US Attorney labels DeLeo a coconspirator

Speaker, attorney say accusation unfair

The top public corruption prosecutor in US Attorney Carmen Ortiz’s office said Monday that House Speaker Robert DeLeo was an active member of the racketeering conspiracy that led to the federal indictment of former Probation Department commissioner John O’Brien. The allegation represents a significant escalation of rhetoric against DeLeo, who hasn’t been charged in the Probation case. And it drew a sharp rebuke from DeLeo’s attorney, who argued federal prosecutors are trying to claim in public what they can’t prove in court.

“At least by 2007, Mr. DeLeo and [former DeLeo aide Leonard] Mirasolo had become part of the conspiracy,” Assistant US Attorney Fred Wyshak told a federal judge Monday.

Asked in a courthouse hallway to clarify the government’s stance toward the House Speaker, Wyshak replied, “Our position has never changed – that he was a coconspirator.”

The disclosure of DeLeo’s alleged complicity in the Probation case came in a day of legal wrangling that set the stage for closing arguments in the O’Brien case, which are scheduled for Tuesday. Defense attorneys were trying to exclude a statement that Leonard Mirasolo, a former DeLeo aide, made to Ed Ryan, the Probation Department’s former legislative liaison. Ryan testified two weeks ago that, during the House speaker’s fight between DeLeo and Rep. John Rogers, House lawmakers were routing their Probation patronage requests through Mirasolo, and Mirasolo drew a direct link between helping lawmakers secure patronage jobs with Probation and DeLeo’s campaign for House speaker.

“Both sides were trying to get commitments,” Ryan testified. “[Mirasolo] said he believed they were getting close to the numbers [DeLeo] needed.”

Both the judge in the O’Brien case, William Young, and O’Brien’s attorneys had argued that Ryan’s testimony about Mirasolo constituted hearsay, and would only be admissible if Mirasolo was a coconspirator in the Probation case, in which O’Brien and two former deputies stand accused of mail fraud and racketeering conspiracy. Wyshak argued that Ryan’s conversation with Mirasolo should make it to the jury. He claimed that both Mirasolo and DeLeo were members of O’Brien’s alleged conspiracy, which prosecutors say traded patronage jobs for fattened budgets and legislative clout.

Prosecutors have claimed that O’Brien rigged interviews and created a false paper trail to cover up patronage inside the Probation Department. They’ve also said the patronage jobs lawmakers received from O’Brien constituted bribes and illegal kickbacks, although no lawmaker has been criminally charged in the case.

“When do they join the conspiracy?” Young asked Wyshak.

“By the time these statements had been made, they had become part of the conspiracy,” Wyshak replied. “There was an agreement between O’Brien, Mirasolo and DeLeo,” Wyshak added. “O’Brien would relinquish a number of jobs to DeLeo’s control, so he could give them to members of the Legislature, who turn out to be his supporters.”

DeLeo’s attorney, Robert Popeo, pushed back strongly against prosecutors’ claims that the House Speaker conspired illegally with O’Brien when he was the head of the Ways and Means Committee. “If they had any evidence, they would have indicted him,” Popeo told CommonWealth. “They didn’t, because they don’t have any evidence. He hasn’t been charged with a crime, but he’s being treated like he has. It’s grossly unfair.”

A number of current and former lawmakers, including DeLeo’s incarcerated predecessor, Sal DiMasi, testified before the grand jury that heard testimony on hiring irregularities at Probation. DeLeo was never called to testify before the grand jury, and DeLeo’s legal team was told the speaker was not a target of the US Attorney’s Probation investigation.

Still, last spring, federal prosecutors released a modified indictment of O’Brien that claimed the former Probation boss bribed a number of Beacon Hill lawmakers, including DeLeo and Senate President Therese Murray. Murray was the star of the trial’s early days, with numerous witnesses claiming the Senate president steered public sector jobs toward members of politically connected families. But as they wrapped up their case over the past two weeks, prosecutors have put DeLeo’s long campaign for speaker, which stretched from 2007 to early 2009, in the spotlight.

Prosecutors have tried to show a connection between DeLeo’s ambitions and a Probation patronage spree, in which O’Brien allegedly handed a number of no-interview jobs to DeLeo to distribute to fellow lawmakers. Ryan testified that O’Brien took sides in the speaker’s fight, funneling patronage through DeLeo’s aide, Mirasolo, after Rogers expressed interest in a Probation job far outside his Norwood district. Charles Murphy, a former lawmaker and onetime DeLeo partisan, testified DeLeo gave Probation’s budget preferential treatment.

Popeo said that prosecutors’ reliance on Ryan’s hearsay, which necessitates treating DeLeo and Mirasolo as coconspirators, points to a weakness in prosecutors’ claims. He said that if either Mirasolo or DeLeo took the stand, they would contradict Ryan’s testimony. “The parties with firsthand understanding weren’t called to testify,” Popeo said. “The whole thing is so distasteful, making accusations about someone who isn’t there to defend themselves.” He said the House Speaker had never entered into a conspiracy with anyone, and hadn’t done anything illegal.

“If [DeLeo] committed a crime, why isn’t he a party to the case?” Popeo asked. “Because they’re so gracious to DeLeo, they gave him a pass?”

DeLeo himself issued a statement that echoed all the themes raised by Popeo. “This allegation is nothing more than desperate legal strategy to allow the government to admit hearsay evidence from an unreliable source,” DeLeo’s statement said.

DeLeo also suggested, without mentioning her by name, that US Attorney Carmen Ortiz got her job because of recommendations made by US senators and congressmen.

Tensions between DeLeo and federal prosecutors have been rising lately. He recently labeled as untrue prosecutors’ claims that he traded Probation jobs for votes in the speaker’s race. And on Friday, he attacked Murphy, his onetime lieutenant, for testifying that DeLeo had wanted the House to take a hands-off approach to Probation’s budget. DeLeo had earlier said he had “no independent recollection” of warning lawmakers off of Probation’s budget, but on Friday, after testimony in the trial wrapped up, he called the claims Murphy made under oath “illogical” and “simply untrue.”

Meet the Author

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.

Meet the Author

Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

William Fick, one of O’Brien’s attorneys, argued Monday that prosecutors are playing up the relationship between O’Brien and DeLeo because prosecutors’ bribery accusations, which underpin the racketeering charges against O’Brien, Elizabeth Tavares, and William Burke III, are on shaky ground. However, Fick said, prosecutors are painting a false picture of the 2007-2008 no-interview hiring spree at Probation; it went far beyond House lawmakers, and involved Senate President Murray, and officials within the Probation department.

“None of it has anything to do with the House race,” Fick argued. “It’s a fiction created by [Rogers] to explain it away, and tar DeLeo. And it’s not the conspiracy that’s been charged.”