Former House speaker Thomas M. Finneran has been given immunity to testify in the grand jury investigation of the scandal-plagued state Probation Department, say two people briefed on Finneran’s arrangement with federal prosecutors.
While speaker, Finneran oversaw the transfer of power to hire probation officers from the judiciary to John J. O’Brien, a protege and jogging partner who was then probation commissioner. O’Brien used that power to devise a rigged and fraudulent hiring process, say prosecutors and Paul F. Ware, the independent counsel hired by the Supreme Judicial Court to investigate the Probation Department.
O’Brien and two top aides were indicted in March and face mail fraud and racketeering charges.
After Finneran pushed through the 2001 budget amendment that gave O’Brien nearly complete control over hiring and firing at the 1,800-person agency, the probation budget, set by the Legislature, soared. By 2010, probation employed at least 250 people who were friends, supporters, or relatives of politicians and court officials, the Globe Spotlight Team reported in 2010.
Finneran, who is now working as a lobbyist after leaving his radio talk show in May, could potentially detail the political maneuvering that turned the Probation Department into a patronage haven. He appeared before the grand jury several months ago, said a person with first-hand knowledge. Neither he nor his lawyer returned phone calls.
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