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Victim of probation patronage system has emotional reaction to verdict

Joseph Gagnon once ran the Probation Department’s electronic monitoring program, but he learned the hard way not to challenge the insiders running the agency under Commissioner John J. O’Brien.

An expert in the field, Gagnon was hired in 2002 to oversee probation’s fledgling program overseeing defendants hooked up to electronic bracelets. But Gagnon lost his job when he clashed with one of O’Brien’s inner circle.

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“Talk to anyone who was hurt by them,” said Gagnon, referring to O’Brien and his top deputies who were convicted of federal charges on Thursday.” I had a family and I was laid off. I’m not saying I’m this wonderful guy. But I was an expert and they got rid of me to put a plasterer in my job.”

Gagnon’s downfall came when he tried to give instructions to a former plasterer named Ed Ryan who was a close ally of O’Brien, his days in the job were numbered, though he didn’t know it at the time.

“I don’t have to listen to you,” Gagnon quoted Ryan as telling him. “I’m going to have your job.”

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Ryan allegedly chest butted Gagnon, but Gagnon said that probation officials promised to handle the discipline internally instead of going to the police.

Instead, they laid off Gagnon, leaving him to support his family on a small pension.

Gagnon was scheduled to testify at the probation trial, but prosecutors never got the chance to call him.

“I was so emotional and relieved I could tell my story,” he said, recalling his appearance about a year ago before the federal grand jury that indicted O’Brien and two top officials.

Now a real estate developer, Gagnon was working on a house Thursday, he said, when he heard the verdicts in the probation case.

“I broke down and cried,” he said.

Andrea Estes can be reached at andrea.estes @globe.com.
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