You can now read 10 articles a month for free. Read as much as you want anywhere and anytime for just 99¢.

17 bribery counts for ex-head of probation O’Brien

Former Massachusetts Probation Department head John J. O’Brien in Suffolk Superior Court on April 5.

Ted Fitzgerald/The Boston herald /pool

Former Massachusetts Probation Department head John J. O’Brien in Suffolk Superior Court on April 5.

A new federal indictment charges embattled former probation commissioner John J. O’Brien with 17 counts of bribing state legislators by giving jobs to their supporters, friends, and relatives, crimes that carry up to 10 years in prison for each count.

The indictment, handed up Wednesday, alleged that O’Brien bribed Senate President Therese Murray at least three times by giving jobs to people she recommended. O’Brien allegedly bribed House Speaker Robert A DeLeo at least 10 times, according to the indictment, in part to help him as he began his successful campaign to become House speaker in 2009.

Continue reading below

But despite months of speculation that prosecutors would target politicians, the legislators themselves were not charged in the indictment.

O’Brien and two top deputies, the indictment said, did “conspire, confederate, and agree to give jobs and salaries” to candidates promoted by state legislators “in order to influ­ence those members of the Legislature” to boost the Probation Department’s budget and achieve other political goals.

O’Brien, who resigned in 2010 amid a patronage scandal that engulfed the agency, ­already faces federal racketeering charges along with the two top deputies, Elizabeth V. ­Tavares and William H. Burke III, in allegedly running a ­phony hiring system that gave jobs to people with political connections. However, he was recently acquitted of state bribery charges.

Attorneys for O’Brien did not return a phone call seeking comment.

Senate President Murray, a Plymouth Democrat, declined to comment, but DeLeo issued a statement insisting that he has done nothing wrong.

“It is clear that I am not a party to the indictment, but I want to state emphatically: I only recommended job applicants who were qualified,” said DeLeo, a Winthrop Democrat. “I never gave or received any benefits from those recommendations, and I never traded jobs for votes.”

In addition to Murray and DeLeo, who are mentioned in the indictment only by title, there are at least 21 legislators who allegedly received bribes from O’Brien in the form of probation jobs, the indictment says. Lieutenant Governor ­Timothy P. Murray also sponsored a successful job applicant, the indictment says.

The 56-page indictment expands the racketeering charges originally brought against O’Brien, Tavares, and Burke in March of last year. The original charges accused the three of overseeing a hiring system that conducted thousands of sham job interviews to conceal the fact that the positions were reserved for friends, relatives, and supporters of politicians and court officials whether they were qualified or not.

The grand jury investigating the probation scandal has heard witnesses for more than two years after a Boston Globe Spotlight report on the rampant favoritism. It was unclear Wednesday whether the new charges are the final charges to be brought in the case.

The new indictment ­describes many additional ­instances of bribes in the form of jobs that O’Brien allegedly gave to candidates recommended by lawmakers, but the hirings took place so long ago they could not be charged separately.

Prosecutors detail how O’Brien gave state lawmakers the opportunity to place their supporters and friends in the Probation Department, especially jobs at the agency’s electronic monitoring center in Clinton, once part of the largest state program to track people with electronic ankle bracelets in the nation.

When the center was opened in 2007 to expand the state’s monitoring of sex offenders, O’Brien was allowed to hire temporary employees and circumvent requirements that the jobs be posted and made available to the public.

During 2007 and 2008, he hired 20 electronic monitoring workers by soliciting names of candidates from lawmakers, includ­ing DeLeo, who was then chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.

DeLeo and his staff contacted approximately 10 members of the House, who provided names, the indictment said. These individuals were hired “without any vetting process and without any interview,” the indictment said.

O’Brien doled out the jobs, prosecutors allege, in part “to assist the chairman in an ­upcoming contest for the post of speaker of the House of ­Representatives.”

Lawyers for O’Brien’s co­defendants downplayed the significance of the new accusations, saying prosecutors are ­repackaging the same charges.

“It’s patronage hiring, and they’re calling it a different name,” said John Amabile, Burke’s lawyer. “It doesn’t change the landscape, and it doesn’t change our position. My client, a 72-year old retired grandfather who worked as a probation officer for 37 years, categorically denies that he committed any criminal ­offense.”

Brad Bailey, Tavares’s lawyer, said the bribery charges, like the racketeering charges, are wholly inappropriate, noting that Tavares had a distinguished career. “My client proclaimed her innocence loudly when she was indicted last spring and will do so even louder when she is arraigned on these new charges,” he said.

The three defendants will face all of the charges in a single trial; no date has been set.

Again and again, the new indict­ment detailed how well-connected candidates used their connections and ended up being hired. In one instance, Murray’s office opened a case file for a candidate referred to as “PL,” a reference to a politically connected job candidate named Patrick Lawton.

About two weeks later, his father, Judge Mark Lawton, sent an e-mail to the Office of the Senate President stating, “I know that Jack O’Brien takes very seriously calls from your office where there is a strong interest on the part of the Senate president.”

After a call to probation from one of Murray’s aides, the indictment said, Lawton was hired as a probation officer in Plymouth County even though he was ranked ninth out of 10 candidates for the position.

The indictments also ­described how a state senator intervened with probation to get a job for his girlfriend as probation officer at the Bristol County Probate and Family Court.

The indictments also described how Speaker DeLeo’s godson, Brian Mirasolo, rose from the ranks of assistant court services coordinator in 2004 to acting chief probation officer in 2009, when he became the state’s youngest chief probation officer.

According to the indictment, DeLeo wrote at least one letter in support of Mirasolo as he rose through the ranks starting in 2004, a period in which DeLeo was the chief budget-writing official in the House. In 2007, the indictment said, O’Brien contacted Mirasolo and offered him the job of acting probation officer in charge in Suffolk County “without application or interview.”

In spring 2009, O’Brien promoted Mirasolo to acting chief probation officer, an $87,000-a-year job he continues to hold.

Federal prosecutors launched their investigation in November 2010 after release of a scathing report by independent counsel Paul F. Ware Jr., who had been appointed by the state Supreme Judicial Court in response to articles by the Globe Spotlight Team about ­patronage at the agency.

Andrea Estes can be reached at estes@globe.com. Scott Allen can be reached at allen@­globe.com.
Loading comments...

You have reached the limit of 10 free articles in a month

Stay informed with unlimited access to Boston’s trusted news source.

  • High-quality journalism from the region’s largest newsroom
  • Convenient access across all of your devices
  • Today’s Headlines daily newsletter
  • Subscriber-only access to exclusive offers, events, contests, eBooks, and more
  • Less than 25¢ a week