Ortiz wins big victory, but questions remain
US Attorney doesn’t explain why lawmakers weren’t charged
| US Attorney Carmen Ortiz with prosecutors Robert Fisher (left) and Fred Wyshak
Nearly everyone on Beacon Hill thought US Attorney Carmen Ortiz was over-reaching by attempting to make a crime of what they considered business-as-usual hiring practices at the Probation Department, but her lieutenants convinced a jury otherwise. The only question mark for Ortiz in the wake of Thursday’s verdict was why none of the lawmakers who participated in the hiring scheme, including House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Therese Murray, were charged with any crimes.
Ortiz appeared outside the federal courthouse after the verdict was handed down, flanked by two of the three prosecutors who argued the case and the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Boston office. She was fairly subdued in her remarks, which she read from typed notecards. She wouldn’t explain why she didn’t charge any lawmakers with crimes. She didn’t mention DeLeo’s name once, although she seemed to address him indirectly at one point when she said she wasn’t going to try the case in the media. DeLeo charged last week that Ortiz was prosecuting him in the press because she lacked the evidence to charge him in a court of law.
“This case was about a fraud perpetrated by Mr. O’Brien and his colleagues on the citizens of the Commonwealth,” Ortiz said, referring to the three convicted Probation officials – former commissioner John O’Brien and his colleagues Elizabeth Tavares and William Burke III.
Defense attorneys argued that O’Brien, Tavares, and Burke were practicing the ancient art of patronage, but Ortiz said the evidence showed the hiring system wasn’t politics as usual but fraud. Pointing to the manipulation of records and misrepresentations to superiors, Ortiz said: “That’s not just mere patronage.”
| The wife of former Probation commissioner John O’Brien collapsed in the courtroom and was rushed to an ambulance
DeLeo pounded Ortiz in statement after statement last week for identifying him as a coconspirator in court, at one point suggesting she got her own job through political connections. But Ortiz on Thursday refused to respond in kind. Asked about DeLeo, she begged off. “I’m going to rest on the evidence presented in the court,” she said. “The evidence revealed what it revealed.”
Ortiz also refused to say the verdict delivered a message to Beacon Hill. “We’re not here to send a message,” she said. “We’re here to prosecute and go where the evidence leads us.”Yet Vincent Lisi, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Boston office, seemed to disagree. “This should send a message to any corrupt public officials out there,” he said. “There is nothing that’s going to get in our way of identifying them and bringing them to justice.”.
The US Attorney’s office in 2011 tried and convicted former House Speaker Sal DiMasi on corruption charges. The office has also been involved with a series of high-profile cases. It put away Whitey Bulger and is prosecuting alleged Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Ortiz took heat last year for her prosecution of Internet activist Aaron Swartz, who committed suicide rather than go to court.