Andrew Lelling was sworn in as the US Attorney for Massachusetts last month, and this week he stepped into the spotlight with a statement regarding federal enforcement of Marijuana laws. Lelling said he would proceed on a ‘case by case basis,’ prompting many to ask — will he prosecute or not?
Another question for many — who exactly is Andrew Lelling?
He’s a 47-year-old, seasoned federal prosecutor, having served in Boston for 12 years and at the Department of Justice before that. He’s a member of the Federalist Society and registered to vote as a Republican, but he doesn’t appear to be too politically active: according to records, he’s only voted once since 2007.
Interviews with colleagues and friends reveal a wide range of prosecutorial experience in varied contexts — as well as some unexpected work in the comic book world.
For fun’s sake, let’s start there.
As a young man, Lelling co-wrote a graphic novel called "Industry of War" with his old friend Jordan Raskin. The story follows a pair of investigators working to track down US-made super weapons that have fallen into the wrong hands. It features corrupt officials, drug dealers, street gangs, a lot of criminals both violent and white collar — the same types, I mention to Raskin, that Lelling would go on to prosecute. He laughs.
“Yeah, a lot of the gang stuff was mine, he came up with the mafia guy — the scene with the mafia guy was all him," Raskin said. "That was perfect for the plot.”
Raskin and Lelling became buddies in high school in Spring Valley, New York in the late 80s, “going to arcades, hanging out Friday nights getting pizza, playing a role playing game that he and a mutual friend came up with called ‘Mutated Mammals from Mars,’” said Raskin.
When Raskin started working on the story for "Industry of War" years later, he thought back to those role-playing games and the creativity that flowed with his old friend and decided, “I needed to tap Andy about this and see if he was interested, and he was. He was actually very excited about it because doing creative stuff like that wasn’t something he really had a lot of time for in his day-to-day life as an attorney.”
By the late 90s Raskin took over the comic project entirely as Lelling’s legal work became more consuming. Working as a lawyer for the prestigious Goodwin Procter firm here in Boston, Lelling caught the attention of attorney Ralph Boyd.
“Andy became my go-to guy very quickly, with his ability to do work at a very high level under pressure and turn it around very quickly,” said Boyd, who was tapped to become an assistant US attorney general in 2001. He brought Lelling along with him to the Department of Justice. “Andy worked with me in the aftermath of September 11th — which occurred not longer after I took office — and Andy was my senior legal counsel.”
Boyd ran the Civil Rights Division at Justice, which took on hate crimes after 9/11, when Muslim Americans and people of color were being targeted. Andrew Lelling was on the task force that crossed the country investigating those crimes.
“Andy had a lot to do with that post September 11 effort to protect vulnerable people in the aftermath of the attacks,” said Boyd.
That background is an “assurance that he understands the importance of civil rights enforcement and will continue in that way” as the US attorney for Massachusetts, according to Carmen Ortiz. Ortiz is the former US Attorney for Massachusetts, Lelling’s immediate predecessor in his new job, and his former boss. She says that beyond civil rights, Lelling “has tremendous experience dealing with violent crime, having been in the drug unit." Ortiz continued, "he also understands the importance to prioritize white collar crime because he had been in the economic crimes unit for many years.”
Working under Ortiz, Lelling led the prosecution of the New England fishing mogul known as “The Codfather,” and he took down a ponzi scheme that defrauded thousands. She calls him a "prosecutor’s prosecutor," but says people shouldn’t make assumptions about his enforcement priorities around marijuana based on his recent, somewhat ambiguous statement.
“We need to wait and see how this actually plays out," Ortiz said. "It’s too early to tell, and I think that what the US attorney’s office has done is at least leave the door open for decisions they may want to make on a case by case basis. It doesn’t mean they’re going to do certain things, but I don’t think they want to box themselves out,” which, she says, is preferable to later being accused of making misstatements.
“Andy is more reason-driven and less baggage-driven than just about anybody I’ve seen,” Boyd said. “The adjectives I would use for Andy are sensible, decent, person of reason. And caring. So a lot of the judgments he’ll make about what to prioritize as US attorney will very much be informed by those attributes.”
Raskin is thrilled by his old friend’s success in the legal world, but he’s not surprised, thinking back to their old debates over rock and roll. Lelling thought Springsteen was the greatest. Raskin, on the other hand, thought there were better vocalists out there.
“Back then I knew he was going to be a lawyer, because he would argue me into the ground about it," said Raskin. He laughed. "And it worked, too!”
Raskin said he never won the argument.