E. Kennedy. Harvard nonetheless rejected Ortiz.

You have to f%$# up pretty badly for the Kennedy School to reject a former US Attorney.


A while later, Padma Lakshmi failed to fully convince a Boston jury. All four Teamsters tried were acquitted.

Because picketing people who hire non-union workers is not, or at least should not be a crime.

U.S. District Judge Leo Sorokin at first threw out the separate case against Walsh’s staff. It required a trip to the U.S. Court of Appeals before it made it to trial. The second time around Sorokin deep-sixed it beyond any likely reinstatement. He ruled that the aides hadn’t received anything of benefit, so couldn’t be charged with anything.

Now Biden has driven the final nail into Ortiz’s political coffin by nominating Walsh for labor secretary despite Ortiz’s indictments — or perhaps to signal his loyalty to union organizers, he nominated Walsh because of her indictments. Either way, Ortiz is now the former prosecutor who is linked to the suicide of a once-in-a-generation talent and who fought Biden’s labor secretary nominee over his labor practices and lost. Not exactly where one wants to start a Democratic primary or confirmation hearing.

I do think that Joe Biden is sending a message with this, both about support of union activities and that he is less naive about the intersection of politics and prosecutions than was Barack Obama.


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