W. Ma. Probation official testifies to hiring irregularities

Discusses Burke, confused

A Probation Department official from western Massachusetts testified on Wednesday about hiring irregularities and possible nepotism at the agency, but his testimony was undercut by his inability to remember events clearly and his confusion on the stand.

Edward A. Driscoll is one of the first witnesses to testify about the actions of retired Probation official William Burke III, who, along with former commissioner John O’Brien and top deputy Elizabeth Tavares, is on trial in US District Court for mail fraud, conspiracy, racketeering, and bribery. Driscoll, 60, started full-time at Probation in 1979 and is scheduled to retire next Friday. He has been out of work for the past two months on a medical leave related to a kidney transplant, for which he has been taking a number of drugs that he testified can affect his memory.

Driscoll said he knew Burke well and had known Burke’s daughter, Mindy, since she was five. Driscoll said Mindy Burke had worked for him in an entry level position and later as an associate probation officer at the Franklin-Hampshire Juvenile Court. She is currently working as a program manager with the state Trial Court, earning $88,880 a year, according to state records. Driscoll earns $118,738 a year, according to state records.

During his testimony, Driscoll had a hard time keeping dates straight. He several times said events occurred in the 1990s only to later say they actually happened between 2001 and 2010. His memory of events also seemed fuzzy.

Driscoll testified that he suspected the hiring process at Probation was sometimes rigged, slanted toward preferred candidates. He also said he suspected that interview scores were being altered. He said he became so concerned about the possibility that his scores would be changed that he stopped recording his notes and his scores in pencil and shifted to pen. He also introduced his own coded scoring system, apparently so he could check if someone tampered with his scores.

“I knew something was wrong,” Driscoll said. Asked why he thought something was amiss, he said: “I’m not sure I can answer that.”

Driscoll testified that several Probation officials, including Burke and Francis Wall, would single out job candidates before going into interviews. He said he believed the names were singled out prior to the interviews so he would “look favorably upon them.”

Asked whether he inquired about where the names were coming from, he said he didn’t.  “I didn’t want to know,” he said.

“I told Mr. Burke we’re going to get in trouble for this stuff,” he said.
Driscoll cited Paula MacDonald, a candidate for a Probation job in 2008 who he said was being fast-tracked even though he didn’t think she was the most qualified. Driscoll said MacDonald was the wife of then-Franklin County Sheriff Fred MacDonald. MacDonald was hired and last year was paid $65,560, according to state records.

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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.

Driscoll said Burke dismissed his concerns. ”Everything’s going to be fine. You’re not going to get in any trouble. I wrote the book on this,” Driscoll quoted Burke as saying.
But under cross examination Driscoll acknowledged that he ranked MacDonald second out of 18 candidates for the probation job. He conceded that his score was not altered and that it accurately reflected his ranking of MacDonald.

Driscoll also repeatedly described Burke as the person with the ultimate decision-making authority for all hires and promotions at the Probation Department in western Massachusetts, but then acknowledged under cross examination that he won a regional supervisor’s job over the candidate favored by Burke.

 Prosecutors got nowhere trying to ask Driscoll about the role of Rep. Thomas Petrolati of Ludlow in hiring at the Probation Department. He did say that high-ranking staff at Probation would often meet at monthly meetings in Clinton and hear from O’Brien, Burke, Tavares and other top officials at the agency. At those meetings, he said, he and other officials “were encouraged to take care of our local legislators – senators and representatives,” he said. He said he interpreted “take care” to mean attend fundraisers for them.