Ortiz’s shrinking role on corruption
US Attorney Carmen Ortiz is vowing to continue bringing corruption charges against public officials, but the overturning of her convictions of former Probation commissioner John O’Brien and two of his top aides is another sign that federal prosecutors will probably not be able to lock up pols unless they actually catch them with their hands in the cookie jar.
Ortiz proved fairly convincingly that O’Brien and his aides rigged hiring at the Probation Department to steer jobs to politically connected people. But that’s not a federal crime, so the US Attorney’s office alleged O’Brien violated state laws that, when bundled together, added up to violations of the federal racketeering statute. Specifically, Ortiz’s office argued that O’Brien gave illegal gratuities (jobs) to state officials and committed mail fraud by sending rejection letters to unsuccessful job candidates that gave the appearance the selection process was on the up and up.
In its ruling on Monday, the US Court of Appeals, citing a previous federal decision involving former governor Robert McDonnell of Virginia and a Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court decision involving Rep. Angelo Scaccia of Hyde Park, said Ortiz’s office “overstepped its bounds in using federal criminal statutes to police the hiring practices of these Massachusetts state officials and did not provide sufficient evidence to establish a criminal violation of Massachusetts law.”
On the illegal gratuities charges, the court held that Ortiz’s office failed to show a direct link between the job given and an official act of a politician. Citing another federal decision, the court held that “the government must prove a link between a thing of value conferred upon a public official and a specific official act for or because of which it was given.”
O’Brien gave Rep. Robert DeLeo of Winthrop jobs to hand out to his colleagues, but the Appeals Court held that no evidence was presented showing that DeLeo took any action on behalf of O’Brien or that O’Brien pressured DeLeo to do so. Just building up goodwill with the man who would go on to become House speaker was not enough; Ortiz needed to show DeLeo performed an “official act” in return for the jobs.
On the mail fraud charges, Ortiz argued that the letters sent to those rejected for positions at Probation represented use of interstate mail as part of a scheme to defraud. Ortiz argued the rejection letters helped maintain the facade of a merit-based system, but the Appeals Court did not agree, saying the letter “furthered neither the perpetration nor the perpetuation of the scheme.”
The Appeals Court held that although O’Brien’s actions “may well be judged distasteful, and even contrary to Massachusetts’s personnel laws, the function of this court is limited to determining whether they violated the federal criminal statutes charged.”
The former director of the state’s Group Insurance Commission pled guilty to stealing more than $120,000 from the employee health insurance agency. (Patriot Ledger)
Attorney General Maura Healey responds to a public records request by the Gun Owners’ Action League by providing only some documents. The league is seeking information on how Healey developed her policy on copycat assault weapons and incidents involving such weapons. (Telegram & Gazette)
Boston Mayor Marty Walsh says he’s ready to work with Donald Trump and thinks the famously vindictive incoming president, whom he disparaged during the campaign, will “let bygones be bygones.” (Boston Herald)
German officials declared terrorism behind the attack when a truck carrying 25 tons of steel plowed through an outdoor Christmas market in Berlin, killing nine and injuring scores of shoppers and vendors. (U.S. News & World Report)
Massachusetts pols — from Sen. Ed Markey to Attorney General Maura Healey — who are critical of his environmental record are relishing the chance to see ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson grilled at confirmation hearings to be secretary of state. (Boston Globe)
Donald Trump’s sons are behind a nonprofit selling access to the president-elect. (Center for Public Integrity)
A revolt in the New Jersey legislature kills a bill that would have allowed Gov. Chris Christie to cash in on a book-publishing deal. A so-called “newspaper revenge” bill was also squashed. (NorthJersey.com)
The North Carolina legislature will reportedly hold a special session Wednesday to fully repeal the controversial “bathroom bill” rolling back transgender and gay rights protections that has cost the state in business, tourism, sports, and entertainment. (New York Times)
Massachusetts electors vote for Hillary Clinton amid protests over Donald Trump. (Salem News) Trump seals the win, but Washington electors show unprecedented resistance. (Governing) The New York Times repeats its 80-year call to end the Electoral College and throws its editorial support behind the National Popular Vote movement as a way around amending the Constitution.
Massachusetts will be a partner in the nation’s first innovation institute in biopharmaceutical manufacturing. Local participants include MIT, Quincy College, UMass Lowell, UMass Medical Center, and Worcester Polytechnic Institute. (Telegram & Gazette)
A friendly 40B project in Billerica would build 200 units of housing, a quarter of them affordable. (Lowell Sun)
State Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester plans to unveil proposed changes in student assessment that will alter when and what 10th graders are tested on for the high-stakes exam for graduation. (State House News)
Two Babson College students are cleared of wrongdoing in connection with the boisterous victory ride they made through the Wellesley College campus to celebrate Donald Trump’s victory. (Boston Herald) Meanwhile, seven Boston College students are facing disciplinary action for staging a protest in the wake of Trump’s election without a permit from the college, another case that will test free speech rights on campuses. (Boston Globe)
Sudbury schools are facing a $4 million budget deficit. (MetroWest Daily News)
Rosalie McCollum retires in style as school secretary at Lee Elementary in the Berkshires town of the same name, complete with limo, red carpet, and chanting, adoring fans. (Berkshire Eagle)
Richard Fernandez, a vice president at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and a former chief operating officer for Steward Medical Group, has been named the new president and CEO of Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital-Milton. (Patriot Ledger)
General Electric struck an unusual deal with New England Baptist Hospital that makes the orthopedic specialty center that will allow the company to bypass insurers and contract directly with the hospital for knee and hip replacements for employees. (Boston Globe)
The MBTA and its biggest union sign a historic labor agreement that swaps job security for hefty wage concessions. Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack said the Legislature’s suspension of the Pacheco law made it possible. (CommonWealth) A Globe editorial applauds the contract as a model of the savings and efficiency that is possible without the strictures of the state’s anti-privatization law. As part of the agreement, the T’s anachronistic “Picking Room” will be retired. (CommonWealth)
The MBTA makes a 10-minute schedule adjustment on a train that typically carries just one passenger to address a costly shutdown process at the transit agency. (CommonWealth)
The T’s Fiscal Management and Control Board considers the competitive threat from Uber and other ride-sharing companies. (CommonWealth)
The National Transportation Safety Board is recommending tech companies such as Google and Apple add more than 200,000 railroad crossings to navigation apps after a two-year investigation into a deadly crash in California caused by a driver following his GPS directions. The request has some urgency to it as driverless cars guided by GPS begin taking to the roads. (New York Times)
An historic agreement between the Dennis Conservation Trust and the Native Land Conservancy will give Wampanoag tribe and other indigenous people on the Cape access to conservation land in town for spiritual and cultural celebrations. (Cape Cod Times)
A car is struck by a bullet while driving on I-495 through Milford. (MassLive)
A Braintree man is arraigned on charges from a hit-and-run accident that killed a 62-year-old woman. (Boston Herald)
Kingston police close a street and put a school on lockdown as they deal — peacefully — with a suicidal man. (Eagle-Tribune)
A brawl breaks out in a Dorchester courthouse between relatives of a murder victim and those being charged with the killing. (Boston Herald)
Kevin Cullen wonders what the authors of the state’s marijuana law were smoking when they crafted the convoluted statute. (Boston Globe)MEDIA
The Columbia Journalism Review bashes the White House press corps for its party with Donald Trump.