A former Probation officer from the Brockton area told a federal jury Tuesday that he used his family’s political connections to legislators such as Senate President Therese Murray to get his job in state government, saying he was getting married and was looking to make more money.
“I was hustling, to try to find a job,” said Patrick Lawton, 34, who at the time had been laid off from his job at W.B. Mason and had resigned from the Plymouth district attorney’s office after a scandal. He had been under investigation for using his work computer to circulate an e-mail about his aunt, who had been running for political office. Two years after he was hired, Lawton resigned from the Probation Department after he was arrested on charges of possessing heroin.
He denied having a drug addiction when he was hired, saying at the time he was a “weekend” drug user.
A week into the federal probation trial, prosecutors have focused on Lawton’s hiring as a central example of the corrupt hiring system in the Probation Department, where jobs were directed to the friends and family members of state legislators over more qualified candidates.
Federal prosecutors have charged John J. O’Brien, the former commissioner, and his deputies Elizabeth Tavares and William Burke III with running their department like a criminal enterprise, by directing the jobs to the sponsored candidates to build their political clout. In exchange, the prosecutors said, the legislators routinely boosted the Probation Department’s budget.
Prosecutors 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 hiring.
Defense attorneys argue that their clients did nothing wrong, even if it was patronage.
Earlier in the trial, Murray’s constituent services director testified that she helped Lawton obtain the job. Several witnesses who served on a hiring panel, including Plymouth County Probate and Family Court Judge Catherine Sabaitis, said he was woefully underqualified, but that O’Brien wanted him advanced to the final round of the hiring process.
Lawton’s father, Mark Lawton, a former state representative and state judge whose father was a judge and whose wife is politically connected, also took the stand Tuesday and agreed that he sought the help from legislators to help his son get a job, including state Senator Robert Creedon from Brockton and Jack Hart, former state senator, from South Boston.
Patrick Lawton was first interested in a job with the Registry of Motor Vehicles, and then with the state Department of Public Safety, but his father testified that he contacted Murray’s office when they learned there was an opening in the Probation Department.
Mark Lawton asked legislators to recommend his son to O’Brien, agreeing with defense attorneys that he considered it networking. Prosecutors called it nepotism, and used Lawton’s testimony to show that O’Brien was governed by a hiring manual that required that all promotions be based on merit.
“You weren’t satisfied to let the system work based on the merit, were you,” Assistant US Attorney Fred M. Wyshak Jr. asked Lawton, in what at times turned into hostile exchanges between the prosecutor and the witness.
“Being in state government for the entirety of your career, you know how the system works, and you exploited it for you and your son’s benefit,” Wyshak said.
“I was only trying to help my son,” Lawton responded.Milton J. Valencia can be reached at MValencia@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @MiltonValencia