BOSTON – Former Massachusetts House Speaker Thomas Finneran (search) was indicted Monday on charges of lying under oath about his role in the redrawing of the state's legislative districts.
Finnerman was charged with perjury and obstruction of justice and could be sent to prison and lose his license to practice law if convicted.
Finneran, who resigned last September to head the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council, was widely considered the state'most powerful politician during his eight years as speaker. He did not immediately return a call for comment.
The Democrat from Boston was accused of lying when he testified last year before a federal appeals court in a lawsuit brought by minority groups. The minority groups claimed that a new legislative map would hurt black and Hispanic candidates and protect Finneran and other incumbents.
Finneran told the three-judge panel he had no role in drafting the map beyond appointing members of a redistricting committee.
In its ruling, the court said it found his testimony hard to believe.
"Although Speaker Finneran denied any involvement in the redistricting process, the circumstantial evidence strongly suggests the opposite," the judges wrote. The court threw out the map and ordered a new one drawn, saying lawmakers sacrificed "racial fairness" to protect incumbents.
Finneran's attorney, Richard Egbert, has said the lawmaker never denied being involved in the redistricting process. Egbert did not immediately return a call for comment on Monday.
The indictment charges Finneran with three counts of perjury and one count of obstruction of justice. Each perjury count carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison, while the obstruction charge carries a maximum sentence of 10 years.
Once dubbed "King Tom" for pushing through a rules change that would have allowed him to remain speaker for life, Finneran served as head of the 160-member House from 1996 to 2004. He ruled with an iron fist, keeping tight control over what legislation was allowed to reach the floor and isolating lawmakers who opposed him.
Under state law and the House's own rules, Finneran was free to take part in the redistricting process, which made his denial even more baffling to some.
When the appeals judges asked him if he knew what was going to be in the plan before it became public, he said, "No, I did not." And when asked when he first saw the map, Finneran said: "It would have been after the committee on redistricting filed its plan with the House clerk."