Mother-in-law’s donations to Tierney now face scrutiny

Suspect account was helping her

John Tierney, shown at a 2004 awards dinner, says he never received any money from Robert Eremian’s account. John Tierney, shown at a 2004 awards dinner, says he never received any money from Robert Eremian’s account.
By Shelley Murphy and Matt Viser
Globe Staff / October 8, 2010

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US Representative John F. Tierney’s elderly mother-in-law donated $4,800 to his campaign account at the same time that she was receiving money from a bank account that was allegedly funded with illegal gambling money her son made from an offshore sports betting operation.

Tierney’s wife, Patrice Tierney, pleaded guilty in federal court Wednesday to aiding and abetting the filing of false tax returns for her brother Robert Eremian, and acknowledged she managed a bank account for him that was allegedly funded with more than $7 million in illegal gambling profits he earned from an Internet betting operation based in Antigua.

Prosecutors said Patrice Tierney used the account to pay bills for her 86-year-old mother, Mary Eremian, and for Robert Eremian’s three children. Robert Eremian, 57, is a fugitive, wanted on a federal racketeering indictment handed up by a federal grand jury in Boston in August.

John Tierney said through a spokeswoman yesterday that the contributions to his campaign came directly from Mary Eremian and that he never received any money from Robert Eremian’s account.

However, the spokeswoman, Kathryn Prael, said that “if the campaign finds out any money came from his account, it will return it or contribute it to charity.’’

Boston attorney Donald K. Stern, who represents Patrice Tierney, would not disclose how much money Patrice Tierney provided to her mother from the Bank of America account in Massachusetts funded by her brother.

“It’s an ongoing case,’’ he said. “Patrice Tierney has not been sentenced, and I don’t think it’s appropriate to get into that kind of detail.’’

Mary Eremian is on Social Security, has a small pension from her late husband, and obtained a small inheritance from two of her brothers who have died, according to Prael, but she was unable to provide additional details about Eremian’s annual income.

Her husband, Robert G. Eremian, owned several bowling alleys and restaurants in Medford and Winchester. He died in 1998.

Mary Eremian and Patrice Tierney’s son from another marriage, John Chew, both live in a Lynnfield home owned by Robert Eremian. Prosecutors are seeking to seize the property as part of the illegal gambling case.

Prosecutors allege that from 2003 through 2009, Robert Eremian funneled more than $7 million in illegal gambling proceeds into the account managed by his sister from illegal profits he made as owner of Sports Offshore.

Patrice Tierney, 59, of Salem, is scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 13. Prosecutors do not allege she profited from her actions, but accused her of “willful blindness’’ to her brother’s alleged illegal activities.

Representative Tierney, a Salem Democrat who is running for his eighth term in November, issued a statement after charges against his wife were announced earlier this week, saying that she believed her brother’s earnings were from legitimate business and that she had been betrayed by him.

Mary Eremian, who listed her occupation as retired and maintained an address in Beverly until last year, when it switched to a post office box in Lynnfield, wrote 11 checks totaling $4,800 between 2004 and May of this year to Tierney’s campaign. Her largest single donation was for $2,000 on Oct. 11, 2008. She also donated $3,800 to her son-in-law’s campaign between 1998 and 2000.

Prael said some donations came from campaign events and fund-raisers, including a women’s luncheon held for Tierney.

“We always told her not to pay, but I’m her son-in-law,’’ Tierney said through the spokeswoman.

Robert Eremian was running an illegal gambling business in Lynnfield in 1996 when it was raided by State Police. Prosecutors allege he then moved the business’s headquarters to St. John’s, Antigua, but continued to operate underground in Massachusetts.

In 2002, he was convicted of tax evasion and received probation, but he persuaded probation officials to let him leave the country the following year to work as a computer consultant for legal Internet gaming businesses.

But in August, Robert Eremian, of St. John’s, his brother, Daniel Eremian, 60, of Boca Raton, Fla., and two other men were indicted on racketeering, money laundering, and illegal gambling charges.

In a televised debate last night on WFXT-TV (Fox 25) between Tierney and his Republican opponent, Bill Hudak, the congressman said he did not feel the need to constantly watch over his wife’s financial dealings.

“This is the 21st century, and what Patrice does with her family . . . is not something as her husband that I look over and monitor day to day,’’ Tierney said.

Hudak fired back in a testy exchange in which the candidates repeatedly spoke over one another.

“You’ve got $7 million unaccounted for,’’ Hudak said.

Stephanie Ebbert and Travis Andersen of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

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