SALEM — Standing at a podium at the Hawthorne Hotel yesterday, embattled Congressman John Tierney tried to save his political career and convince the public that he knew nothing of his in-laws’ illegal, multimillion-dollar offshore gambling operation.
“Let me be 100 percent clear. 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,” Tierney said in an opening statement, before reporters grilled the eight-term Democrat from Salem for nearly an hour.
“I believed this because Robert (Eremian’s) parole officer believed it,” Tierney 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 went to great lengths yesterday to distance himself from Daniel and Robert Eremian, his brothers-in-law who were indicted on federal racketeering and illegal gaming charges in 2010.
Appearing more emotional and personal than in previous public interviews about the controversy, Tierney said he has seen the Eremians only a couple of times over 16 years, and the few times he did meet Daniel Eremian, he said, “It did not end well.”
At one point, when a reporter accidently referred to Eremian as Tierney’s “brother,” Tierney quickly interjected, saying, “Don’t ever confuse these people with my brother.” Tierney’s brother, Michael, died in a car crash in 1998. It was one of a few times yesterday that the congressman seemed on the verge of shedding tears.
The other came when he described watching his wife, Patrice, go through the public controversy with her family. Patrice Tierney, the Eremians’ sister, pleaded guilty in 2010 to aiding her brother Robert by filing false tax returns. She was sentenced to 30 days in prison and, in the process, admitted to being “willfully blind” to the actual source of her brother’s millions.
“This has been the most painful thing in my life other than watching a family member pass away,” Tierney said.
Asked by a reporter if his wife resents him for anything that happened — the Eremians have claimed Tierney “railroaded” their sister to plead guilty to save her husband’s political career — Tierney seemed genuinely surprised by the question.
“I hope not,” he said. “I hope she loves me. I know I love her.”
He said he’d seen no indication that she resented him.
The controversy surrounding his criminal brothers-in-law has dogged Tierney since his wife was charged in 2010.
The scandal ratcheted up again last week when Daniel Eremian told The Salem News outside a Boston courtroom that John Tierney “knew everything” about the family business and was “the biggest liar in the world” for claiming otherwise. A day later, Robert Eremian, now a federal fugitive still living in Antigua, backed up his brother, saying Tierney knew about the business.
Tierney has maintained since the beginning that he learned of the Eremians’ illegal gambling empire only when the federal charges were levied — a claim many have found hard to swallow.
He has often cited a 2002 court order, in which a federal judge, U.S. district attorney and a parole officer signed off on allowing Robert Eremian to go back to Antigua to work as a software consultant at the betting company Off Shore Sports, as rationale for Tierney’s belief that the gambling operation was legal.
Federal investigators, however, say Eremian was actually the principal in a multimillion-dollar illegal gambling operation that employed upward of 50 people.
For several years after her brother returned to Antigua, Patrice Tierney managed a bank account in Salem where Robert Eremian deposited more than $7 million over the years, funds she used to pay her brother’s taxes and support his family in Massachusetts, occasionally using some money for herself, according to court documents.
Given his in-laws’ criminal history and the volume of money going into the account overseen by his wife, the congressman was asked point-blank yesterday if he, like his wife, was “willfully blind” to the source of that money. 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 money Patrice oversaw went out as quickly as it came in, he said, and never carried a high balance.
During Daniel Eremian’s trial, prosecutors alleged that Patrice Tierney received $223,000 in gifts from her brother, a figure she and her husband dispute.
“I understand that that amount is very much inflated. It was a much lesser amount over a period of a number of years,” Tierney said, though he could not say yesterday how much money his wife received.
Tierney, who said he never received any gifts from Eremian, knew from the get-go about the gifts to his wife and characterized them as payments from Eremian for attending to her brother’s children and property in Massachusetts.
During his wife’s trial, it was revealed that Tierney had visited Robert Eremian’s house in Antigua twice, but he told press yesterday that both occasions were quick visits and described Eremian’s residence as “a modest house, no casino with lights on it.”
“It seemed legal, everything we saw,” Tierney said. “There wasn’t a question of, ‘Oh, my God, is this legal or not?’”
Tierney is facing Republican challenger Richard Tisei in the general election in November. In an interview yesterday, Tisei said answers were long overdue, but that they “probably just raise more questions at this point.”
Grilled about how voters can trust his judgment and effectiveness in Congress when it appears he was duped by his brothers-in-law, Tierney said, “People trust me in Congress because in 16 years I have done an excellent job representing the district.
“No one who knows me would accuse me of being dishonest, no one.”
After listing several regrets, including the distraction the case had caused and the pain it has inflicted, Tierney added, “I regret having brothers-in-law, but frankly you don’t get to choose those things in life.”
“I married ... for better or worse, and sometimes the worse is worse than you ever imagine,” he said, adding that he does not regret marrying Patrice, but only the connection with her family.
He said he is not considering stepping down and would do so only if it seemed in the best interest of his wife.
“If I thought it would spare her some pain,” he said, “it would certainly be a consideration.”
But, he added, Patrice would feel worse, not better, if he decided “to walk away from this.”