The long arm of Probation

Conflicts abound over sentencing

The fallout from the Probation scandal appears to have gone beyond state lines and could have an impact on sentencing for former commissioner John O’Brien and his two top deputies.

O’Brien, Elizabeth Tavares, and William Burke III are scheduled for sentencing on Nov. 12 after a jury found them guilty of racketeering and mail fraud in the first Probation trial that ended last week. At a hearing Wednesday to schedule dates for a potential second trial on bribery charges, US District Court Judge William Young informed prosecutors and defense attorneys he has transferred the responsibility for the required pre-sentencing report to the federal probation service in Rhode Island.

Presentencing reports include a defendant’s criminal history, the number of victims and the impact of the crime on them including financial damages, drug tests, other police reports, and any other records or information that would have an effect on sentencing imposed by the judge. While each count carries a maximum sentence of 20 years, the federal sentencing guidelines would indicate Young would impose a sentence of 12 to 18 months in prison at the most.

Young said Christopher Maloney, the chief probation officer for the US District Court in Massachusetts, informed him he thought there was a potential conflict with the Massachusetts office overseeing the sentencing investigation. While Young said Maloney did not give specific reasons, Young said the indication was there is interaction between the state and federal probation offices that could potentially raise concerns.

But Stellio Sinnis, one of O’Brien’s court-appointed federal defenders, said he got a call from the woman in charge of probation in Rhode Island and he was troubled by one of her revelations.

“She said she had a probation officer who had applied to the [Massachusetts] state probation service a number of times and had been passed over,” Sinnis told Young.

While Young said he wasn’t going to change his order for Rhode Island to do the investigation, he said it was the first he had heard of that. He approved Sinnis’ request to call the New Hampshire federal probation service to see if there were similar conflicts there. Young said he could revisit the matter at another date.

During the hearing, Burke attorney John Amabile asked Young to postpone sentencing until after the second trial, which is tentatively scheduled to start on Feb. 23 next year. Amabile argued the result of the second trial could have an impact on any sentence Young may mete out.

Meet the Author

Jack Sullivan

Senior Investigative Reporter, CommonWealth

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is 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.

A Boston native, Jack has lived in Massachusetts all his life. He was a major in English and history with a minor in political science at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. A father and grandfather, he lives in Plymouth with his wife, Susan.

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is 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.

A Boston native, Jack has lived in Massachusetts all his life. He was a major in English and history with a minor in political science at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. A father and grandfather, he lives in Plymouth with his wife, Susan.

Young initially said the delay “actually makes some sense,” but opted against it after Assistant US Attorney Fred Wyshak said the sentencing and deadlines for post-trial motions should proceed as planned on Nov. 12 because the result could impact whether or not there is a second trial. When Young hands down the sentence, Wyshak said that should be the end of it from prosecutors’ standpoint.

“The government will probably, at that juncture, opt not to proceed,” Wyshak said.