BOSTON, Mass (WWLP) – A Somerville attorney has been arrested on charges that he engaged in a scheme to attempt to bribe the Medford Chief of Police.

54-year-old Sean O’Donovan was indicted on two counts of honest services wire fraud as well as one count of bribery concerning programs that receive federal funds.

“This case is about attempted corruption of government officials. I commend the Chief of Police in Medford for reporting this illegal behavior to the FBI immediately,” said United States Attorney Rachael S. Rollins. “We must ensure that greed and unethical conduct do not undermine the proper functioning of city governments across our Commonwealth. This prosecution does just that.”

“Today, the FBI arrested attorney Sean O’Donovan for allegedly engaging in a pay-to-play scheme in which he tried to capitalize on his insider access, in attempting to bribe the Medford Police Chief, for his own financial benefit,” said Joseph R. Bonavolonta, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Boston Division. “It is vitally important that host community agreements be awarded through a fair and transparent process, not through back-door deals funded by bribes to those in positions of power. We believe what we have uncovered in this case is not only an affront to all the hard-working businesses that play by the rules but a betrayal of Mr. O’Donovan’s client and the community’s trust.”

In late 2018, a company involved in the cultivation and retail sale of medical and recreational marijuana (the Client) retained O’Donovan as a consultant to assist in obtaining a Host Community Agreement (HCA) with the City of Medford. Under Massachusetts law, recreational marijuana retail establishments are required to sign an HCA with cities to obtain an operational license. Medford established a local Cannabis Advisory Committee (CAC), composed of five Medford officials, including the Medford Chief of Police (Chief), in 2020. The Medford CAC reviews, interviews and ranks marijuana retail applicants on behalf of the Mayor of Medford, who has final authority to decide which applicants are chosen.

In February 2021, O’Donovan allegedly approached an individual and offered to pay the individual $25,000 to speak with the Chief about the Client’s anticipated application for an HCA with Medford. The individual is a close relative of the Chief. The individual informed the Chief of O’Donovan’s offer. The Chief immediately alerted federal authorities of the alleged bribe.

Over the course of the investigation, O’Donovan believed that he had an agreement with the individual and the Chief. He offered to pay the individual about $25,000 in exchange for the Chief’s favorable action on the Client’s application. O’Donovan desired to have the Chief favorably rank the Client’s HCA application in his role on the Medford CAC. He wanted the Chief to advise and pressure the Mayor to enter into an HCA with the Client.

According to the indictment, O’Donovan took some steps to conceal the true purpose of the planned bribe payment. For example, O’Donovan allegedly proposed falsely characterizing a payment as a loan to the individual and offered to pay the bribe money in cash, stating, “If I give you cash, there will be no trace.” It is also alleged that O’Donovan rejected the idea of a contract with the individual. he explained that he did not “think that’s a good paper trail.”

Around October 11, 2021, O’Donovan met with the individual and allegedly provided the individual with $2,000 in cash as a down payment on the bribe. It is further alleged that O’Donovan was contracted to receive a stream of income of at least $100,000 annually from the Client’s marijuana business if its Medford application were successful. 

O’Donovan never informed the Client of his bribery scheme with the individual. In October 2021, when O’Donovan proposed that the Client hire the individual as a consultant, the Client rejected the proposal and told O’Donovan that the Client was an “above board company.”

The charge of honest services wire fraud provides for a sentence of up to 20 years in prison, up to three years of supervised release, and a fine of up to $250,000. The charge of federal programs bribery provides for a sentence of up to 10 years in prison, up to three years of supervised release, and a fine of up to $250,000.