The Knave Of Boston


As soon as the result was announced, reporters flocked around Coakley to ask if he planned to resign. “Of course I don’t,” he snapped at them. “I intend to fight these impeachment charges to the end, because I am not guilty. I’ve been indicted before,” he added pugnaciously, “but I’ve never been convicted.” He announced that he would try his own case.

Knowing politicians labeled the forthcoming senate trial “the Mud Bath.” It was an apt designation for the first trial held in the senate in a hundred and twenty years. On August 23 it opened in the sedate eighteenthcentury senate chamber under the Wedgwood-blue and white lining of the State House’s gilt dome, with twenty-four Republican senators and fifteen Democrats ranged in a circle to decide Coakley’s fate. The proper Yankee and proper Republican Attorney General Robert Bushnell, a stocky man with thick reddish hair, a thin mustache, a long nose, and a slow but aggressive voice, was in charge of the prosecution.

In his opening statement Bushnell declared that he would prove Coakley guilty of fraud, falsehoods, and “tissues of lies” in obtaining pardons. The most telling evidence would be Patriarca’s pardon petition, drafted personally by Coakley, in which he had called the Providence gangster “a virtuous young man eager to be released from prison so that he might go home to his mother.”

Of fourteen articles of impeachment seven were concerned with the Patriarca pardon. In his petition Coakley had clipped eight years from the thirty-year-old Patriarca, making him a youth of twenty-two who had erred chiefly through inexperience and bad company, and naming three priests allegedly eager to endorse Patriarca’s petition: a Father Garneri of Quincy; Patriarca’s Providence pastor, Father Fagen; and Father Sextus Brambilla of East Boston.

The trial, roiled and vituperative as only Coakley could make it, lasted all September. Bushnell presented Patriarca’s record going back to 1926, showing him to be a gunman, thief, bootlegger, hijacker, gambler, pimp, racketeer, and murder suspect. The attorney general then revealed that Father Garneri—actually the Reverend Philip Guarino of Waverly —never knew Patriarca. In a deposition Father Guarino denied that he had ever talked with anyone about Patriarca’s pardon, or ever authorized the use of his name. Father Brambilla deposed that his signature had been obtained by fraud, since he had been told that Patriarca’s record consisted merely of minor juvenile delinquencies. Father Fagen turned out to be completely nonexistent.

Former Governor Hurley appeared among the witnesses, moon-faced, cautiously defensive. He could not explain why he had given Patriarca’s pardon such high priority. Coakley, he said, had presented the petition to him personally, stating that Patriarca had been persecuted by the Providence police.

At times Coakley and Bushnell seemed on the verge of blows. Taking the stand in his own defense, Coakley denied he had ever received money or anything of value to help Massachusetts convicts obtain pardons. In a voice that trembled, he told the senators that any charge that he knew the Patriarca petition contained untruths was “false as hell.” He admitted he had invented the name Fagen, but this was only because he could not recall the actual name of Patriarca’s pastor. In any case the whole episode was “trivial and insignificant,” and he accused Bushnell of attempting to torture him. Bushnell took two hours for his summing-up, his voice at times rising in shrill anger. While he was speaking Coakley sat twiddling his thumbs.

After the dragging weeks of trial the senators reached their verdict in only three hours. By a vote of thirty-three to six they found the Brighton councilor guilty on ten of the fourteen impeachment articles. As the voting progressed, the quiet of the otherwise almost silent chamber was broken by the sobbing of Coakley’s daughter Eileen; he himself remained impassive. At the session’s end he stood defiantly outside the chamber door to greet the die-hard six and glare silently at the others. Afterward he issued a statement to reporters, referring to himself—as he customarily did—in the third person. “Men are attacking Dan Coakley who know nothing of his good qualities,” he lamented. “I can say ‘forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.’”

Disbarred, forbidden to hold office, Coakley nonetheless continued to appear on the well-trodden path between City Hall and State House as jaunty, brash, and conspicuous as ever. Weekly he attended the Parker House luncheons of the Councilors Club, where present and former members of the council ate with the governor after each Wednesday morning council meeting. His finances remained mysterious. He claimed that he had used up all his funds and was now dependent on his children, yet he still kept his suite in the Parker House, his town house in Brighton, and a country estate at Buzzards Bay on Cape Cod.