-- Former Massachusetts House speaker Thomas M. Finneran was indicted Monday on federal charges of lying under oath about his role in redrawing state legislative districts.
Finneran was charged with perjury and obstruction of justice and could be sent to prison and lose his license to practice law if convicted.
"My response to the charges brought against me today is 'Not guilty.' My family and I look forward to my day in court," the Boston Democrat said in a statement.
Finneran, who resigned in September to head the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council, was widely considered the state's most powerful politician during his eight years as speaker.
The former lawmaker was accused of lying when he testified in 2003 before a federal appeals court in a lawsuit brought by minority groups. The minority groups said 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.
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 rule change that removed term limits for House speakers, 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. When the appeals judges asked him whether 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."