Tearful Tavares admits rigged hiring system
Says she wishes she had courage to stop it
Former deputy Probation commissioner Elizabeth Tavares, in a sobbing plea for leniency on her conviction for racketeering and mail fraud, publicly acknowledged for the first time that a rigged hiring system existed at the agency.
“No one is more remorseful than I,” said a weeping Tavares. “I appear before you today to say I wish I had had the courage to try to change it.”
Tavares, a lawyer and 30-year veteran of the Probation Department, told Judge William Young she now knows she could have done things differently. She asked Young to not send her to jail, pointing out that she has a 14-year-old daughter and she is the sole caretaker of her elderly parents who live with her.
“I regret my actions,” she said. “I didn’t have the wisdom [to change the system.] I bear responsibility for my family’s pain. I plead with this honorable court to spare my daughter, my elderly parents, and my loving spouse for my lack of courage.”
Assistant US Attorney Fred Wyshak and his team of prosecutors urged Young to hand down a stiff prison sentence for each defendant both as a deterrent to others as well as a message to the three former state officials who prosecutors say were neither repentant nor cooperative.
But, just before issuing his sentence, Young gave each defendant a chance to address the court. O’Brien and Burke declined but Tavares, 57, delivered an emotional plea for leniency that brought many observers, including O’Brien, to tears.
O’Brien and Burke left it to their attorneys to plead their cases, but the toll the trial has taken on each was obvious. Though Young heaped much blame on the “culture of corruption” that pervaded the patronage system on Beacon Hill, he left no doubt that he thought the trio were not mere bystanders but rather active participants in a scheme that was a fraud on taxpayers and innocent applicants who were passed over in favor of those with connections.
Young called O’Brien “the leader of this corrupt scheme” and said the jury found that all three were guilty of “lying, repeatedly lying, facilitating the lies of others, [and] suborning perjury.”
As Young continued to push back against defense attorneys’ characterizations of their clients, O’Brien was noticeably shaken at the defense table. One of his attorneys, Stellio Sinnis, kept putting his hand on O’Brien’s back, kneeding it in comfort, and occasionally putting his arm around the former Boston College lineman’s shoulders.
With Young seemingly ready to hand down a harsh sentence, O’Brien, 57, became increasingly distraught and his wife and three daughters, seated immediately behind him, dabbed tears streaming down their faces, the tension of the wait building with every moment, waiting for the hammer to fall.
John Amabile, the lead attorney for Burke, repeated his plea to Young that the 71-year-old Burke was a broken man. He told Young that Burke was about to lose his pension, as were the other two, and had to resort to finding a job to sustain him and his wife because, as a 37-year state employee, he had no Social Security. Amabile said Burke had just secured a job working on a potato farm, much like when he was a boy working his father’s farm.
“The government vindictively is asking you to impose the maximum sentence,” Amabile boomed. “Sending this 71 year old man to prison is unconscionable.”When Young announced his sentences, which were a fraction of what prosecutors were seeking and far less than the sentencing guidelines, there was a sense of astonishment in the courtroom, especially given Young’s penchant for harsh sentences.. Young stayed O’Brien’s18-month sentence and Tavares’s 90-day sentence until January 12, giving them a chance to spend the holidays with their families. All three will appeal but they will be out of prison before their appeals are decided.
After Young left the bench, the tears continued to flow – but they were tears of joy as O’Brien went over and hugged Tavares and Burke and the three embraced each other and their supporters.