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Ex-Finneran aides face grand jury

Former speaker's testimony probed

The former legal counsel and chief of staff to departed House speaker Thomas M. Finneran were called Tuesday before a grand jury that is investigating whether Finneran lied under oath when he said he was not involved in creating the legislative redistricting map, a lawyer close to the case said yesterday.

Onetime Finneran legal counsel John A. Stefanini, a former state representative from Framingham who joined Finneran's staff in 2001, and former chief of staff Sean M. Morrissey were among several of the former speaker's top aides who have appeared before the grand jury in recent days, the lawyer said. Federal prosecutors also called Finneran's policy aide, Anne B. O'Driscoll, who served on the staff of the redistricting committee, the lawyer said.

Stefanini was one of four legislative staff members who received training on how to use the software in the redistricting process, according to federal judges who heard the case challenging the legislative map. They pointed out that he had installed the Maptitude software used in the redistricting process on his computer in the speaker's office.

Two people familiar with the appearances said the decision by federal prosecutors to bring Finneran's top aides into the grand jury is a signal that the prosecutors in US Attorney Michael J. Sullivan's office appear to be moving to wrap up the eight-month-old case.

However, the appearances mark the first signs that a witness in the Finneran matter had personally appeared before a grand jury.

Neither Stefanini nor his lawyer returned several phone calls made to each of them yesterday. Morrissey was not available for comment. O'Driscoll declined to speak about the grand jury.

''I don't think I can comment," said O'Driscoll when she was reached at her State House office and was asked about her appearance before the grand jury.

Federal prosecutors opened a criminal investigation into the House redistricting process last March when they subpoenaed documents from the special legislative committee that redrew district lines for the 160 seats in 2001.

The grand jury subpoena was sent last March 10 to the office of Representative Thomas M. Petrolati, House chairman of the special Joint Redistricting Committee and a top Finneran loyalist.

At issue in the investigation is Finneran's sworn testimony during a civil case that he was not directly involved in developing the new district map and that he did not see it or know of its content until it was unveiled publicly in November 2001.

Finneran, who has declined to comment in the past, could not be reached for comment yesterday. He resigned as speaker in September to become president of the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council. His lawyer, prominent Boston criminal lawyer Richard M. Egbert, was not available yesterday, according to Egbert's office.

Finneran's legal problems stem from the judges' reactions to his testimony in a federal case in which the redistricting plan was challenged by voting-rights groups that alleged that lawmakers marginalized minority voters and protected white incumbents.

In a slap at Finneran and his testimony that he was not involved in the process, the three-judge panel, in its Feb. 24 ruling backing the challenge by minority voters, said that ''circumstantial evidence strongly suggests the opposite conclusion."

Among the evidence they cited was Stefanini's role.

The judges, dismissing Finneran's testimony, also wrote in the opinion: ''The committee [and the House as a whole] apparently was content to leave the heavy lifting to Finneran, Petrolati, their aides, and the committee staff."

Petrolati also testified that he had numerous conversations with Finneran about his Mattapan-based district. Within days of the judges' ruling, the FBI appeared at the State House with subpoenas for records.

Finneran, a 25-year veteran of the House, was speaker from April 1996 until two months ago. Last May, Egbert held a press conference to challenge the judges' statements, saying they were ''simply wrong."

He cited several statements Finneran made at the trial in which the speaker testified that he had talked about the redistricting plan with Petrolati ''from time to time" and to the committee's lawyer, Lawrence S. DiCara, a former Boston city councilor and close Finneran ally.

After a flurry of activity last spring, the federal investigation appeared to calm down. In May, the FBI quizzed two state representatives about conversations they had with the speaker about the House redistricting plan. The Globe reported that state Representative Kay Khan, a five-term Democrat from Newton, confirmed that she had met with several agents at the Boston FBI headquarters at One Center Plaza. An FBI agent also met with Representative Ruth B. Balser, Democrat of Newton.

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