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Murray aide testifies she guided people to Probation jobs

An aide to state Senate president Therese Murray told a federal jury Monday that she routinely directed politically connected job candidates to openings in state government, including in the Probation Department and the state trial court system, saying it was her job responsibility.

Francine Gannon, Murray’s constituent services director, agreed that she helped the son of an influential Brockton family obtain a job in the Probation Department, but said she also helped the father of Murray’s chief of staff get a job as a courtroom security officer.

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She helped a woman recommended by Cape and Islands District Attorney Michael O’Keefe get a job in the Probation Department and helped the sister of Norfolk County Sheriff Michael Bellotti get a promotion in courtroom security.

“That’s what a constituent services director does,” said Gannon, speaking about the public service legacy of her first boss, the late US House speaker Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill Jr. She clenched her fists in the air at times as she spoke.

“If we could help get someone’s foot in the door, we would do that,” she said.

Gannon was testifying for the second day in the federal trial alleging a corrupt hiring practice in the state Probation Department.

And while she earlier acknowledged that she helped the son of a Brockton judge get a job in the Probation Department — even though, according to other witnesses, he was woefully underqualified — she said she never judged people’s credentials when referring them to jobs on Murray’s behalf.

“There’s so much satisfaction when you know you can help someone,” she said.

Prosecutors have charged John J. O’Brien, the former probation commissioner, and his deputies Elizabeth Tavares and William Burke III with racketeering and fraud, in allegedly running their department like a criminal enterprise by hiring and promoting the friends and family members of state legislators over more qualified candidates.

In exchange, prosecutors say, the legislators routinely boosted O’Brien’s budget, helping O’Brien build his political clout. Prosecutors have called the jobs “political currency” and say O’Brien committed fraud by creating a bogus hiring system to cover up the scheme from the judges who oversaw appointments.

The defense team sought to use Gannon’s testimony, through cross-examination Monday, to show that O’Brien did nothing wrong, even if it was patronage.

They argue that patronage was prevalent on Beacon Hill and that even O’Brien’s boss — Robert Mulligan, then chief justice for administration of the trial courts — knew about it. Mulligan oversaw hiring for courtroom security and hired some of the people Gannon helped, including Bellotti’s sister and the father of Murray’s chief of staff at the time, Rick Musiol.

Gannon was testifying under an immunity agreement that protects her from prosecution, but she said she never considered her work a crime.

In a separate hearing Monday, US District Court Judge William G. Young asked prosecutors to again explain their theory of the crime. Assistant US Attorney Fred M. Wyshak Jr. told him that O’Brien has not been charged with patronage, but with using the jobs to influence legislators and win bigger budgets.

Earlier Monday, Gannon told jurors that she worked closely with O’Brien’s legislative liaison and that she met O’Brien in 2008. She had never sat down with the head of a state agency before. But she had a list of 11 job applicants, one she considered a must based on her view of his qualifications.

One of the applicants, Patricia Mosca, was so anxious for a new state job to boost her pension that she even asked for a salary at the higher end of the pay scale, at close to $60,000, Gannon testified. She had few qualifications and was not offered that much, but took the job anyway, according to Gannon’s testimony.

In March, 2008, Gannon wrote a memo to Murray, saying Mosca was offered the job.

“She’s very excited and grateful to you,” Gannon wrote. “Her interview was just OK, but knows it was because of your intervention that she was selected.”

Milton J. Valencia can be reached at mvalencia@
globe.com
. Follow him on Twitter @miltonvalencia.
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