Summer heat turns up on DeLeo
There’s nothing like a summer news lull to fan the flames of a good scandal, and it’s House Speaker Robert DeLeo ’s turn in the glare of the beating summer sun. After insisting for years he’s done nothing wrong in handing out patronage jobs at the Probation department, DeLeo’s name is being spoken as often as the three defendants — actually more in the case of two of them – in the federal corruption trial of top Probation officials.
DeLeo, who has maintained something akin to radio silence during the two-plus months of the trial of former commissioner John O’Brien and his deputies, William Burke III and Elizabeth Tavares, was finally forced to not only issue a statement denouncing federal prosecutors for dragging him into the maelstrom but also field questions from reporters bent on painting him in the same light as Charlie Flaherty, Tom Finneran, and Sal DiMasi, all of whom left office under impending federal charges.
DeLeo is not sitting at the defense table, and while he’s not been labeled an unindicted co-conspirator, the laser focus prosecutors are placing on the relationship between him and O’Brien is making many – and you have to believe this includes the jury – wonder why his name isn’t included at the top of the indictment.
“Who would have ever thought that Jim Kerasiotes would get lugged by the feds before Bobby DeLeo?” writes the Herald’s Howie Carr. “But at least the G-men are taking a bite out of Mistah Speakah’s ample hide in this endless Probation Department trial in federal court.”
A half-dozen past and present state representatives have testified in the past several weeks that, yes, indeed, they were offered a Probation position by DeLeo’s office when he was chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee to hand out to someone of their own choosing. And, yes, they did call friends or former colleagues who were hired without interviews, some on the same day they applied. And, yes, they did support DeLeo as speaker when the time came after DiMasi moved out of the office as corruption allegations were swirling around him. DeLeo’s former ways and means chairman testified yesterday that DeLeo told him hands off the Probation budget as everything else was being cut in the recession of 2008.
But was everything connected? Heck, no, they all insist. And did they do anything that anyone before or likely after them didn’t and will ever do? Double heck, no. While DeLeo called on prosecutors to stop saying he handed out jobs to colleagues in exchange for votes, what he didn’t deny is he handed out jobs to colleagues. And to his godson, the son of his top aide to whom O’Brien ordered all inquiries of jobs be routed to from House members.
Presumptive GOP gubernatorial nominee Charlie Baker said he accepts DeLeo’s explanation but, he says, that’s what you get with one-party dominance. Never mind that the sponsor lists prosecutors have submitted contain the names of Republican lawmakers, many in the minority leadership, as well.
Television reporters who have made rare appearances at the federal trial tossed questions at DeLeo, asking if the lawmakers who said they got jobs for votes were lying. Never mind that no lawmakers said they got jobs for votes. Those are the questions DeLeo will be asked going forward because that is the story everyone is watching, not the outcome of the trial.
“The agency he presided over and abused wasn’t some obscure office of uncertain importance,” writes the Globe’s Yvonne Abraham. “The Probation Department is on the front lines of the justice system… For years, O’Brien made a mockery of that vital work. Maybe, in the end, he walks. Maybe the jury, like so many observers, will decide that this is just the grubby way that politics works.”
— JACK SULLIVAN
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