A former administrative lawyer in the state Probation Department told a federal jury Tuesday that he began to complain in 2008 that he was being forced to recommend certain candidates for jobs, including some who were blatantly under-qualified.
Edward McDermott testified Tuesday that supervisors would not respond to his concerns, however, and that he did not press the issue further out of fear it could affect his employment.
“This was bad stuff, and I didn’t want to participate,” said McDermott, who was hired as an administrative attorney in 2004, and later helped run the department’s interstate compact functions.
He was assigned to serve on a final hiring panel around 2008. His then-supervisor, Deputy Commissioner Francis Wall, told him, “We don’t have anyone else to do it, so you’re stuck with it,” McDermott said.
McDermott added that another deputy commissioner, Patricia Walsh, agreed that one candidate they were told to recommend for a job “was woefully inadequate, in terms of her qualifications.”
“We both had grievous concerns about this candidate, and her lack of experience, education, and training,” McDermott said.
The woman, Kelly Manchester, was at the time the 21-year-old girlfriend of state Senator Mark C. Montigny, an influential Democrat from New Bedford. She was ultimately hired and now makes more than $66,000 a year.
McDermott, who was demoted from his post recently and said he fears he may lose his job, was testifying for a second day in the federal trial alleging corruption within the department.
John J. O’Brien, the former commissioner, and top aides Elizabeth Tavares and William Burke III are charged with racketeering and mail fraud for allegedly running their department like a criminal enterprise, selling jobs to the friends and family members of state legislators. In exchange, prosecutors alleged, the legislators significantly boosted the department’s budget.
Defense lawyers have argued their clients did nothing illegal, even if it was political patronage. But prosecutors have alleged the defendants went further and committed a crime by creating a rigged hiring process, and covered up their scheme from the judges who oversaw hiring. The defendants face up to 20 years in prison on some charges.
McDermott told jurors that he was appointed to a two-person final hiring panel that was supposed to recommend a candidate to O’Brien but that “the [predetermined] choice of the commissioner had to receive the highest score.” That way, he said, the losing candidates could not challenge the promotion in arbitration proceedings.
McDermott said he complained to Tavares, his superior, about the hiring of Manchester, but said she dismissed his concerns.
Defense lawyers sought to discredit McDermott by arguing that he had changed his testimony over the last several years, and they pointed out that he only recently remembered Manchester’s name after prosecutors showed him documents related to her hiring.
The lawyers also sought to show during cross-examination that he never reported concerns about the hiring process to legal authorities or to the Probation Department’s legal department. McDermott acknowledged that he obtained his own job through “networking,” and that he was sponsored by former Massachusetts House Speaker Thomas Finneran, though he did not believe he committed a crime.
Defense lawyers questioned whether McDermott, who testified under the protection of an immunity agreement, was shaping his testimony for prosecutors so he would not be charged with a crime.
McDermott maintained that he never did anything wrong, and that he tried to raise concerns about the hiring process.Milton J. Valencia can be reached at email@example.com.