Prosecution struggles in Probation Department case
Former Probation Department commissioner John O’Brien is on trial at a South Boston federal courthouse for allegedly running his department like a criminal enterprise. Federal prosecutors claim that O’Brien oversaw a rigged hiring system that traded jobs for influence in the state legislature. Fred Wyshak, the lead prosecutor in the O’Brien case, has said O’Brien used probation jobs as “political currency” to advance a corrupt, bribery-riddled relationship with state lawmakers. Prosecutors haven’t had any luck proving that state lawmakers knew they were on the receiving end of a series of crooked deals, though. Federal prosecutors have put three current or former Beacon Hill lawmakers on the stand so far. And none of the three have done prosecutors any favors.
Yesterday saw a pair of Beacon Hill power players — former rep. Steve Walsh and outgoing Rep. Michael Costello — take the stand for the prosecution. Walsh and Costello are connected to three of the eight alleged acts of mail fraud the government says O’Brien committed. Neither had much to offer in the way of incriminating testimony.
Wyshak tried repeatedly to connect Probation hiring to former House speaker Sal DiMasi, whom Walsh and Costello channeled prospective probation hires through. But Wyshak couldn’t get many questions to stick. He met objections when he asked Walsh, “Do you know if the speaker’s office had influence with Mr. O’Brien?” and “Did you think that somebody needed legislative influence to get a job with probation?” After spinning his wheels, the best Wyshak could get Walsh to offer was, “I believed as a rank and file member that there was more influence with the speaker’s office than there was with mine.”