Coakley indicts O’Brien, Cahill aide

AG alleges pay-to-play patronage schemes at probation, Lottery

Indictments unsealed today by Attorney General Martha Coakley allege the commissioner of the state’s Probation Department and the one-time chief of staff to former state Treasurer Tim Cahill engaged in pay-to-play patronage schemes.

The indictments allege John J. O’Brien, the former probation commissioner, and Scott S. Campbell, the former chief of staff and deputy treasurer to Cahill, jointly organized a 2005 campaign fundraiser for Cahill in return for a job at the state lottery for O’Brien’s wife.

The indictments separately allege that O’Brien in 2005 rigged the promotion of an assistant chief probation officer in Worcester District Court for a job candidate who had the backing of former Speaker Salvatore DiMasi’s office. The indictment accuses O’Brien of falsely telling court officials that proper hiring procedures were being followed when the selection was made before the interview process was completed.

The indictments by Coakley are the first to emerge from a series of state and federal investigations that were spawned by press coverage of patronage practices at the Probation Department and by independent counsel Paul Ware’s report on the problem. Some of the indictments were issued today, while others were issued in February and June and kept under seal until now.

Coakley stressed repeatedly that her investigation is not over. “This is the beginning, not the end,” she said. She declined to comment on whether former Treasurer Cahill is likely to be indicted.

O’Brien resigned his position on New Year’s Eve last year, issuing a press release denying any criminal wrongdoing. He also said he was caught in a power struggle for control of the Probation Department and insisted that the hiring of politically connected people is standard operating procedure on Beacon Hill.

According to Coakley, O’Brien inquired in the spring of 2005 about a job for his wife at the Lottery, which was under Cahill’s control. Coakley said today that Campbell was receptive to the idea and raised the idea of O’Brien hosting a fundraiser for Cahill. Coakley said the fundraiser was held in Quincy on June 23, 2005 and raised $11,100 for Cahill. O’Brien’s wife, Laurie, was subsequently hired as a customer service representative at the Lottery on Sept. 21, 2005.

Ware’s report, which also investigated possible connections between fundraising by O’Brien and his wife’s hiring, focused on slightly different issues and a separate fundraiser. Ware said 34 employees of probation attended a July 6, 2005 fundraiser for Cahill, each of them donating at least $100. Ware said Laurie O’Brien also donated $200, bringing the total to $4,000.

Ware’s report suggested the fundraising played a role in not only landing O’Brien a job at the lottery but also in getting her a better job in customer service. She had originally been slated for a job as a night shift computer operator.

Ware interviewed Campbell about the hiring process and reported that “Campbell testified that he does not recall referring O’Brien [to the Lottery] but conceded it was possible.”

Ware’s report also delved into the promotion of Bernard Dow to the position of assistant chief probation officer in Worcester District Court. Dow told Ware that between 1976 and 2004 he was passed over for promotions six times despite his belief that he was more qualified than the other candidates. In late 2004, Dow told Ware, he felt he was going to be passed over again.

“I knew that I was not going to get that job on my qualifications alone,” he told Ware. “I knew I was not going to get it. So I knew or believed that I needed some political help to get it.”

Dow sought the help of then-Speaker DiMasi, who was recently sentenced to eight years in prison for attempting to steer a state contract to a software company. Dow said he talked to the speaker’s chief of staff, Danny Toscano, who offered to work on the promotion.

Dow told Ware that no one from DiMasi’s office solicited funds from him but, on his own, he began donating to the speaker’s campaign committee. After two $500 contributions spaced out over several months, Dow said he was called by Toscano the night before his final interview for the job and told he was going to land the assistant chief probation officer’s job and not the first assistant’s job “because it’s already spoken for.”

Meet the Author

Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

Meet the Author

Jack Sullivan

Senior Investigative Reporter, CommonWealth

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is now retired. A veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is now retired. A veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

Coakley said arraignments of O’Brien and Campbell are scheduled for Sept. 26.  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. The last charge alleges that Campbell on three occasions in 2010, when Cahill was running for governor, gave $500 to three individuals – either friends or family – and asked them to donate the same amount to Cahill’s campaign committee.