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Ex-Lowell official pleads guilty in bribe case

Prosecutors not seeking jail time for 84-year-old

By John M. Guilfoil
Globe Staff / August 31, 2011

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A retired longtime Lowell city manager and state senator will probably avoid federal prison time after he pleaded guilty yesterday to a complaint that he took bribes from a local landlord.

B. Joseph Tully, 84, pleaded guilty yesterday to one count of wire fraud, accused of scheming with another man to elicit about $12,000 in bribes from a Lowell landlord who had leased a building to the Registry of Motor Vehicles.

Tully was Lowell’s city manager from 1979 to 1987 and also served as a state senator representing Lowell and other areas. He is no stranger to public corruption probes.

In 1988, Tully was sentenced to three years in federal prison after being found guilty of attempted extortion and mail fraud in a complex case involving a swap of Lowell city land for land owned by an auto dealership.

In his most recent brush with the law, according to a document filed in court, Tully and his partner lied to the owner of a building on Chelmsford Street, telling him that they would pay off three members of Lowell’s State House delegation to help the owner secure an extended and profitable lease from the Registry.

The delegation members, coconspirator, and building owner were not identified. The building owner became a cooperating witness for prosecutors.

A lawyer for Tully did not return calls seeking comment yesterday.

According to the complaint, the Registry notified the building owner in 2009 that it would be shutting down the Lowell office. Tully learned of what was going on and reached out to the owner, telling him that if he paid Tully, Tully could pay off a state senator and help keep the Registry office open.

The Registry, in a letter, told the owner that the building it had leased for the previous two decades would be vacated by July 23, 2009. On July 15, the building owner paid Tully’s partner $5,000 by check. Two days later, the owner received a 90-day extension on the Registry’s lease. He paid $6,500 more in November and, around the same time, was given an extension on the lease until July 2010.

Tully admitted that he and his partner had pocketed the bribes and not paid off any public officials.

As it turned out, the Lowell Registry office was, and remains, a very busy location. When the Registry announced it would shutter it in 2009, it was seen as a huge blow to the city and drew the attention of elected officials on Beacon Hill, who were already working to keep it open.

The Registry has since moved its office to a city-owned building downtown.

In return for his guilty plea, Tully is asking for a sentence of probation, and prosecutors have agreed not to ask the judge for anything more than home confinement, up to 36 months of supervised release, and restitution to the building’s owner.

If Tully had gone to trial and been convicted of wire fraud, the octogenarian had faced up to 20 years in prison, a $250,000 fine, and three years of supervised release.

John Guilfoil can be reached at jguilfoil@globe.com.