Testimony of shaky witness was key
Federal prosecutors changed their view of House Speaker Robert DeLeo during the course of the trial of former Probation commissioner John O’Brien, largely because of the testimony of a shaky witness named Edward Ryan.
Ryan, O’Brien’s former legislative liaison, testified at the trial that the commissioner had 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 in the speaker fight.
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 also argued that DeLeo was part of the scheme as well, personally handing out jobs to at least two colleagues. Judge William Young agreed that DeLeo and Mirasolo were both coconspirators, although the basis for his ruling in regard to DeLeo was unclear.
In practical terms, nothing really changed. Prosecutors have asserted all along 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 a new facility in Clinton. Most of the referred job applicants were hired sight unseen.
What did change by labeling DeLeo an unindicted coconspirator was his alleged role in the scheme. Instead of someone who allegedly received bribes in the form of Probation jobs from O’Brien, DeLeo became someone who, in conjunction with Probation officials, bribed his legislative colleagues with jobs. In other words, DeLeo had become part of the alleged conspiracy at Probation and not a target of it.
Asked outside the courtroom about the shift, Assistant US Attorney Fred Wyshak acknowledged DeLeo hadn’t been identified previously as a coconspirator. But he noted that Judge Young in April split the government’s case in two, the first phase focusing primarily on mail fraud and racketeering and the second on bribery charges. He said the government’s opinion of DeLeo was the same now as it has always been. “Our position has never changed – that he was a coconspirator,” Wyshak said.
DeLeo issued several statements this week strongly condemning US Attorney Carmen Ortiz for labeling him a coconspirator. “This allegation is nothing more than a desperate legal strategy to allow the government to admit hearsay evidence from an unreliable source,” he said on Monday. “The United States attorney has chosen to try me in the press because they lack the evidence to do so in a court of law. That is simply unconscionable and unfair.”
The speaker went on to say that he had testified under oath and without immunity before the Supreme Judicial Court’s special counsel on Probation, Paul Ware, and Ware “concluded that I had not engaged in any 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.
On Tuesday, DeLeo dismissed the trial summation by prosecutors and said he had never traded jobs for votes for speaker. “What is, or at least should be, criminal is impugning the characters of accomplished and honorable public officials who have devoted their lives to public service on the testimony of a single immunized and non-credible witness,” he said in a statement.
In his statements, DeLeo did not deny receiving Probation jobs for distribution to his colleagues; he only denied trading those jobs for votes.
Attorneys representing O’Brien say the testimony of Ryan is suspect. They say he never mentioned DeLeo’s alleged jobs-for-votes effort in his earlier testimony before the federal grand jury or before Ware. They also note that Wyshak didn’t mention DeLeo in his opening statement at the trial.
The US attorney’s August 2013 indictment of O’Brien and his two former aides, Elizabeth Tavares and William Burke III, characterized the jobs given to DeLeo as a form of bribery. The indictment alleges O’Brien allowed DeLeo to parcel out jobs at the new facility in Clinton “in order to influence and attempt to influence members of the Legislature to act favorably on legislation and budget requests regarding the Probation Department as well as to assist [DeLeo] in an upcoming contest for the post of Speaker of the House of Representatives.”
The indictment against O’Brien, Tavares, and Burke alleged that 18 jobs at the Clinton facility represented bribes of lawmakers. Eleven of those jobs ran through DeLeo. Prosecutors said the other seven jobs ran through then-Lt. Gov. Tim Murray, Senate President Therese Murray, former House speaker Sal DiMasi, and a handful of other unnamed lawmakers. The indictment alleged that all 18 Clinton jobs amounted to bribes of the public officials. Prosecutors only pursued eight of the no-interview Clinton jobs at trial; all eight ran through DeLeo.
Under cross-examination, Ryan couldn’t remember when his jobs-for-votes conversations with O’Brien and Mirasolo took place, but he said he remembered the discussions came shortly after Rep. John Rogers, a DeLeo rival for speaker, recommended Maureen Burgoyne for a Probation job in Gloucester. Ryan testified that O’Brien was intrigued why Rogers, who represented Norwood, was interested in placing someone in a job in Essex County. (Burgoyne was also recommended by Rep. Marty Walsh of Dorchester, who is now the mayor of Boston.)
Roughly a week after Rogers recommended Burgoyne, Ryan testified, O’Brien directed him to start steering jobs to DeLeo’s office to help him in the speaker fight against Rogers. Rogers could not be reached for comment.
O’Brien attorney Stellio Sennis found Burgoyne’s name in the spreadsheets the Probation Department used to track job applicants and their political sponsors. The date on her entry was spring 2006. Sennis said during his closing statement to the jury that the timing undercuts Ryan’s claim that Probation jobs were being used to secure votes in the race for speaker because there was no race for speaker at that time.
“It’s an absurd notion. It’s just a fiction,” Sennis said of Ryan’s allegations. “This entire thing is a charade, a charade that was formulated in Ed Ryan’s head.” He went on to describe Ryan, who still works at Probation and earned $107,359 last year, as someone you “wouldn’t even trust to pick up your dry cleaning.”
The actual vote for speaker didn’t take place until January 2009. DeLeo and Rogers were trying to secure votes long before then, but it’s unclear whether there was any politicking for speaker as early as spring 2006. A Boston Globe story from June 2007 described Rogers as laying the groundwork for a run for speaker against Rep. Ronald Mariano of Quincy. DeLeo wasn’t even mentioned in that story as a possible rival.