Probation drama not over yet

For months during the federal trial of former Probation commissioner John O’Brien and two top deputies, defense attorneys continually drew attention to the fact that only O’Brien, Elizabeth Tavares, and William Burke III were facing charges. How is it a crime, they asked, if those accused of accepting bribes weren’t charged?

And the lawmakers who sweated out the testimony breathed a sigh of relief at the trial’s conclusion, especially House Speaker Robert DeLeo, who decried prosecutors labeling him an unindicted co-conspirator.

Not so fast. The Boston Globe reports today that the US Attorney’s office is seeking to force O’Brien to testify before a grand jury about his dealings with his former buddies in the Legislature. That can’t be welcome news for anybody on Beacon Hill.

The Globe, citing anonymous sources briefed on the probe, say prosecutors are looking to grant immunity to O’Brien, who was already convicted on multiple charges of bribery and mail fraud. The immunity would free O’Brien from further charges and force him to either testify before the grand jury or face contempt charges or, worse, perjury charges, if he lies.

One glitch for prosecutors is that O’Brien is still appealing his conviction so he may have an out for refusing to testify if his attorneys can convince a judge it would affect his appeal. But if prosecutors can succeed, it could become the trial everyone has been waiting for since the Ware Report detailed a rigged hiring system that showed Probation officials, chiefly O’Brien, steering jobs to the politically well-connected.

The Globe reports it’s unclear who the targets are but grab a copy of the Ware Report or thumb through some old stories and you can easily build a list of lawmakers with a potential bullseye on their backs: DeLeo, former Senate President Therese Murray, state Sen. Mark Montigny, and state Rep. Thomas Petrolati would be among those looking over their shoulder.

DeLeo continues to staunchly proclaim he did nothing illegal, let alone wrong, and his spokesman issued a statement, though it does appear somewhat qualified.

“Speaker DeLeo’s statements have all been truthful and cannot be contradicted because he never testified before a grand jury or at the probation trial,” DeLeo spokesman Seth Gitell told the Globe in an emailed statement.

O’Brien’s friend and former lawyer tells the paper the forced testimony is the latest example of overkill by federal prosecutors in a case that appears to be nothing more than patronage run amok.

“Certainly it’s enough already,” says attorney Paul Flavin. “The gentleman has been put through the ringer. I don’t know what their objective is.”

He, though, would appear to be in the minority of not knowing the endgame.

–JACK SULLIVAN

 

BEACON HILL

The Massachusetts House approves Gov. Charlie Baker’s plan to offer early retirement to executive branch employees, the Associated Press reports.

Baker addressed a group of life sciences and technology industry leaders in Cambridge yesterday, but the Globe reports that he “danced around” the issue the future of the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, launched under a $1 billion initiative by his predecessor, Deval Patrick.

Comedian Jimmy Tingle defends the St. Patrick’s Day breakfast.

In the kerfuffle over stipends to Republican lawmakers in legislative leaderships ranks (which is all of them), The Berkshire Eagle asks, ”Can someone be a leader with no followers?”

OLYMPICS

A Globe editorial calls for Boston 2024, the private nonprofit backing the Olympics effort, to disclose details on donors to its cause. In a wide-ranging interview with the Herald, however. Boston 2024 CEO Rich Davey says the group does not plan to divulge the amounts given by individual donors.

Boston 2024 chairman John Fish, who joined Davey in the interview along with consultant Doug Rubin, said, “We have made mistakes along the way,” pointing to the $7,500 per day payout the group had offered former governor Deval Patrick for lobbying on behalf of the Games. The threesome said they were open to working with Olympics opponents on crafting language of a 2016 ballot question, but they balked at the idea of including specific wording concerning public financing.

MARATHON BOMBING TRIAL

Testimony in the Boston Marathon bombing trial turns to details of the Tsarnaev brothers’ assembling of the bombs used to kill 3 and maim 260.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Telegram & Gazette columnist Dianne Williamson calls the Worcester City Council a bunch of “shameless panderers” for giving in to union demands regarding a New Hampshire developer seeking to turn the vacant county courthouse into market apartments.

A Globe editorial supports a move by Boston officials to provide paid parental leave to city employees — even if the measure will only apply to the small fraction of the city workforce (about 1,000 workers) who are not unionized.

The Brockton City Council is expected to approve an increase in member’s pay from $10,000 to $15,000 as well as a hike in the stipends paid to School Committee members.

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

The Bay State’s two US senators are being pulled by competing constituencies and were still not disclosing where they stand one day before a vote on a complicated measure aimed at solving a recurring problem with Medicare payments to health care providers.

Former governor Deval Patrick will help President Obama push for passage of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade deal that has drawn the opposition of liberals, labor leaders, and environmental advocates, including Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

Area veterans tell the Herald they’re glad to see Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl facing desertion charges, though most say they’ll reserve judgment on his guilt until the trial plays out.

House Speaker John Boehner pens a defense in the National Review, with the obligatory whacks at President Obama for the red meat crowd, for the Medicare “doc fix” that was fashioned with Democrats in the House but is stalled in the Senate.

Defense hawks in the House overcame fiscal conservative opposition in the budget to increase military spending.

ELECTIONS

Massachusetts is the latest state to settle legal claims that it wasn’t doing enough at welfare offices to sign people up to vote, Governing reports.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Even male nurses earn more than their female counterparts, Governing reports.

Microsoft announces that its 2,000 contractors and vendors will have to offer their own workers 15 paid sick and vacation days a year.

Livestrong, the cancer research foundation founded by disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong, has taken its new CEO from the former ranks of the Susan G. Komen foundation, which has had its own public relations troubles in the past couple years.

EDUCATION

The Massachusetts School Building Authority approves a $122 million replacement for the Briscoe Middle School in Beverly, the Salem News reports.

New state regulations beginning in the fall will significantly reduce the use of restraints in public schools and publicly funded daycares and place limits on “time outs” for students.

HEALTH CARE

Heroin overdoses on the Cape continue to increase.

TRANSPORTATION

Boston outlines plans for smart parking meters and protected bike lanes, WBUR reports.

The Bay State Banner talks to several state lawmakers who took the MBTA to work last week on the day legislators were encouraged to ride the system.

Black box recordings indicate one of the pilots of the German plane that crashed in southern France was locked out of the cockpit, Time reports. French investigators are saying indications are that the co-pilot deliberately crashed the plane, though they have yet to determine why.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

National Grid’s 1 million basic service electric customers will see their monthly bills drop starting in May, but rates aren’t returning to the level they were last summer and are significantly higher than what customers in New Hampshire are paying. Clean energy initiatives are a key reason why prices here are higher, CommonWealth reports.

The Herald reports that a House committee on Beacon Hill will look into the reasons why Massachusetts customers have seen what its chairman calls “unprecedented” hikes in electric rates this winter.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

Sen. William Brownsberger of Belmont and Cape and Island District Attorney Michael O’Keefe square off over whether the state should legalize marijuana, the State House News reports.

Prosecutors said in court yesterday that former Patriots player Aaron Hernandez lied to a cousin sick with cancer about a trust fund he claimed to have established for her children in order to convince her not to talk to investigators following his arrest on murder charges.

MEDIA

Starting Monday, the newsstand price of the daily Providence Journal will double from $1 to $2. The Sunday edition will remain at $3.50.

Google sends a reporter a GIF (Graphics Interchange Format) of a little tyke shaking her head as its comment on a story, Wired reports.