Aide describes pressure to hire rep’s wife

Kathleen Petrolati had no college degree for Probation job

A former high-ranking official in the state’s Probation Department said Friday that a coworker pressured him to hire the wife of a prominent member of the House of Representatives. The legislator’s wife, Kathleen Petrolati, had no college degree and no criminal justice background at the time, but was hired anyway.

Paul Lucci, a retired deputy commissioner in the Probation Department, described the pressure to hire Petrolati during the ongoing federal corruption trial of former Probation commissioner John O’Brien.

O’Brien and two former top aides, Elizabeth Tavares and William Burke III, are facing federal mail fraud, racketeering, and conspiracy charges. Prosecutors allege that O’Brien, Tavares, and Burke ran Probation like a criminal organization. They’ve said the three defendants handed out patronage jobs to individuals who had connections to powerful legislators in exchange for fattened budgets and political clout on Beacon Hill.

Kathleen Petrolati’s husband, Rep. Thomas Petrolati of Ludlow, was a top deputy to three House speakers who have figured prominently in the testimony about Probation patronage: Thomas Finneran, Sal DiMasi, and Robert DeLeo. The Boston Globe dubbed Petrolati the king of patronage in western Massachusetts.

Lucci testified Friday that, in 2000 and 2001, O’Brien’s Probation Department took over electronic monitoring of probationers from the state Department of Correction, and hired more than a dozen employees to staff the new office. Lucci testified that, while driving out to Springfield to interview a slate of prospective managers for the monitoring office, a member of O’Brien’s inner circle, Francis Wall, told Lucci “to make sure [Kathleen Petrolati] makes the final list.”

Lucci said he told Wall that Kathleen Petrolati’s resume stuck out at him, describing her, out of all the candidates seeking the manager position, as the “one person who had less qualifications than most.” Lucci said Petrolati’s education didn’t match requirements in the job posting, and that she didn’t have any background in criminal justice or law enforcement. At the time, Petrolati was working in a Ludlow school, and before that she’d worked in a bank collections office.

Nevertheless, Lucci testified he helped Petrolati advance past the Springfield round of interviews, and she was hired in February 2001 to head a small Springfield branch of Probation’s electronic monitoring office. The bulk of the electronic monitoring work was handled out of a Boston office that contained a dozen employees, and that remained open 24 hours per day. Assistant US Attorney Fred Wyshak suggested that the Springfield office was a special favor to Petrolati and her allies in the House. At the time, the Springfield office was only open during court hours, and the only other employee in the office was Mindy Burke, the daughter of O’Brien’s codefendant William Burke.

Wall, who pushed Lucci on Kathleen Petrolati’s hiring, has been a prominent figure at O’Brien’s federal trial. Wall testified extensively about O’Brien’s control over hiring at Probation. Wall testified O’Brien would identify patronage candidates to be hired before final interviews took place, and Wall would rig the interviews to meet O’Brien’s predetermined outcomes. Wall also testified O’Brien asked him to kick in campaign contributions to Rep. Petrolati, and to put the arm on other Probation employees, because Thomas Petrolati “was a very strong supporter of the Probation department.”

Lucci said Friday that Wall solicited political donations for Rep. Petrolati three times, and that the Petrolati fundraisers he attended were packed with Probation employees. Lucci also said that Wall frequently passed the names of O’Brien’s preferred patronage hires to him; he said he almost always advanced those potential hires on to a final interview.

Defense attorneys made a hard run at Lucci, suggesting that he was embellishing his testimony to please federal prosecutors.

William Fick, one of O’Brien’s attorneys, noted that, when Lucci was deposed by Paul Ware, the outside counsel who investigated Probation hiring for the state Supreme Judicial Court in 2010, he told Ware he couldn’t remember anything about Kathleen Petrolati’s hiring. Then, after huddling up with the FBI and federal prosecutors, he told a federal grand jury about the conversation he had with Wall while driving to Springfield. In neither instance, Fick said, did Lucci relate the detail about telling Wall that Petrolati appeared unqualified. Fick then read aloud grand jury testimony in which Lucci said he hadn’t looked at Petrolati’s job application until he got to Springfield.

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Paul McMorrow

Associate Editor, CommonWealth

About Paul McMorrow

Paul McMorrow comes to CommonWealth from Banker & Tradesman, where he covered commercial real estate and development. He previously worked as a contributing editor to Boston magazine, where he covered local politics in print and online. He got his start at the Weekly Dig, where he worked as a staff writer, and later news and features editor. Paul writes a frequent column about real estate for the Boston Globe’s Op-Ed page, and is a regular contributor to BeerAdvocate magazine. His work has been recognized by the City and Regional Magazine Association, the New England Press Association, and the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies. He is a Boston University graduate and a lifelong New Englander.

About Paul McMorrow

Paul McMorrow comes to CommonWealth from Banker & Tradesman, where he covered commercial real estate and development. He previously worked as a contributing editor to Boston magazine, where he covered local politics in print and online. He got his start at the Weekly Dig, where he worked as a staff writer, and later news and features editor. Paul writes a frequent column about real estate for the Boston Globe’s Op-Ed page, and is a regular contributor to BeerAdvocate magazine. His work has been recognized by the City and Regional Magazine Association, the New England Press Association, and the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies. He is a Boston University graduate and a lifelong New Englander.

Prosecutors pushed back Friday against the strict clock Judge William Young put them on last week. Young has given prosecutors five trial days (excluding the time defense lawyers devote to cross-examination) to wrap up their case. In a document filed Thursday, prosecutors said the timeline is impossible, since they’ve determined that they “must call” 34 additional witness to prove their case.

Young is unlikely to let the prosecution run out nearly three dozen more witnesses, as he appears worried about losing his jury. But the prosecution filing is an interesting roadmap of the prosecution’s case. It says Kathleen Petrolati, who may testify next week, received her Probation job after being sponsored by former House speaker Tom Finneran. It says Brian Mirasolo shot through the Probation ranks because his godfather is the current speaker, Bob DeLeo, and that other Probation employees were told to “lay off” criticizing Mirasolo, even though he “was a mediocre” employee. It says Senate President Therese Murray and Sen. Marc Pacheco leaned on O’Brien to get their patronage candidates hired. It says prosecutors have lined up Garrett Bradley, a member of DeLeo’s leadership team, and Charles Murphy, a deposed onetime DeLeo ally, to testify that DeLeo manipulated legislation to protect Probation’s budget. Rep. John Rogers, who lost House speakership fights to DiMasi and DeLeo, is on deck, too. If, that is, prosecutors can find the time for him.