Celtics Tickets, Political Revenge: U.S. Attorney Accused of Broad Misconduct
The U.S. attorney for Massachusetts, Rachael S. Rollins, misused her office to “boost” a political ally, flouted ethics rules to obtain free tickets from the Boston Celtics and lied under oath to investigators, the Justice Department inspector general said on Wednesday.
The 161-page report — one of the most extraordinary public denunciations of a sitting federal prosecutor in recent memory — was released a day after Ms. Rollins announced she would resign at the end of this week, conceding that she had become a harmful “distraction” in one of the department’s most important offices.
Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz opened an investigation into Ms. Rollins last year after a published report that she had attended a July 2022 Democratic National Committee fund-raiser headlined by Jill Biden, the first lady.
His team determined that those actions violated policies and laws against electioneering. But the inquiry rapidly expanded to encompass a striking range of apparent misconduct, including efforts to discredit a political rival and her acceptance of flights and a stay at a resort that were paid for by a sports and entertainment company, he said.
The department’s in-house watchdog “received multiple additional allegations concerning Rollins,” the inspector general’s staff wrote in the report. They included allegations of misuse of position, possible violations of gift rules and other department policies, the report said.
The U.S. Office of Special Counsel, another federal watchdog agency, released its own findings on Ms. Rollins shortly after the inspector general’s report came out, concluding that she had violated the Hatch Act, which restricts political activity by federal officials.
In a letter to President Biden, Henry Kerner, the special counsel, described her violations as among “the most egregious transgressions” he had ever investigated.
Ms. Rollins will be replaced by Joshua S. Levy, her deputy, until the White House nominates her successor, according to a senior Justice Department official.
Ms. Rollins departs as her office tackles one of its highest-profile cases in recent years: the investigation into the leak of classified national security documents by Airman Jack Teixeira, a 21-year-old Air National Guardsman assigned to an intelligence wing at a base on Cape Cod, in Massachusetts.
Mr. Horowitz said he was most alarmed by evidence that Ms. Rollins had secretly tipped off a Boston Herald reporter about a possible Justice Department investigation into one of the candidates then running to succeed her as Suffolk County district attorney, Kevin R. Hayden, to benefit a friend and ally, Ricardo Arroyo.
Ms. Rollins “brought her efforts to advance Arroyo’s candidacy” to her job as the top federal law enforcement official in Boston, investigators said.
She initially tried to persuade a senior aide to issue a letter suggesting the department was investigating Mr. Hayden for public corruption. When the person refused, she reached out to the newspaper in an unsuccessful effort to make her claims public before the election, investigators found.
Mr. Hayden defeated Mr. Arroyo in the primary in September, and won the general election in November. The Herald published a story about a possible investigation three days after the primary, citing an unnamed “federal law-enforcement source.” He has never been accused of a crime.
Ms. Rollins seems to have been motivated, in part, by revenge following a damaging report published in The Boston Globe about a sexual abuse allegation against Mr. Arroyo when he was a teenager. She believed it had been disseminated by Mr. Hayden’s campaign — and made an election night promise to Mr. Arroyo that Mr. Hayden “will regret the day he did this to you,” according to the inspector general.
She initially denied being the source in a Dec. 6 interview with Mr. Horowitz’s investigators, but admitted she was the official referred to in the story when she was re-interviewed shortly afterward.
In late December, Mr. Horowitz informed department prosecutors that Ms. Rollins had misled his investigators for a possible prosecution. They declined to bring charges, he said.
A spokeswoman for Attorney General Merrick B. Garland had no comment.
A lawyer for Ms. Rollins downplayed the report. He said that the violations of federal regulations and law outlined by investigators amounted to little more than “process fouls,” and that she had simply failed to adjust to the different expectations that went with a federal official’s role.
“The central truth is that Ms. Rollins moved from being an elected official with virtually no restrictions on her activities to the highly regulated environment of the U.S. attorney’s office,” said her lawyer, Michael R. Bromwich, who was the Justice Department’s inspector general from 1994 to 1999.
He suggested she could have done more to push back on Mr. Horowitz’s claims but “believed the better course was to step down and end the matter before it overwhelmed her office and D.O.J.”
But investigators, who reviewed dozens of text messages and emails from Ms. Rollins to associates, reached a different conclusion: that she had repeatedly blurred the boundaries between governmental duties and her grievances, private life or political objectives.
In early 2022, for instance, Ms. Rollins reached out to the Celtics to obtain 30 free tickets for members of a local youth basketball league, enlisting an employee at the U.S. attorney’s office to help arrange the logistics — a charitable endeavor that nonetheless violated federal ethics guidelines.
She then compounded the problem by accepting an offer from a Celtics employee for a pair of game tickets. Those seats, in a loge area with a face value of $350 each, were much better than those given to the children, located in the rafters of TD Garden and valued at $80 or $85 apiece.
“Amazing!” she wrote after a Celtics employee emailed her the tickets. “Thank you!!!”
Ms. Rollins also accepted more than $2,000 in travel, lodging and entertainment from a California-based sports and entertainment company that hosted her for a two-day summit she attended in Ojai, Calif., in June.
Ms. Rollins told investigators that she participated in a panel discussion centering on civil rights and civil engagement, and that she thought she was not required to seek ethics approval for the trip because she had a pre-existing relationship with the organizers of the event.
But under federal regulations, she was required to obtain approval from department headquarters in Washington before accepting the invitation, investigators said.
In January, Ms. Rollins paid back the company $2,307.66 after investigators questioned her. She is currently seeking reimbursement from the Justice Department, claiming the trip was official travel, the report said.
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