A longshoreman admitted in Suffolk Superior Court yesterday that he put his 4-year-old son on the Massport payroll in 2004 as a heavy equipment operator and that he got unemployment benefits while being paid by the state to represent indigent clients in courthouses.
Brendan Lee, the 40-year-old son of a longshoreman and the father of Brendan V. Lee, hung his head and spoke in a monotone voice as he pleaded guilty to fraud and larceny charges before Suffolk Superior Court Judge Margaret Hinkle.
"You acknowledge that you caused your son, Brendan V. Lee, to be placed on the payroll?" Hinkle asked the South Shore resident.
"Yes," said Lee, who has five children ranging in age from 19 months to 9 years old.
Hinkle sentenced Lee to two years probation, four weeks of home confinement on the weekend, and ordered him to repay the state unemployment fund $3,310.
Lee, according to Assistant Attorney General James H. O'Brien, collected $8,000 from the state Committee for Public Counsel Services for representing indigents when he also collected the unemployment benefits in late 2002 and early 2003.
After sentencing, Lee referred questions to his lawyer, Michael P. Doolin. "I have tremendous respect for him," Doolin said of Lee. "He acknowledged in court that he made a mistake. Brendan Lee is a wonderful guy."
Lee said in court that he voluntarily stopped practicing law in 2006 when he was first indicted. Doolin said he hopes the conviction will not end Lee's career working as a longshoreman. Lee told the judge he has been working as a longshoreman since he was "15 or 17 years old."
Lee is a member of the International Longshoremen's Association and was among 20 people indicted in 2006 under former Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly whose successor, Martha Coakley, has pushed on with the prosecution. Authorities said six children under the age of 10 had been on the Massport payroll.
O'Brien yesterday asked that Lee be sentenced to 18 months imprisonment at the Suffolk County House of Correction with a 2 1/2-year suspended sentence afterwards, an idea the judge rejected.
"While we believed that some amount of committed time would have been appropriate in this case, we respect Judge Hinkle's decision," Coakley's office said in a statement. Prosecutors declined further comment because of the ongoing criminal cases.
The charges against Lee and others grew out of an investigation triggered by Massport, which noticed that children of longshoremen started showing up on payrolls at the Conley Terminal in South Boston, among other allegations, authorities said.
In broad terms, Massport runs Boston's port and the longshoreman handle loading and unloading of the ships and the movement of goods on the docks. The indictments targeted members of ILA Locals 799, 800, and 805, which are located in South Boston.
Prosecutors said in court papers the scheme that Lee and others used did not generate cash, but was designed to position the children in seniority ranks if they chose to work with the ILA as adults.
Officials at the ILA locals did not return a telephone call seeking comment.
A Massport spokesman, Matthew Brelis, said the agency has put "internal controls" into place to "prevent such abuse from occurring again."
Brelis said Massport now prepares the timesheets, as opposed to the ILA, and that workers have to individually sign for their checks.