When former Chelsea Housing Authority (CHA) Director Michael McLaughlin is sentenced in Boston’s Federal Court on Friday, many are expecting that those who had to endure he’s purported “reign of terror” will get to speak as victims.
At least two and as many as six CHA tenants will be prepared to stand up in court and give victim impact statements – calling for extensive jail time and payment of restitution to the CHA. It is one of the very few rare instances where a public corruption case has had victim’s of that corruption speak publicly.
In this case, a grass roots effort steamrolled through the CHA developments last February when McLaughlin’s plea deal was unveiled. Residents became outraged and quickly organized for fear that McLaughlin would get away without going to jail and with just a slap on the wrist.
Aided by Greater Boston Legal Services Attorney Jay Rose and the Chelsea Collaborative’s Gladys Vega and Maria Belen Power, the tenants formed a coalition.
“Michael McLaughlin shouldn’t get a slap on the wrist because he’ll continue doing it,” said Mildred Valentin, who lives at Clark Avenue Development and intends to speak in court on Friday. “Twenty years would be about right. He needs to get jail time and to pay restitution. Most people would be okay with that as long as we get money to do repairs in these buildings.”
Valentin has lived in public housing about four years, and came in just in the last few years of McLaughlin’s time at CHA. She said there are horror stories about rodent/bug infestation, dilapidated apartments and people always being threatened with eviction.
“There’s so many horror stories here you wouldn’t believe it,” she said. “If you want your unit painted, they tell you to do it yourself – and they’re telling this to disabled, elderly people in wheelchairs. The mice and bedbugs – it’s awful. I would say about 70 percent of the units in our development need serious repairs. We were supposed to get new carpet in here. We didn’t. Why? Because Michael McLaughlin wouldn’t give over the money. The same thing for the washing machines. We have four working machines for 151 apartments. No one can get any laundry done.”
Finally, Valentin said she decided to stand up, help organize and speak out in court.
“A lot of people are afraid to stand up or say anything because they believe there will be retaliation,” she said. “The tactic here in the past was always eviction if you said anything. They evict you all the time. So, I’m not only speaking for myself, but also for my neighbors who can’t do it, who are too scared to do it or who are too shy to do it. I will speak.”
Vega and Power said the moment will be historic on Friday.
“This will be a historic occasion,” Power said. “We’re really excited to have the tenants’s voice heard in court, which is a rare but exciting experience. We’re glad the tenants will have a voice and a space to be heard in the sentencing.”
Vega said the whole organizing effort has been eye-opening.
“It has been incredible because it was the tenants who walked into the Collaborative and asked if we could help them – having known our efforts on such things in the past,” said Vega. “They began coming in one by one and we decided that this was one we wouldn’t let get away. They told us, ‘We have been saying McLaughlin is no good for years and we want everyone to know that we tried to tell everyone and no one wanted to hear us.’ We were also extremely appalled at the pre-sentencing agreement. We understand why they did it, but we didn’t think we could let it go just like that.”
At least six other tenants from Burma Road and Central Avenue have submitted letters to the court and are ready to give testimony.
A bus will reportedly bring hundreds of residents to the courthouse where they will show their support outside the building.