Witness: DeLeo got jobs to help speaker fight

Former Probation lobbyist says O’Brien took sides in the battle to succeed DiMasi

The legislative liaison for former Probation commissioner John O’Brien testified Monday that O’Brien gave then-House Ways and Means Committee chairman Robert DeLeo 10 newly created positions to hand out to colleagues and directed that all recommendations for probation jobs from House members go through DeLeo’s top aide to help the Winthrop Democrat garner support for his upcoming fight for speaker.

Edward Ryan, who was the conduit between the State House and the Probation department from 2005 to 2008, testified at O’Brien’s corruption trial in federal court that he had gotten a call from state Rep. John Rogers, a Democrat from Norwood, looking to get a candidate he recommended hired for a job in Gloucester District Court. Ryan said he told O’Brien about the call and about a week later, O’Brien told him all calls for probation jobs were to be referred to Leonard Mirasolo, one of DeLeo’s top aides.

“[O’Brien] had said it appeared [Rogers] was going to be running for speaker against Bob DeLeo… He said from here on in, anybody that calls regarding any position I want you to refer them to Lenny Mirasolo,” Ryan said. “Both sides were trying to get commitments. [Mirasolo] said he believed they were getting close to the numbers [DeLeo] needed.”

DeLeo is the godfather of Mirasolo’s son Brian, whose hiring is one of the charges against the Probation officials. Prosecutors say Brian Mirasolo got the position over better qualified candidates because he was sponsored by DeLeo.

Ryan, who still works as a regional supervisor in the Probation’s Electronic Monitoring office (ELMO), said there was a pecking order for influence when it came to recommending candidates for Probation jobs and members of leadership in both chambers were given priority.

“Some legislators had more influence than others?” Assistant US Attorney Karin Bell asked Ryan under direct questioning.

“Oh, yeah,” Ryan responded emphatically. When asked to list the people who had influence with the commissioner, Ryan said, “The speaker of the house, Sal DiMasi, the House Ways and Means chairman Robert DeLeo, the chairs of the Judiciary [Committee], at the time senator [Michael] Creedon, and rep. Eugene O’Flaherty, Senate President [Therese] Murray, senator [Stephen] Baddour.”

Ryan said most members of the leadership called O’Brien directly and most of the rank and file called him. If there was a conflict with a rank and file member recommending a candidate for the same position as someone sponsored by a member of leadership, Ryan said the higher ranking official would win out. He said if two or more members of the House or Senate recommended someone for a post, “I would tell them and they would work it out amongst themselves. The commissioner would instruct me to do that.”

Ryan was the sole witness Monday in the trial of O’Brien and two top aides, Elizabeth Tavares and William Burke III. The three are facing multiple charges of conspiracy, mail fraud, and bribery and O’Brien and Tavares are also facing racketeering charges. Prosecutors allege the Probation officials ran a rigged hiring scheme that gave jobs to lawmakers to hand out in exchange for bigger budgets and more power.

Ryan testified he maintained a list of calls from lawmakers and other elected, appointed, and court officials that he would cross-reference with a sponsor list kept by O’Brien’s assistant Maria Walsh. He said O’Brien impressed upon him the need to make sure legislators got taken care of.

“As a state agency you have to maintain a good relationship with the State House,” said Ryan, who admitted he had no prior experience in dealing with the Legislature before becoming liaison. “They control your budget-. [O’Brien] never wanted to see layoffs and he always was passionate in getting the [budget] number he needed.”

At the outset of his testimony, Ryan, a laborer who was a former part-time employee of the Norfolk Sheriff Department, admitted he applied for his Probation job using references from former Chief Justice John Irwin, O’Brien’s mentor, and former congressman William Delahunt. Asked how he knew Delahunt, Ryan said “I had done some plastering for him.”

Much of the testimony Monday was focused on DeLeo’s aspiration to replace DiMasi and his battle with Rogers for the post. While DeLeo did not succeed DiMasi until January 2009, Ryan insisted O’Brien was helping him as long as 18 months before. Ryan said he could not calculate how often lawmakers would call him when there were jobs available but said at one point it was “hundreds” a day until he shifted the responsibility to Mirasolo.

Ryan said when the Probation office opened a new ELMO facility in Clinton, O’Brien made sure DeLeo and Mirasolo were apprised of the positions, which were deemed temporary and did not require the same vetting process as full-time probation officer jobs. Ryan said several representatives called him with a candidate’s name, saying they were fully aware of the jobs after talking with Mirasolo or DeLeo. He identified three Democratic lawmakers, Sen. Harold Naughton of Clinton, Rep. Anne Gobi of Spencer and then-representative Robert Rice of Garner as members who made recommendations. The three had testified earlier in the trial they received calls from DeLeo or Mirasolo offering the positions, though all three said their vote for DeLeo as speaker was not influenced by the jobs.

Ryan also said several senators tried to wield influence over the hiring of probation officers. He testified he relayed a conversation he had with Sen. Marc Pacheco to O’Brien, in which he called Pacheco “very territorial” about probation hiring.

“I told the commissioner the senator didn’t want anyone in his court that didn’t share the same zip code as him,” Ryan testified.

Ryan also said the newly created ELMO positions were not solely for representatives to hand out. Ryan named at least four people who were friends of either O’Brien or one of his daughters, including Bryan Donovan, who later married one of O’Brien’s daughters.

But Ryan said O’Brien was not always enamored with dealing with lawmakers. He said one short walk over from the office at One Ashburton Place to the State House to meet with some legislative leaders, O’Brien complained about all the referrals.

“He said he had to eat these people, he had to eat the probation candidates,” he told jurors.

O’Brien attorney Stellio Sinnis began his cross-examination of Ryan focusing on his getting his job and changing his story on how he met O’Brien but had did not have time to explore much else about Ryan’s testimony before Judge William Young adjourned for the day.

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Jack Sullivan

Senior Investigative Reporter, CommonWealth

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is now retired. A veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is now retired. A veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

Defense attorneys said today they expect Robert Mulligan, the former Chief Justice of Administration and Management, to take the stand Tuesday. Both sides expect Mulligan to be on the stand for at least two full days and his testimony is the most eagerly awaited of all the witnesses so far.

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