Patronage on Trial

Patronage on Trial

Coverage of the federal racketeering trial of former Probation Commissioner John O’Brien.

CommonWealth's coverage of the Probation trial verdict

CommonWealth’s coverage of the Probation trial verdict

3 Probation defendants found guilty by jury
Fraudulent hires linked to DeLeo, Murray, other lawmakers

A federal jury found former state Probation Department commissioner John O’Brien guilty of mail fraud, racketeering and conspiracy Thursday, in a verdict that tied leaders of the Massachusetts House and Senate to pervasive hiring fraud within Probation. One former O’Brien aide, Elizabeth Tavares, was also found guilty of racketeering, conspiracy, and conspiracy involving mail fraud; a second aide, William Burke III, was found guilty of conspiracy. (Continue reading…)

DeLeo: Jury cleared me of inappropriate conduct
Speaker says ‘all of us have to respect’ verdict

A chastened House Speaker Robert DeLeo responded to Thursday’s Probation Department guilty verdict by issuing a statement saying “it is a verdict that all of us have to respect.” But he then gave a legal interpretation of the jury’s verdict that suggested he had been cleared of engaging in any inappropriate conduct. (Continue reading…)

Ortiz wins big victory, but questions remain
US Attorney doesn’t explain why lawmakers weren’t charged

Nearly everyone on Beacon Hill thought US Attorney Carmen Ortiz was over-reaching by attempting to make a crime of what they considered business-as-usual hiring practices at the Probation Department, but her lieutenants convinced a jury otherwise. The only question mark for Ortiz in the wake of Thursday’s verdict was why none of the lawmakers who participated in the hiring scheme, including House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Therese Murray, were charged with any crimes. (Continue reading…)

A stain on the dome
The Probation trial verdict tarnishes Beacon Hill again

The guilty finding was made at the federal courthouse on Boston’s waterfront, but its reverberations were loudest a mile away at the State House. No legislators were formally charged in the case involving rigged hiring in the state Probation Department, but the entire way of business on Beacon Hill was effectively on trial as prosecutors exposed the often seamy underside of politics and patronage in Massachusetts state government. (Continue reading…)

Putting thumb on scale is the Beacon Hill way

Putting thumb on scale is the Beacon Hill way

Probation trial aired lots of dirty laundry

The federal corruption trial of John O’Brien unfolded on two levels. It was equal parts law enforcement exercise and political soap opera. The trial of O’Brien, the former state Probation Department commissioner, and two former deputies, Elizabeth Tavares and William Burke III, ended Thursday afternoon in a torrent of guilty findings. But even before a dozen jurors convicted O’Brien, Tavares, and Burke of racketeering conspiracy, the Probation trial had flung heaps of dirty laundry all over Beacon Hill.

Under O’Brien, Probation ran an elaborate operation that catered to state lawmakers’ patronage requests. Numerous witnesses have said that O’Brien frequently rigged Probation job interviews to favor job candidates with ties to powerful Beacon Hill lawmakers. The O’Brien jury rejected defense attorney claims that US Attorney Carmen Ortiz tried to criminalize the way Beacon Hill has done business for years. They found that O’Brien, Tavares, and Burke turned patronage into fraud.

The O’Brien verdicts tied several high-profile lawmakers to fraudulent hiring at the Probation Department. These lawmakers include Senate President Therese Murray, House Speaker Robert DeLeo, Rep. Thomas Petrolati, Sen. Mark Montigny, as well as a pair of fallen House speakers, Sal DiMasi and Thomas Finneran.

No trial evidence suggested that these lawmakers were aware that O’Brien was rigging hiring and falsifying documents – the specific acts that led the jury to convict O’Brien of mail fraud. The O’Brien trial was damning to Beacon Hill for a different reason. Lawyers on both sides of the case described the state Legislature as consumed by small-time favor trading. They argued that, for Beacon Hill lawmakers and powerbrokers, putting a thumb on the scale is a way of life.

When Janet Mucci, Probation’s longtime human resources director, called a Probation official and asked him to advance a half-dozen legislatively-sponsored job candidates through a job interview, this is how she explained the request: “Jack had had a meeting over at the State House yesterday… and again that triggered a lot of this. You know, when he got everything he wanted this year in the budget moneywise, so they feel like they did that for him … and obviously he needs to do this for them.”

Edward Dalton, the recipient of Mucci’s 2000 call, taped Mucci’s voicemail and hung on to it for a decade. Dalton handed the tape over to Paul Ware, the lawyer who investigated Probation hiring for the state Supreme Judicial Court. The message received prominent play in Ware’s 2010 report to the SJC, and prosecutors claimed at trial that it was evidence of a quid pro quo between O’Brien and lawmakers.

More than anything else, though, Mucci’s call to Dalton indicates that, to the people who practiced it, the rationale for patronage and favor-trading on Beacon Hill was obvious: When legislators took care of you, you had to jump when they called. And, as testimony in the O’Brien trial showed, the calls came constantly.

Take, for instance, Senate President Murray. Testimony in the O’Brien trial showed Murray’s office pushed O’Brien for a job for Patrick Lawton, who had a drug problem but hailed from a politically connected family. Murray’s office pushed O’Brien to hire Lawton, even after Lawton submitted a job interview performance one state judge described to jurors as “dreadful.” Testimony showed Murray was personally involved in pushing Lawton on O’Brien.

Murray also pushed Probation to hire Patricia Mosca. Mosca was a Democratic state committeewoman who worked for the state, and who was nearing retirement age. She turned to Murray for help boosting her pension. Murray’s aide, Francine Gannon, told jurors Mosca “was rambling about how she wanted to increase her pension. She figured this all out.” By landing in Probation, Mosca was able to retire five years early. “She’s very excited and grateful to you,” Gannon wrote in a memo to the Senate president. “Her interview was just OK, she knows it was because of your intervention that she was selected.”

O’Brien’s defense attorneys tried to show that there was nothing unusual about the patronage requests the Probation commissioner received from Murray. This argument didn’t make Murray look any better. Murray pushed the state Trial Court to hire Richard Musiol, the father of her chief of staff, as a court officer. At the time, Musiol was working as a short-order cook. Defense filings also show Murray took sides in a battle for chief court officer at the Dedham courthouse. Murray backed Patricia Bellotti, after Bellotti’s brother, the Norfolk County sheriff, lodged a call to the Senate president.

Defense filings also show Murray’s predecessor, Robert Travaglini, used Murray’s staffers to lodge his own patronage requests, years after leaving the Legislature. Travaglini now works as a lobbyist on Beacon Hill.

One of Murray’s fellow senators, Mark Montigny, pushed O’Brien to hire his then-24-year old girlfriend. One judge who interviewed Montigny’s girlfriend described her as “woefully inadequate as far as her qualifications.” The same judge said the girlfriend turned out to be an excellent probation officer.

Trial testimony also showed that legislators leaned hard on O’Brien to hire the son of his predecessor, former Sen. William “Biff” MacLean. Doug MacLean had a history of drug arrests. At one point, O’Brien vowed that MacLean’s history was so checkered that he would never get a Probation job “on his watch.” But O’Brien relented months later – because, as he told one witness, “I’m getting tremendous pressure” from legislators.*

Pressure on O’Brien also came from another senator, Marc Pacheco. O’Brien’s former legislative liaison testified that Pacheco was “very territorial” about probation hiring, saying Pacheco “didn’t want anyone in his court that didn’t share the same zip code as him.” The first justice of the Taunton District Court, Kevan Cunningham, testified that O’Brien swung a chief probation officer’s job to Pacheco’s favored candidate. Cunningham voiced doubts about the candidate, Joe Dooley, to O’Brien. But O’Brien told Cunningham he couldn’t pull his support from Dooley: “He said that Pacheco was putting enormous pressure on him.”

Francis Wall, a former top O’Brien aide, provided damning testimony about the extent to which O’Brien rigged hiring for lawmakers. But Wall also testified that lawmakers had their hands in Probation hiring long before O’Brien’s rise to power. He told defense attorneys that, before O’Brien and Speaker Finneran seized control of Probation hiring, local judges and lawmakers would divvy up patronage jobs evenly; one of O’Brien’s attorneys described the practice as “one for you and one for me.”

Together, Wall said, O’Brien and Finneran in 2001 turned Probation patronage from a retail operation to a wholesale one. Finneran rewrote state laws to concentrate patronage hiring in O’Brien’s hands. He did so, Wall testified, after O’Brien committed to being a “proponent of patronage.”

The jury verdict found O’Brien had given illegal gratuities to several House lawmakers, including Speaker DeLeo, Rep. Thomas Petrolati, Rep. Michael Moran, Rep. Kevin Honan, Rep. Anne Gobi, and former rep Robert Rice. The Petrolati gratuity stemmed from O’Brien’s decision to hire the lawmaker’s wife, even though, at the time of her hiring to a manager’s position, Kathleen Petrolati had no college degree and no criminal justice background.

Eight illegal gratuities came in the form of no-interview jobs that ran through DeLeo, to other lawmakers. The lawmakers testified that they saw nothing unusual about the opportunity to place people in Probation jobs, sight-unseen; in her closing argument, Assistant US Attorney Karin Bell described the lawmakers as moonlighting as HR personnel for the Probation Department.

O’Brien sometimes expressed doubts to government witnesses about his role in the Legislature’s patronage pipeline. “He said he had to eat these people, he had to eat the probation candidates,” O’Brien’s legislative liaison, Ed Ryan, told jurors. Mucci, O’Brien’s HR director, recalled O’Brien pointing up at the State House and saying, “They’re a bunch of pigs. It’s never enough.”

Defense attorneys repeatedly argued that O’Brien was being prosecuted for playing a patronage game everyone on Beacon Hill played. They repeatedly insisted that O’Brien hadn’t invented Beacon Hill patronage – and threw dirt on lawmakers, past and present, in the process.

Stellio Sinnis, one of O’Brien’s attorneys, noted that, when Travaglini was Senate president, he routinely sent patronage candidates to the Trial Court. “Why are you getting applications from the Senate president’s office?” Sinnis asked the former chief of the Trial Court, Robert Mulligan. “What possible role could the Senate president have in hiring court officers?”

At another point, John Amabile, an attorney representing Burke, asked a state judge if it would be correct to say politics influences courthouse hiring “up and down, from janitor to judges?” The judge, Bertha Josephson, replied, “I suppose that’s true.”

Josephson also relayed a damning story about legislative-driven Probation patronage before O’Brien’s rise. She recalled getting ready to chair a mass interview panel involving 18 judges and 70 prospective probation officers, when the then-chief justice of the state’s Superior Court, Suzanne Del Vecchio, passed her a piece of paper with the names of four job applicants written on it. “She was hopeful they’d make it through the interview process,” Josephson testified.

Later, Josephson said, she told told Del Vecchio none of her four candidates had survived the interview. Josephson said Del Vecchio placed a call to the lawmaker she’d gotten the candidates’ names from, Sal DiMasi. At the time, DiMasi was chairing the House’s budget committee. Josephson listened as Del Vecchio cursed out DiMasi, saying, “Next time, send me some goddamn candidates who can make it through an interview.”

* The original version of this story indicated Sen. Mark Montigny pushed O’Brien to hire Doug Maclean, an assertion made during the closing statement of Assistant US Attorney Karin Bell. Witness testimony during the trial, however, indicated the name of the lawmaker or lawmakers who pushed for MacLean was unknown.

Ware says his probe did not clear DeLeo

Ware says his probe did not clear DeLeo

Independent counsel calls Speaker’s claim a distortion

Paul Ware, the independent counsel appointed by the Supreme Judicial Court to investigate Probation Department corruption, took issue with House Speaker Robert DeLeo’s contention that his 2010 probe found the Speaker engaged in no impropriety.

“It is a distortion on the part of the Speaker to claim the investigation of the independent counsel exonerated him, because it did not,” Ware said. The Goodwin Procter partner said he is not implying DeLeo engaged in criminal conduct, but nor is he implying that the Speaker is innocent of any wrongdoing.

DeLeo over the last week has issued several statements claiming that Ware’s investigation exonerated him. On Thursday, after a jury found former Probation commissioner John O’Brien and two of his top aides guilty of corruption charges related to Probation hiring, DeLeo again said Ware’s investigation “found no impropriety on my part.”

Ware said he was specifically directed by the SJC not to investigate the Legislature. He said he interviewed DeLeo as part of his investigation but did not subpoena his records or emails.

Ware’s report became the roadmap for subsequent state and federal criminal investigations of the Probation Department. The report concluded the agency’s hiring and promotion process represented “a pervasive fraud against the Commonwealth.” The report also said the hiring and promotion process may violate federal fraud statutes and state bribery laws.

Ware urged that the findings in his report be shared with the state attorney general and the US attorney’s office. He said in his report that the potential targets of a criminal investigation would include O’Brien, Elizabeth Tavares, and William Burke III, who were found guilty on Thursday.

The other potential targets mentioned by Ware were three other top O’Brien aides: Francis Wall, Patricia Walsh, and Christopher Bulger. Wall testified at the trial under a grant of immunity. Walsh and Bulger did not testify. During the federal Probation trial, Bulger lashed out at Ware in an interview with Lawyer’s Weekly. Bulger accused Ware of lying in his report about Bulger’s testimony and failing to include comments that did not support the findings.

Ware said the jury’s verdict on Thursday confirmed the accuracy of his report.

“I believe the verdict reaffirms basic principles of integrity,” he said, adding that the jury’s pronouncement essentially stated that “a state agency and its employment process are not a playpen for politics.”

As for the defense claim at the trial that O’Brien and his colleagues were practicing the same type of patronage that other officials routinely engaged in, Ware acknowledged that “there’s plenty of corruption to go around” in the public and private sectors. But he said the “everybody-is-doing-it” argument is not persuasive.

“That should not deter us from trying to enforce the law and the standards the public expects,” he said. “I’m unsympathetic to the argument that others may be corrupt.”

DeLeo: Jury cleared me of inappropriate conduct

DeLeo: Jury cleared me of inappropriate conduct

Speaker says 'all of us have to respect' verdict

A chastened House Speaker Robert DeLeo responded to Thursday’s Probation Department guilty verdict by issuing a statement saying “it is a verdict that all of us have to respect.” But he then gave a legal interpretation of the jury’s verdict that suggested he had been cleared of engaging in any inappropriate conduct.

“The jury concluded that the defendants provided a gratuity, which the law defines as a unilateral offense; they did not conclude that any form of bribery occurred,” DeLeo said in his statement. “In other words, after hearing all the evidence, the jury correctly concluded that neither I nor any other member of the Legislature engaged in any quid pro quo or had any knowledge of the defendant’s intent. The jury’s verdict confirmed what I have been saying all along: that I never participated in a conspiracy with any of the defendants and that I never traded probation jobs for votes.”

DeLeo’s legal interpretation is just that because the jury’s verdict slip does not spell out its reasoning and jurors themselves declined to discuss the case as they left the federal courthouse. US Attorney Carmen Ortiz and her federal prosecutors also refused to discuss their handling of DeLeo and other lawmakers.

The jury found former Probation commissioner John O’Brien guilty of giving illegal gratuities to DeLeo and seven other lawmakers in an attempt to influence their official actions in regard to the Probation Department. The illegal gratuities were jobs paying about $40,000 a year at a new Probation facility in Clinton. The jobs were handed out in 2007 and 2008.

The illegal gratuity charge could create problems for DeLeo and the other lawmakers because state law and House rules prohibit lawmakers from accepting “gifts” from any person with a direct interest in legislation before the Legislature. Prosecutors alleged that O’Brien used jobs as a form of political currency to win bigger budgets and more power for his department from the Legislature.

Bribery is a more serious charge than giving illegal gratuities. The distinction between the two crimes hinges largely on intent. At a court hearing in May, Assistant US Attorney Fred Wyshak said that bribery involves corrupt intent on the part of both the giver and the recipient. By contrast, Wyshak described a gratuity as a reward, something given to simply curry favor with the recipient.

DeLeo has not denied receiving jobs from O’Brien that he then handed out to fellow lawmakers so they could fill them with people they knew. DeLeo has insisted he never traded the jobs for votes in the battle for speaker. DeLeo was elected speaker by House members in January 2009 after his predecessor, Sal DiMasi, left the post under a legal cloud. DiMasi would later be convicted and sentenced to jail for political corruption.

Senate President Therese Murray also featured prominently in the Probation corruption trial as someone who aggressively pursued jobs on behalf of friends and political supporters. In her statement on Thursday, Murray portrayed herself as someone who pitched job candidates to O’Brien but left the actual hiring decisions to him.

“My office receives hundreds of requests for assistance for education, healthcare, housing, employment and more,” her statement said. “As previously stated, I was unaware of any possible scheme or improper hiring practices at Probation and, when I did learn what was going on, led a thorough overhaul of hiring at the department.”

The statement DeLeo issued on Thursday did not mention Ortiz, the US attorney. Last week, when federal prosecutors first asserted that DeLeo was an unindicated coconspirator in the Probation hiring scheme, the Speaker lashed out at Ortiz, accusing her of trying him in the press because she lacked the evidence to try him in court. He also suggested that Ortiz and her predecessors received their jobs because they were recommended by US senators or congressmen.

Throughout the trial, prosecutors asserted and established through witness testimony that O’Brien gave jobs to DeLeo so he could let his colleagues in the House refer people they knew for Probation positions at the facility in Clinton. Most of the referred job applicants were hired sight unseen.

The government’s case began focusing more on DeLeo’s role after the testimony of Edward Ryan, O’Brien’s former legislative liaison. Ryan testified that O’Brien directed him to steer jobs to DeLeo so the then-chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee could use them to build support for his upcoming fight for speaker. He also testified that Leonard Mirasolo, a DeLeo aide, indicated to him that jobs were being traded for votes.

Ryan’s testimony about what Mirasolo said constituted hearsay and could only be admitted if Mirasolo was a coconspirator in the alleged scheme, so prosecutors argued he was. They argued that DeLeo was part of the scheme as well. US District Court Judge William Young agreed, which meant that, instead of allegedly receiving bribes in the form of Probation jobs from O’Brien, DeLeo became someone who, in conjunction with Probation officials, allegedly bribed his legislative colleagues with jobs.

DeLeo noted in his statement that the jury concluded no bribery occurred. He also noted that Ortiz did not call either him or Mirasolo to the stand to testify.

The Speaker also reiterated, as he has before, that Paul Ware, an attorney hired by the Supreme Judicial Court to investigate hiring within the Probation Department, found the Speaker had engaged in no impropriety. Ware said after the release of his report in 2010 that he had “no reason to believe Speaker DeLeo did anything inappropriate,” but he also cautioned that his job was not to investigate lawmakers and their culpability would ultimately be decided by law enforcement officials and the courts.

A stain on the dome

A stain on the dome

The Probation trial verdict tarnishes Beacon Hill again

The guilty finding was made at the federal courthouse on Boston’s waterfront, but its reverberations were loudest a mile away at the State House.

No legislators were formally charged in the case involving rigged hiring in the state Probation Department, but the entire way of business on Beacon Hill was effectively on trial as prosecutors exposed the often seamy underside of politics and patronage in Massachusetts state government.

A federal jury convicted John O’Brien, the former Probation Department commissioner, and two of his top deputies, Elizabeth Tavares and William Burke III, of racketeering conspiracy. O’Brien and Tavares were also convicted on four mail fraud charges. Prosecutors alleged O’Brien and his underlings built a criminal enterprise that involved rigging the Probation Department’s hiring system and doling out jobs to lawmakers in exchange for favored treatment of the department by the Legislature.

The trial showed a hiring system that made a mockery of the Probation Department’s own procedures manual and shredded any idea that the process was seeking out the best candidate. Scores were fixed to push weak, but politically favored, candidates to the top of the hiring pool, with little regard for the serious responsibilities probation officers have to public safety and the supervision of criminal offenders. The fraudulent Probation hires ranged from candidates with long drug arrest records, who seemed like better candidates to be on probation than working for the agency, to an employee of another state department who made clear her sole interest in a Probation job was to boost her state pension.

While O’Brien and his two deputies were the ones convicted of running a criminal enterprise, it was Beacon Hill lawmakers who provided the raw material they worked with in the form of candidates for Probation jobs. The combination of a strong push from powerful officeholders on behalf of often weak candidates took the idea of patronage hiring to an almost farcical level.

The testimony over the course of the 10-week trial put the Legislature’s two top leaders, House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Therese Murray, in the thick of the patronage hiring scheme, with a number of the Probation hires that the jury found to be part of the racketeering or mail fraud enterprise coming through their offices. Plenty of other lawmakers got pulled into the trial, including state Sen. Mark Montigny, whose girlfriend landed a Probation job, and Rep. Thomas Petrolati, whose wife was hired to run a key Probation office in Western Massachusetts.

As the verdicts were handed down on Thursday afternoon, legislators were scarce at the State House. The House was not in session, and Senators coming in and out of their chamber waved off questions from reporters seeking their comment on the verdict. “Have a nice day,” said Senate Majority Leader Stan Rosenberg as he brushed past reporters.

It is hard to gauge the likely fallout from the case. The three House speakers that preceded DeLeo all wound up convicted of federal felonies, and DeLeo has been determined to restore the Legislature’s tarnished image. The Probation case will undoubtedly make that job harder, not least because DeLeo was a major Beacon Hill player in the business of recommending people for Probation jobs.

Peter Ubertaccio, a political science professor at Stonehill College, said the fact that the defendants in the case were relatively unknown state officials may diminish its impact. “Ultimately, three guilty convictions of three people that most citizens couldn’t name is probably not going to change the culture on Beacon Hill,” he said.

At the same time, he said, the Probation hiring scheme took the idea of shady Beacon Hill doings to a new level. “The sheer audacity of what O’Brien was doing is breathtaking, and the ease in which members of the Legislature engaged in this activity is breathtaking even by Beacon Hill standards,” said Ubertaccio.

Secretary of State William Galvin said the verdict made it a bad day for state government. “It’s disappointing that’s for sure,” he said. Galvin said that the verdict “reflects badly on government” and that the trial revealed “abuses of process and justice.”

State Rep. Russell Holmes, one of the few legislators willing to talk on Thursday, said he wasn’t surprised by the outcome.

“No, by no means,” said the Mattapan Democrat. He said the patronage hiring that was detailed in the case went well beyond usual practice. “I think the perception has been that’s criminal, for lack of a better word,” he said. “I do believe in the end if the jury found them to be criminal, then the evidence must have supported that.”

Holmes, who was elected in 2010, said the activities that were the subject of the trial took place before he arrived on Beacon Hill. But he conceded that the trial has put “a spotlight on the entire building.”

That unflattering spotlight is one the candidates for governor were quick to denounce.

Charlie Baker, the likely Republican nominee, wasted no time trying to connect the verdict to the Democratic dominance of state government that his election would counterbalance.

“Today is a victory for taxpayers who deserve better than the one-party rule on Beacon Hill where politicians trade favors and turn a blind eye to abuses of power,” Baker said in a statement. “Regardless of the verdict today, the ugly trial made clear that state government is in desperate need of a new direction, with balance and real leadership where this type of disrespect for taxpayers’ money is replaced by transparency and accountability. Today is proof positive that the last eight years of one-party rule has bred corruption and waste in state government as my opponents stood by.”

Attorney General Martha Coakley, one of three candidates vying in the Democratic primary, said in a statement: “Today’s verdict sends a clear message that the corrupt hiring practices at issue were wrong and illegal. The rigged hiring system at the Probation Department never should have been accepted as ‘business as usual.’ Now we must remain vigilant that public accountability and transparency in government is enforced.”

Coakley might take issue with Baker’s charge that all his opponents have stood idly by. Coakley brought an earlier bribery case against O’Brien in state court that accused him of improperly securing a job for his wife with the state Lottery. O’Brien was acquitted of the charges in a trial last year.

State Treasurer Steve Grossman, another Democratic candidate for governor, said in a statement: “John O’Brien and his colleagues engaged in reprehensible behavior, abused the power of their office, and violated the public’s trust. The Probation Department hiring scheme unveiled during this trial demonstrates the urgent need to reform Beacon Hill and to restore confidence in our government and its leaders.”

Don Berwick, the former director of the federal Medicare and Medicaid office, is the one Beacon Hill outsider in the Democratic contest, and he was the only one who drew a direct line to legislative leaders.

“Political patronage must not be considered ‘business as usual’ on Beacon Hill,” Berwick said in a statement. “The latest round of patronage shenanigans are, sadly, all too familiar. Legislative leaders who were complicit by their actions or by their silence have allowed taxpayer dollars to be wasted, and, worse, have once again damaged faith in government.”

Pam Wilmot, executive director of Common Cause Massachusetts, said the case highlights the need for broader reforms on Beacon Hill and in the Probation Department. She also pointed to a former legislator whose name did not figure prominently during the case but who may have more to do with the problems in the Probation Department than anyone. It was the maneuverings of former House speaker Tom Finneran, she pointed out, that laid the groundwork for what followed at Probation through legislation he engineered in 2001 that gave O’Brien sweeping power over the operation of the department and gave the Legislature control of its purse strings. A probation department that was recognized in criminal justice circles nationally for innovation and efficiency, she said, “became a laughingstock.”

“My reaction is mixed,” Wilmot said of the verdict. “On one hand, it shows the system works and people are being held accountable for misdeeds. On the other hand, it’s always a bad day when the public trust is violated and it’s proven.”

Ortiz wins big victory, but questions remain

Ortiz wins big victory, but questions remain

US Attorney doesn’t explain why lawmakers weren’t charged

US Attorney Carmen Ortiz with prosecutors Robert Fisher (left) and Fred Wyshak

Nearly everyone on Beacon Hill thought US Attorney Carmen Ortiz was over-reaching by attempting to make a crime of what they considered business-as-usual hiring practices at the Probation Department, but her lieutenants convinced a jury otherwise. The only question mark for Ortiz in the wake of Thursday’s verdict was why none of the lawmakers who participated in the hiring scheme, including House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Therese Murray, were charged with any crimes.

Ortiz appeared outside the federal courthouse after the verdict was handed down, flanked by two of the three prosecutors who argued the case and the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Boston office. She was fairly subdued in her remarks, which she read from typed notecards. She wouldn’t explain why she didn’t charge any lawmakers with crimes. She didn’t mention DeLeo’s name once, although she seemed to address him indirectly at one point when she said she wasn’t going to try the case in the media. DeLeo charged last week that Ortiz was prosecuting him in the press because she lacked the evidence to charge him in a court of law.

“This case was about a fraud perpetrated by Mr. O’Brien and his colleagues on the citizens of the Commonwealth,” Ortiz said, referring to the three convicted Probation officials – former commissioner John O’Brien and his colleagues Elizabeth Tavares and William Burke III.

Prosecutors argued that O’Brien, Tavares, and Burke tried to protect and expand the Probation Department’s budget and power by developing a criminal enterprise at the agency that revolved around the awarding of jobs to politically connected people. The criminal enterprise was a hiring system that appeared legitimate on the surface but in fact was rigged in favor of politically connected job candidates, some of them poorly qualified.

Defense attorneys argued that O’Brien, Tavares, and Burke were practicing the ancient art of patronage, but Ortiz said the evidence showed the hiring system wasn’t politics as usual but fraud. Pointing to the manipulation of records and misrepresentations to superiors, Ortiz said: “That’s not just mere patronage.”

The wife of former Probation commissioner John O’Brien collapsed in the courtroom and was rushed to an ambulance

DeLeo pounded Ortiz in statement after statement last week for identifying him as a coconspirator in court, at one point suggesting she got her own job through political connections. But Ortiz on Thursday refused to respond in kind. Asked about DeLeo, she begged off. “I’m going to rest on the evidence presented in the court,” she said. “The evidence revealed what it revealed.”

Ortiz also refused to say the verdict delivered a message to Beacon Hill. “We’re not here to send a message,” she said. “We’re here to prosecute and go where the evidence leads us.”

Yet Vincent Lisi, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Boston office, seemed to disagree. “This should send a message to any corrupt public officials out there,” he said. “There is nothing that’s going to get in our way of identifying them and bringing them to justice.”.

The US Attorney’s office in 2011 tried and convicted former House Speaker Sal DiMasi on corruption charges. The office has also been involved with a series of high-profile cases. It put away Whitey Bulger and is prosecuting alleged Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Ortiz took heat last year for her prosecution of Internet activist Aaron Swartz, who committed suicide rather than go to court.

3 Probation defendants found guilty by jury

3 Probation defendants found guilty by jury

Fraudulent hires linked to DeLeo, Murray, other lawmakers

Defense attorneys (from left) John Amabile, William Fick, Stellio Sennis, Jeffrey Denner, and Brad Bailey

A federal jury found former state Probation Department commissioner John O’Brien guilty of mail fraud, racketeering and conspiracy Thursday, in a verdict that tied leaders of the Massachusetts House and Senate to pervasive hiring fraud within Probation. One former O’Brien aide, Elizabeth Tavares, was also found guilty of racketeering, conspiracy, and conspiracy involving mail fraud; a second aide, William Burke III, was found guilty of conspiracy.

Prosecutors alleged that O’Brien ran the Probation Department like a criminal enterprise, handing out patronage jobs to individuals connected to powerful Beacon Hill lawmakers, in exchange for fattened budgets and legislative clout. O’Brien maintained a database that tracked patronage calls legislators made to the Probation Department. According to several witnesses who testified at the two-month-long trial, O’Brien hired candidates based on their political sponsorship, not based on their resumes or abilities.

Speaking after the verdict, US Attorney Carmen Ortiz castigated what she called “serious corruption in the practices of the Probation Department.” She said O’Brien’s rigged hiring system had demoralized rank-and-file Probation Department employees, and defrauded Massachusetts taxpayers.

Richard Lisi, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Boston office, said the O’Brien verdict “should send a message to any corrupt public officials out there.”

Jurors, who deliberated for nearly seven days before reaching their unanimous verdict, declined comment as they exited the courthouse. They convicted O’Brien and Tavares on four acts of mail fraud each; prosecutors had charged them with a total of eight mail fraud acts. O’Brien was also found guilty of 19 acts of racketeering, 10 of which Tavares participated in. Burke was found guilty of a single charge of conspiracy.

O’Brien’s wife collapsed as the verdict was read, and was wheeled out of the courthouse on a stretcher.

“The jury has obviously spoken, and while we respect the jury’s decision, we disagree,” said Brad Bailey, one of the attorneys for Tavares. He added, “Everybody was disappointed. We’ll keep fighting.”

Former Probation Departmnent Deputy Commissioner Elizabeth
Tavares

O’Brien faces up to a maximum of 20 years in prison, though federal sentencing guidelines make it likely he would serve a far less severe sentence. The judge in the case, William Young, scheduled a November 18 sentencing hearing. O’Brien, Tavares, and Burke are expected to file a flurry of procedural motions before that date.

Attorneys for all three defendants vowed to appeal the verdicts. There may also be a second criminal trial looming, since bribery charges filed against O’Brien, Burke, and Tavares were severed from the mail fraud, racketeering, and conspiracy charges they just faced.

Several of the mail fraud and racketeering acts the jury convicted O’Brien and Tavares on were connected to some of the most prominent lawmakers on Beacon Hill. The jury found O’Brien broke the law in the course of hiring the troubled son of a state judge and a Democratic state committeewoman, both of whom were referred to O’Brien by Senate President Therese Murray. He also broke the law hiring House Speaker Robert DeLeo’s godson, and the wife of Rep. Thomas Petrolati, a former top lieutenant to DeLeo. Other fraudulent hires included the then-girlfriend of Sen. Mark Montigny, a family friend of former state Sen. Jack Hart, and Doug MacLean, the son of a former state senator. MacLean, sponsored by Montigny, had a history of drug arrests. Prosecutors alleged, and the jury found, that seven no-interview jobs O’Brien gave to DeLeo to distribute to other representatives constituted illegal gratuities.

Numerous witnesses testified that O’Brien ran a rigged hiring system, and that he maintained an elaborate system for covering up his patronage hires. O’Brien would pass the names of preferred candidates to Probation officials who sat on job interview panels, on the understanding that the preferred candidates would receive special consideration. One former O’Brien aide, Francis Wall, testified that O’Brien would tell him who to hire before Wall conducted the final round of Probation job interviews, and Wall and others would rig final interview scores to meet O’Brien’s preordained hiring decisions. Wall also testified that he would regularly lie under oath at union grievance hearings to protect O’Brien’s patronage operation.

Prosecutors built their case against O’Brien, Tavares, and Burke around mail fraud charges. Most of the mail fraud charges stemmed from certifications O’Brien sent to the head of the state Trial Court, in which he claimed he was hiring based on merit; others were connected to rejection letters mailed to unsuccessful job candidates.

“I know many wanted to assimilate it and say, this was just patronage or politics as usual,” Ortiz told reporters. “But when you commit fraud, make [false] representations, tamper with documents, that’s not just mere patronage. That’s where we draw the line.”

Ortiz defended her office’s prosecution of the case, including its decision to charge O’Brien, Tavares, and Burke with bribing state legislators, but not to charge those same legislators with accepting bribes. She bridled at one reporter’s suggestion that her office pursued bureaucrats and ignored lawmakers. “I really take issue with the three defendants being mere functionaries or bureaucrats,” she said.

She also refused to back down from the conspiracy charges her office lobbed at DeLeo in the trial’s closing days. “We’re not trying this in the media,” Ortiz said. “I’m going to rest on the evidence presented in court. That’s where cases get tried, in a courtroom, not here in front of the media… The evidence was what it was in court. We brought evidence against the head official of the Probation Department, fraud, illegal gratuities. When you have a conspiracy such as this, and you’re presenting evidence, you’re not trying people in a vacuum. The evidence that came out, the documents, revealed what it revealed.”

No state legislators were tried in connection with O’Brien’s patronage conspiracy, but the trial, which began in early May, elicited damning testimony about several high-profile lawmakers.

Former Probation Departmnent Deputy Commissioner William
Burke III

For instance, Senate President Murray’s office pushed O’Brien for a job for Patrick Lawton. Lawton had had a drug problem and had left his last job, in the district attorney’s office, under a cloud. But Lawton’s father was a politically connected lawmaker-turned-judge, and his mother a friend of Murray’s. So Murray’s office pushed O’Brien to hire Lawton, even after Lawton submitted a job interview performance one state judge described to jurors as “dreadful.” The Senate President was personally involved in the patronage quest, at one point leaving a handwritten note on a staffer’s desk, asking, “How are we doing on him?”

Murray also pushed Probation to hire Patricia Mosca, a Democratic state committeewoman and onetime candidate for the Governor’s Council who was working in the state’s Department of Transitional Assistance. “She stopped by and talked and talked about making a career change to increase her pension,” Murray’s aide, Francine Gannon, told jurors. “She just was rambling about how she wanted to increase her pension. She figured this all out.” Moving out of DTA, and into Probation, allowed Mosca to retire five years early. “She’s very excited and grateful to you,” Gannon wrote in a memo to the Senate President. “Her interview was just OK, she knows it was because of your intervention that she was selected.”

The jury convicted O’Brien and Tavares of mail fraud and racketeering charges related to the Lawton and Mosca hirings.

They also convicted O’Brien and Tavares in connection with the hiring of Kelly Manchester, who was Sen. Montigny’s 24-year-old girlfriend at the time. They found O’Brien and Tavares committed fraud in the hiring of Brian Mirasolo, DeLeo’s godson, and in the hiring of Kathleen Petrolati, whose politician husband was allegedly the king of patronage in western Massachusetts.

One prosecution witness testified that O’Brien had vowed never to hire Doug MacLean, who had a history of drug use, but who was also the son of former state Sen. William “Biff” MacLean. O’Brien quickly reversed course, and hired MacLean, after feeling political pressure from Montigny. The jury convicted O’Brien and Tavares of fraud connected to MacLean’s hiring, too.

The most inflammatory allegations involving State House wrongdoing revolved around DeLeo. In the closing days of the trial, prosecutors alleged that DeLeo, whom they had never accused of committing a crime, conspired with O’Brien to bribe several fellow lawmakers, in order to advance DeLeo’s campaign for House speaker. The allegations, which were legally necessary to admit key testimony against O’Brien, rattled Beacon Hill. They centered around eight no-interview jobs at a Probation facility in Clinton that monitored sex offenders wearing GPS bracelets. “O’Brien gave jobs to DeLeo,” Assistant US Attorney Karin Bell said during her closing argument last week. “And when I say gave, I mean gave. He abdicated complete hiring responsibility.” Bell charged that O’Brien allowed DeLeo and his fellow lawmakers to “moonlight as HR personnel for the Probation Department.”

DeLeo strongly denied the allegations. He said he was being unfairly targeted by Ortiz’s office, since he had no chance to defend himself in court. “I never traded jobs for votes, and no one could honestly have testified otherwise,” he said in a statement.

Jurors effectively split the difference between prosecutors’ allegations, and DeLeo’s protestations. They found all eight jobs connected to the Clinton GPS facility to be illegal gratuities to lawmakers, but not bribes. A gratuity is a lesser charge than a bribe; it involves public officials receiving improper gifts of value, but doesn’t require the public official to take any actions to reciprocate. The jury also found that the one individual DeLeo sponsored for employment directly constituted an illegal gratuity. The jury’s finding would indicate DeLeo was on the receiving end of the transaction, not on the giving end.

Probation closing statements: The prosecution, the defense & the judge

Probation closing statements: The prosecution, the defense & the judge

The prosecution: Former Probation commissioner John O’Brien wrote a January 2007 letter to his nemesis, Trial Court chief Robert Mulligan, in which he defended the way people were hired at the Probation Department. “The probation officer hiring process (as it has developed and as it exists) may be the most transparent, accountable, and tested process in the public sector,” he wrote. (Continue reading…)

The defense: Defense attorneys for former Probation Department officials John O’Brien, Elizabeth Tavares and William Burke III devoted much of their closing arguments in their federal corruption trial on Tuesday to playing offense, assailing Robert Mulligan, the former head of the Massachusetts Trial Court, and US Attorney Carmen Ortiz. (Continue reading…)

The judge: The federal corruption trial of state Probation Department officials wrapped up today where it began: With US District Court Judge William Young emphasizing to jurors that political patronage may be unseemly, but it isn’t illegal. (Continue reading…)

Attorney: Globe column targeted Probation jury

Attorney: Globe column targeted Probation jury

Judge rejects bid to sequester panel

STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE

On the second day of jury deliberations in the probation trial, one of the defense attorneys accused the Boston Globe of an “attempt to manipulate the criminal justice system” by printing a front-page column with a strong take on the allegations.

Jurors began discussions Wednesday aiming to determine whether former Probation Commissioner John O’Brien and two of his former deputies, Elizabeth Tavares and William Burke, criminally rigged the hiring system in the department as part of efforts to curry favor with lawmakers who make decisions about the department’s budget.

“Favoritism hurtled to a corrupt extreme, and deserving workers fell by the wayside,” read the headline to the Wednesday morning column by Thomas Farragher, a new columnist for the Globe who previously led the Spotlight Team that ran an expose in May 2010 leading to O’Brien’s suspension.

Farragher described the Probation Department’s personnel system as “the crack cocaine of patronage” and described sitting at the kitchen table of Karen Jackson, who was passed over for a relative by marriage of a former state representative, and reported what Bernard Dow told him, that he donated to House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi before “his promotion magically came through.”

John Amabile, who is representing Burke, claimed the timing of the column was intended to influence the jury as it went into deliberations, and asked US District Court Judge William Young to question jurors individually about whether they saw the Globe’s coverage and to sequester the jury.

Young denied Amabile’s motion and jurors shook their heads when Young questioned them collectively and generally about seeing media coverage.

Commentators have issued opinions on the trial from beyond the Globe’s Morrissey Boulevard editorial offices, with varying perspectives.

Speaker Robert DeLeo over the past week has become a regular pundit on the trial, criticizing federal prosecutors for what he says is their nonsensical and “scurrilous” accusation that he was part of a jobs-for-votes arrangement.

Young has repeatedly remarked at what close attention the jury has paid to the testimony in the courtroom.

Media coverage became an issue during the trial when prosecutor Karin Bell asked Rep. Anne Gobi whether she reads the newspaper after she said she was unaware of DeLeo’s interest in the speakership in the spring of 2008.

“We plan to continue to perform our job, which is to produce high quality journalism. The defense attorneys are obviously free to pursue whatever tactics they choose,” said Globe spokeswoman Ellen Clegg.

Health policy agency critiques Partners deal

Health policy agency critiques Partners deal

Raises concerns but doesn’t urge rejection

The state’s Health Policy Commission raised concerns on Thursday about some aspects of Attorney General Martha Coakley’s proposed agreement with Partners Health Care on hospital acquisitions, but the agency did not urge Superior Court Judge Janet Sanders to either approve or disapprove the settlement.

The commission, citing cost concerns, said in February that it opposed the Partners acquisition of South Shore Hospital and referred the matter to Coakley. The agency more recently issued a preliminary report raising concerns about the cost impact of Partners’ proposed acquisition of two Hallmark hospitals in Medford and Wakefield.

Coakley chose not to challenge the hospital acquisitions in court and instead negotiated an agreement with Partners that caps at the rate of general inflation how much the Boston-based health care system can charge overall for its services, prohibits further expansion for most of the next decade, and allows insurance plans to negotiate with Partners as a whole or with individual hospitals within the system on rates.

The Coakley-Partners agreement must be approved by Sanders, who has asked for public comment and scheduled a hearing on the matter for Aug. 5. Coakley on Thursday urged Sanders to postpone the hearing until early September – after the Health Policy Commission issues its final report on the Hallmark acquisitions. The Coakley-Partners agreement allowed for renegotiating the deal to reduce any cost impact of the Hallmark acquisitions.

The Health Policy Commission on Thursday voted unanimously to send a fairly cautious comment to Sanders that said Coakley’s agreement should mitigate the cost impact of the Partners acquisitions, particularly in terms of what the system charges on average for its services. But the comment suggested one weakness of the agreement is that it won’t fully regulate increased health care spending as patients shift to higher-priced Partners providers.

“Without lasting change to the market structures and incentives that underlie the operation of bargaining leverage, price caps on their own may not be effective in keeping costs down,” the comment said.

The comment also noted that Partners, South Shore Hospital, and Hallmark have advocated for the acquisitions on the grounds they will lower total medical spending by the combined organization. “As such, increases in total medical spending and growth in unit prices would be inconsistent with those claims,” the comment said.

Stuart Altman, the chairman of the commission, said negotiating the wording of the comment required a lot of late-night negotiations among commission members. He said the agency never intended to recommend the judge approve or reject the acquisitions. “It’s not our role,” he said, pointing out that such a recommendation would be beyond the agency’s legal authority.

Steve Grossman, the state treasurer and a Democratic candidate for governor, filed his own comment, saying he could not support the agreement in its current form. Grossman told the South Shore Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday that he didn’t plan to file a comment, but he said he changed his mind as he studied the issue more closely over the last two days.

As required by Judge Sanders, Grossman filed his comment with Coakley, his rival in the Democratic race for governor, who will forward all the comments to the judge along with her response. Grossman said the state cannot afford to let “one bad deal take us down the wrong track for years to come.” He added: “Your rhetoric as attorney general has emphasized transparency and the lowering of health care costs. But in negotiating this current deal, you have fallen far short of each of those objectives.”

A spokesman for Republican gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker said he does not intend to file a comment on the Coakley-Partners agreement.

Alan Sager, a professor of health policy and management at Boston University, also submitted a comment on Thursday that was very critical of the consent agreement.

“You have negotiated and publicly trumpeted a set of apparent constraints on Partners’ behavior,” Sager wrote. “But you offer no convincing evidence that these constraints on behavior are likely to be practical, effective, or even enforceable. Have they been tried elsewhere? Did they work? How often? Without this evidence, it is likely that the constraints you have negotiated will actually enable Partners to garner substantial revenue increases. Right now, the constraints look like feeble regulatory Lilliputians, unable to restrain Partners’ Gulliver.”