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Judge will not toss John O’Brien bribe case

Rules evidence backs accusation

A Suffolk Superior Court judge has refused to throw out the bribery case against the former probation commissioner, John J. O’Brien, ruling that there is direct evidence that O’Brien organized a fund-raiser for the former treasurer, Timothy P. Cahill, to help O’Brien’s wife get a job at the state lottery.

Judge Judith Fabricant concluded that grand jury testimony showed that O’Brien pressured his employees to donate thousands to Cahill in 2005 based on “his own well-founded perception that his doing so was the means by which his wife would obtain employment.”

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Trading campaign contributions for state jobs “impairs the integrity of government at all levels, along with public confidence in it, to the detriment of the public as a whole,” wrote the judge in her 12-page decision, rejecting all the arguments put forward by O’Brien and his codefendant, Cahill’s former chief of staff, Scott Campbell.

Campbell is accused of conspiring to hire Laurie O’Brien and violating campaign finance law. Cahill was not charged in this case, though he was indicted separately on charges that he used lottery advertising to help his 2010 gubernatorial campaign. Cahill and Campbell are scheduled to go on trial in the lottery advertising case next week.

O’Brien and Campbell are scheduled to go on trial in the probation case on Dec. 3.

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O’Brien, 55, who resigned in late 2010 after an independent counsel found he had committed “pervasive fraud” in hiring and promotion practices during his 10 years as probation commissioner, also faces federal racketeering, fraud and conspiracy charges along with two former aides, Elizabeth V. ­Tavares and William H. Burke III. Federal prosecutors have argued that the three masterminded a hiring system that ­appeared legitimate, but was designed to funnel jobs to friends, relatives, and politicians.

A federal grand jury sitting in Worcester has continued to hear testimony on alleged corruption at the probation depart­ment.

In her ruling, Fabricant gave a detailed chronology of the events leading up to the hiring of Laurie O’Brien at the state lottery on Sept. 21, 2005. She is still working there.

In May 2005, the judge wrote, O’Brien asked his deputy, Ed Ryan, if he knew of an opening at the lottery for O’Brien’s wife. Ryan, who was friends with Cahill and Campbell, called Campbell, who agreed to contact the lottery’s personnel director.

“Shortly thereafter,” the judge wrote, “Campbell reported back to Ryan that potential opportunities might exist and also that the treasurer ‘was looking for a fund-raiser.’ ”

“No problem,” O’Brien told Ryan.

O’Brien ordered Ryan and another aide, Francis Wall, a former deputy commissioner, to organize the event.

“In giving that instruction,” the judge wrote, “O’Brien told Wall that his wife was getting a job at the lottery and that he wanted to show his support and appreciation through a large turnout of probation personnel.”

According to grand jury testimony, Ryan and Wall made it clear to probation managers that they were expected to ­attend the fund-raiser and ­donate. The June 23, 2005 event netted Cahill more than $11,000, some of which came from donors who have admitted they had no other reason to support Cahill’s campaign.

Meanwhile, the lottery was looking for a suitable position for Laurie O’Brien, first offering her a night shift position, which O’Brien rejected on his wife’s behalf, the judge wrote. The lottery then offered her a daytime customer service job and prepared an offer dated Sept. 8, 2005.

Cahill had the last word over any new treasury hire, and so he met with Laurie O’Brien on Sept. 19, 2005. She was offered and accepted the job on Sept. 21 and began working on Sept. 26.

O’Brien and Campbell ­argued that the charges against them — handed down by a grand jury on Sept. 19, 2011 — were brought too late, arguing that the six-year statute of limitations ran out on Sept. 8, 2011, the day the lottery offered ­Laurie O’Brien a job.

But Fabricant ruled that the statute of limitations did not ­expire until Sept. 21, 2011, six years after she received the letter and two days after the grand jury handed down indictments.

Later in 2005, Cahill hired O’Brien’s daughter, Kelly Rose, to work at the treasury, but no criminal charges have been brought in connection with her employment.

The five state charges against O’Brien each carry penalties of between one and five years in prison.

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