Montigny ex-girlfriend says senator ‘opened the door’
At grand jury, she said senator called Probation chief
The ex-girlfriend of Sen. Mark Montigny testified in the federal corruption trial of former Probation commissioner John J. O’Brien that the New Bedford Democrat “opened the door” for her to apply for her probation job but insisted she got the position on her own, a claim prosecutors immediately challenged with testimony she gave to a grand jury.
Kelly Manchester, who said she was in a personal relationship with Montigny from 2006 to 2009 when they broke up, testified she had no memory of the senator pulling any strings for her to land a job in the Bristol County Probate and Family Court in 2008 less than two years out of college and with little experience or qualifications.
“Mark told me about the [Probation] job,” Manchester said. “He suggested that I apply for it.”
“Nothing that I know of,” she replied. “He opened the door for me. I had to go through the process.”
That answer clearly frustrated Wyshak. US District Court Judge William Young allowed Wyshak to read a portion of Manchester’s grand jury testimony from 2012 where she answered yes when asked if Montigny said he would make a call to O’Brien on her behalf.
“When you testified at the grand jury did you testify truthfully?” Wyshak asked in an aggressive tone.
“I think I was trying to answer the questions [in the grand jury] in the ways that you wanted,” Manchester said. “I don’t want to get myself in trouble. I’ll say he was supportive of me getting the job.”
About an hour after the jury left the room, Young held a hearing where Wyshak asked that Manchester’s grand jury testimony be admitted into the record in an effort to impeach her trial testimony. Wyshak said Manchester seemed to have full recollection under cross-examination by defense attorneys but had questionable memory lapses when he addressed her. Young told Wyshak to submit a brief on the matter but cautioned that Manchester’s testimony wasn’t necessarily contradictory. By rule, Young said, impeaching a witness requires that the witness be engaged in a knowing effort to be untruthful.
“You, of course, think it is, you think she’s faking it,” Young said, to which Wyshak concurred.
Manchester is one of the keys to the prosecution’s case against O’Brien and two top deputies, Elizabeth Tavares and William Burke III. Prosecutors claim Probation officials ran a rigged hiring system where candidates supported by legislators were given jobs in exchange for increased budgets and autonomy for the department.
Manchester was listed eighth out of the nine candidates whose names were forwarded as finalists for three positions in the Bristol Probate and Family Court. She subsequently beat out all but the top two candidates on the list. Prosecutors claim that, if not for Montigny’s intervention and O’Brien’s willingness to trade jobs for clout with the Legislature, she would never have been a serious candidate.
Manchester said she and Montigny, who is 22 years her senior, began dating in 2006 when she graduated from college but had met two years earlier when she was a sophomore. She described their relationship as “dating” and said they never lived together, though she stayed at his residence at times during the relationship.
Her relationship with Montigny, apparently, was widely known in the district and in political and court circles. Prior to Manchester testifying, Terri Nowell, who has worked in Montigny’s office handling constituent and local services off and on since 1994, said on the stand her boss asked her to make calls to Probation officials to see if there were any jobs available for Manchester.
Nowell, who has known Montigny since he was a child living next door to her and still works part-time in the senator’s district office, testified initially that she didn’t make any calls. As he did with Manchester, Wyshak showed Nowell her grand jury testimony in which she admitted making calls to Steven Price, then the head of the Office of Community Corrections.
Nowell, testifying under a grant of immunity, then told jurors: “[Montigny] came to me and said there is a job in Probation. Can you see if you can help her? I called Steve Price and said the senator understands there is a position in Probation and he’d like that job for Kelly Manchester. I said do you know who she is and he said, ‘Yes, that’s the senator’s girlfriend.’ … He later called me back and said ‘We’re going to do it.’”
Nowell said she was concerned about pushing Manchester for the job ahead of other people with more experience and qualifications who had sought help from Montigny. “My concern was the fact that I knew she was extremely young and I had a gut feeling this wasn’t the right thing to do,” she said.
Earlier in the day, James Casey, the former chief probation officer in the Bristol Probate and Family Court, said Manchester was young and had little experience. But he said even though he was not influenced by a conversation he had with Montigny about hiring her, he said he was influenced by the fact she was the second cousin of a former childhood friend and college baseball teammate, Darryl Manchester, who is the clerk magistrate of Wareham District Court. Casey said he thought Kelly Manchester had potential.
“She showed to me the basic raw substance I thought could be molded and that was always important to me,” he said.
Casey also brought one of the lighter moments to the court when, under questioning by O’Brien attorney Stellios Sinnis, he talked about the different people probation officers had to deal with on a regular basis, including lawyers.
“I’m looking for somebody who has the intestinal fortitude to deal with the people that you deal with every day,” Casey said. “Lawyers are not the easiest people to deal with. I wanted to get that in. Thank you.”
OTHER PROBATION NEWS
In the hearing after the session ended, Young once again brought up what he sees as a problem for prosecutors trying to prove bribery charges against O’Brien, Tavares, and Burke.
“Who’s being bribed and who’s getting the gratuity and for what and over what period?” Young asked. “I’m grappling with that here. Trying to have good relationships with the Legislature is not a crime.”Wyshak argued that legislators were able to amass a list of supporters who got jobs from Probation and could then tap them for contributions and other support, making that the valued currency they received in return for adding outside sections to the budget that were favorable to Probation. But Young, who made no ruling, said he was troubled by that argument.
“Political contributions are a core first amendment expression,” Young said, indicating he was still formulating his charge to the jury.