Pay to play on Beacon Hill
The first indictments in the long-simmering scandal over rigged hiring at the state’s Probation Department are in. It’s no surprise that former Probation Commissioner John O’Brien has been brought up on charges — the state courts’ independent investigator, Paul Ware, alleged that O’Brien oversaw “systemic corruption” in staffing probation. But in a twist on the Probation patronage storyline, the indictments mainly focus on O’Brien’s alleged quest to land a job for his wife in the state Lottery, rather than the jobs agency O’Brien allegedly ran for the relatives and campaign donors of State House politicians.
Attorney General Martha Coakley unsealed indictments yesterday against O’Brien and Scott Campbell, the former chief of staff to ex-Treasurer Tim Cahill. According to Coakley, Campbell agreed to hire O’Brien’s wife at the Lottery after O’Brien threw a pair of fundraisers for Cahill’s political committee. The Treasury later hired O’Brien’s daughter.
“Filling a job in exchange for a campaign fundraiser is against the law and undermines the integrity of the hiring process and campaign finance laws,” Coakley said yesterday.
The Globe previously reported that probation employees who “were asked to go [to the Cahill fundraiser] were told it was because of [O’Brien’s] wife and daughter. It was payback.”
O’Brien is being charged with making a false report, bribery, conspiracy to commit campaign finance violations, campaign finance violations, and conspiracy to get a job for his wife by unlawful means. Campbell is charged with conspiracy to commit campaign finance violations, campaign finance violations, conspiracy to get O’Brien’s wife a job by unlawful means, and disguising campaign contributions.
WBUR’s David Boeri calls this the year of political scandal on Beacon Hill. The Herald’s editorial board says Coakley’s warning yesterday — “The investigation is ongoing” — ranks “among the most beautiful words in the English language.” Don’t forget that a pair of grand juries — one in Suffolk County, one at the federal level — are investigating hiring at probation. Or that the federal grand jury is specifically looking into the Legislature’s role in the patronage scandal.
The Patriot Ledger spoke with O’Brien’s attorney, who said the former commissioner is being punished for refusing to testify against politicians. He also contrasts O’Brien’s case to those against Sal DiMasi and Chuck Turner, saying, “There is no envelope. There is no money in a handshake.”
Cahill’s attorney issued a statement saying there’s no evidence of a quid pro quo. But the Herald warns that Cahill clearly appears to be a target in Coakley’s investigation. Adding to the smoke around Cahill: The indictments were previously sealed, meaning that the grand jury was told about the role of one or more unindicted co-conspirators. O’Brien’s attorney, Paul Flavin, said the AG’s office has pressured the former probation commissioner to testify against Beacon Hill politicians. And Coakley’s office is currently looking into Cahill, beyond his office’s connection to O’Brien and probation. In fact, storm clouds have followed Cahill ever since the former state treasurer launched a quixotic third-party run for governor.
During the campaign, Cahill was abandoned by his running mate and his top campaign staff, and faced accusations that he was using publicly-financed Lottery ads to further his gubernatorial ambitions. Cahill’s former running mate even alleged that a top Cahill campaign advisor coordinated negative ad strategies with the campaign of Gov. Deval Patrick.
The allegations about collusion went nowhere. But the Cahill advisor who was allegedly at the forefront of the effort has become ensnared in a federal investigation. The advisor, Neil Morrison, was a former Cahill aide who became a Goldman Sachs bond banker. The Securities and Exchange Commission maintains tight restrictions on bond bankers’ political involvement, to guard against pay-to-play scandals. The SEC is currently investigating whether Morrison broke securities rules when he volunteered for Cahill’s gubernatorial campaign. Goldman fired Morrison for his Cahill ties; the Globe has reported that emails showed Morrison to be active in the Cahill campaign, including doing political work on company time. Cahill has said he is not a target of the SEC probe.
Cahill does appear to be a target of another Coakley investigation — into an election-season Lottery ad blitz. Current state Treasurer Steve Grossman recently fired a Cahill holdover at the Lottery, allegedly because he “inappropriately coached [three] lottery employees to be nonresponsive” to investigators from the AG’s office looking into the Lottery case. Emails obtained by the Globe showed Cahill actively involved in the Lottery ad campaign — a possible violation of state conflict-of-interest law.
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