From Varsity Blues to Marathon Bomber’s Death Sentence: Boston US Attorney Andrew Lelling looks back on his top cases

BOSTON — In his three years as Boston U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling has overseen some significant cases in our community that have attracted national attention.

In the coming weeks, Lelling will step aside so that the Biden Administration can name a new US Attorney for Boston.

Recently, Boston 25 News reporter Bob Ward sat down with Lelling for a one-on-one interview about some of his office’s top cases during his tenure as Boston’s top federal prosecutor.

COLLEGE ADMISSIONS SCANDAL

No case was bigger over the last three years than the college admissions scandal, AKA Varsity Blues.

Hollywood actors Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin received most of the attention, they pleaded guilty and served time.

But Varsity Blues ensnared dozens more, as it revealed wealthy parents shelling out millions to guarantee their children entrance into some of the country’s best undergraduate colleges and universities.

Lelling tells me, it was risky to bring such a high profile case, but he’s glad he did.

“We wanted it to be an impact case. And that’s what we got,” Lelling told me. “I think we very much made our point in this case and we really sensitized the public to this kind of problem. And the schools. And that’s all to the good.”

JUDGE JOSEPH CASE

April 2018, another case that made national headlines.

The arrest of sitting Massachusetts Judge Shelley Joseph, charged with obstruction of justice for allegedly helping an undocumented immigrant, who was appearing in her courtroom on a drug charge, avoid ICE Agents by letting him slip out a back door.

The case has not yet gone to trial.

“People like to think there was some kind of political aspect to that case, but there is not. Washington didn’t tell us to bring the case. Washington didn’t even know about the case until about two weeks before we charged it,” Lelling said. " (The case) is about a terrible abuse of judicial authority in a person who has life tenure. That was extremely troubling.”

FEDERAL DEATH PENALTY: COLEMAN TO TSZRNAEV

Andrew Lelling will leave office with some unfinished business involving the federal death penalty.

He tells me, it will have to be up to the next Boston US Attorney to decide if the ultimate punishment will be on the table for Louis Coleman, the man charged with kidnapping a 23-year-old woman from Boston’s Theatre district in 2019, and killing her.

And he says, it’s the same for convicted Boston Marathon Bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

Last summer, a federal appeals court overturned Tsarnaev’s death sentence, reducing it to life in prison.

Lelling’s office is asking The US Supreme Court to take up the matter.

But if it doesn’t, it will be up to a new administration to decide if Tsarnaev’s life will be spared.

“I think Tsarnaev should get the death penalty. I think there is a narrow class of cases so extreme, the death penalty is a proportionate and just result. And I think Tsarnaev’s case is one of those cases,” Lelling said.

WHAT’S NEXT

Andrew Lelling expects he will soon enter the legal world of private practice and is working on his resume.

Beyond that, Lelling will not rule out the possibility that he might run for public office.

“I like public service. You get that sense of mission. It’s not about the dollars, it’s about doing the right thing,” Lelling said.