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US drug charges for aide to mayor

Put on unpaid leave; Menino ‘deeply troubled’

By Jonathan Saltzman and Michael Levenson
Globe Staff / December 18, 2009

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Mayor Thomas M. Menino’s liaison to East Boston was arrested Wednesday on federal drug charges following a six-month investigation by Boston police and federal authorities.

John M. Forbes, 31, of East Boston appeared in US District Court in Boston yesterday on a two-count indictment charging him with possession with intent to distribute OxyContin and possession with intent to distribute marijuana. He was ordered held until a detention hearing Monday.

Minutes after Forbes’s initial appearance in court, Menino announced that he had placed him on unpaid administrative leave, pending the outcome of a disciplinary hearing next week that could result in his dismissal.

“I was deeply troubled and disheartened this morning to learn of the arrest and ongoing investigation of one of our employees, John Forbes,’’ Menino said in a statement. “The charges against him are extremely serious, and his alleged behavior is completely unacceptable.’’

Forbes was brought into the courtroom in handcuffs while wearing jeans, a long-sleeved blue T-shirt, and sneakers. He had been arrested late Wednesday night at home and appeared disheveled. Speaking barely above a whisper, he told Magistrate Judge Marianne B. Bowler that he understood his rights during the brief hearing.

A bare-bones, five-page indictment charges him with possession with intent to distribute the drugs on Aug. 20 in Boston but does not give specifics. Prosecutors declined to provide other details, but said more information may be made public Monday.

If convicted, Forbes faces a maximum of 20 years in prison on the OxyContin charge and five years on the marijuana charge, according to Assistant US Attorney Anthony Fuller.

Forbes’s lawyer, Victoria Kelleher of Salem, directed her client not to provide his address or any other identifying information in the courtroom. She declined to comment afterward.

A second man - Lawrence R. Taylor, 51, of Wakefield - was charged in a related indictment with two counts of distribution of OxyContin in Danvers in September 2008 and March. He was arrested during a traffic stop yesterday and appeared at a separate hearing. He, too, was ordered held pending a detention hearing.

State Representative Carlo P. Basile, who represents East Boston, said he has known Forbes for years and had spoken to him Wednesday.

Forbes, an East Boston native who is married with two children, “was always doing work for the neighborhood,’’ Basile said. He described Forbes as a “good solid family kid’’ and a “good, decent human being’’ who keeps him updated on neighborhood news.

“I’m totally shocked,’’ Basile said, adding that Forbes’s arrest was “a human tragedy.’’

Councilor Salvatore LaMattina, who represents East Boston and used to have Forbes’s job as the mayor’s liaison to the neighborhood, also said he was stunned.

“I’m shocked and saddened, and my heart goes out to his family,’’ said LaMattina. “He’s well known, and he’s well liked in the community.’’

In his statement, Menino said Boston police have been working closely with the US attorney’s office on the investigation since July.

“I believe public employees must be held to a higher standard of conduct,’’ he added, “but any personal decisions made by Mr. Forbes should not be a reflection’’ on the work of the Office of Neighborhood Services.

Neighborhood liaisons serve as the mayor’s eyes and ears and are very important to Menino, the self-described urban mechanic who prides himself on staying on top of neighborhood issues. Liaisons attend every community meeting in their neighborhoods and handle complaints from constituents about trash, traffic, and other city services.

Forbes has been a city employee, working in the Office of Neighborhood Services, since 2004. His salary is $49,573 a year.

Jonathan Saltzman can be reached at jsaltzman@globe.com; Michael Levenson at mlevenson@globe.com.