Prosecutors use letters to buttress mail fraud
Witness: O’Brien called lawmakers, judges ‘a bunch of pigs’
The documents, signed by former Probation commissioner John O’Brien and his top aide Elizabeth Tavares, were basically form letters. Some of the letters notified people that they were not being selected for Probation jobs and others, addressed to the chief justice of the Trial Court, identified the people who were being appointed.
Taken as a group, the letters form the underpinning of the federal government’s mail fraud case against O’Brien and one of his top aides, Elizabeth Tavares. Much of the testimony so far in the trial has focused on a hiring process that prosecutors say was a sham; the letters highlighted in court on Tuesday were meant to show that the US mail was used to cover up that sham hiring process. On the appointment letters sent to Robert Mulligan, the chief justice for administration and management at the Trial Court, O’Brien certified that he complied with the Trial Court’s personnel standards.
Janet Mucci, the Probation Department’s former human resources executive, spent the day on the stand pointing out the signatures of O’Brien and Tavares on the letters. Sometimes the signatures were handwritten and other times they were a stamp. Mucci, a self-described paper pusher at the Probation Department who served under four commissioners, also described the close working relationship she had with O’Brien and offered some interesting insights on the hiring process at the agency.
Mucci remembered O’Brien becoming frustrated sometime between 1998 and 2001 about the relentless pressure from lawmakers and judges for jobs for their favored candidates. She quoted O’Brien as saying: “They’re a bunch of pigs. It’s never enough.”
Mucci said one of the documents used in the hiring process contained a space where the Probation Department was supposed to summarize why the person was being hired. Mucci said the standard response was “most qualified,” but she changed it at some point during O’Brien’s tenure to “best candidate.”
She said she thought “best candidate” was a more accurate description, in part because she didn’t think some of the people O’Brien was hiring were the most qualified. She remembered one instance where O’Brien said he was promoting Joe Dooley, a candidate favored by state Sen. Marc Pacheco, to assistant chief probation officer at the Taunton District Court. “I made a face,” Mucci testified, adding that she told O’Brien that she didn’t think Dooley was the most qualified.
She said O’Brien responded: “I have to do what I have to do.”
Over the past few days of the trial, several lawmakers have testified that House Speaker Robert DeLeo, when he was chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, offered them the chance to submit candidates for new job openings at the Probation Department’s Electronic Monitoring Office in Clinton. The candidates were quickly hired, often on the same day they were suggested.
Mucci testified that the agency filled roughly 15 so-called ELMO positions in 2007 and 15 in 2008. She said the hires were temporary appointments, meaning those selected did not have to be interviewed or go through any screening process. “There really isn’t a [hiring] process on a temporary job,” she said. “Jack would give me the name and number of someone and I would call them and give them the job.”
Karin Bell, one of the federal prosecutors, suggested applicants for the ELMO jobs were hired “sight-unseen.”
O’Brien’s defense attorney, Christine DeMaso, tried to undercut the suggestion that the fax copying was designed to hide DeLeo’s involvement by introducing a resume with DeLeo’s office information still across the top. The job candidate was Fabienne Pierre-Mike, who received one of the ELMO positions.
DeMaso, in her questioning of Mucci, sought to portray the human resources chief as someone who handled employment paperwork in the office but little else. Through a series of rapid-fire questions, Mucci acknowledged she played no role in job interviews, had no hiring authority, and had no dealings with lawmakers or judges who sponsored candidates.
She also testified that she had no recollection of making phone calls to a Probation Department regional administrator urging him to pass along job candidates preferred by O’Brien to the final interview. She confirmed the voice on recordings of those phone calls was hers, but insisted she didn’t remember making the calls. She said other regional administrators told her she made similar calls to them, but she said she didn’t remember making those calls, either.
DeMaso asked Judge William Young to declare a mistrial because introduction of the taped phone messages as evidence hinged on prosecutors proving that Mucci was a coconspirator in the hiring scheme they are alleging. DeMaso argued that Mucci played a relatively minor role at best in the hiring scheme. “There is no evidence that she knew there was a conspiracy,” she said.Young denied the motion for a mistrial and said the matter would be more thoroughly debated toward the end of the trial when he expects defense attorneys to ask him for a directed verdict in their favor.
Young also denied a separate motion for a mistrial after one of the prosecution’s witnesses, Edward Dalton, admitted talking to other witnesses prior to giving his testimony. Young said that matter would be addressed in his charge to the jury.