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Probation prosecutors trim their case

Will not pursue two suspect hires

Prosecutors in the federal trial alleging a corrupt hiring process in the state Probation Department said Monday that they would skip over two of the allegedly bogus hires they had initially charged in an indictment.

Assistant US Attorney Fred M. Wyshak Jr., head of his office’s public corruption unit, said prosecutors will not seek to prove the allegedly bogus hiring of Lisa Martins and the transfer and promotion of Anthony Mataragas, which make up two of the 10 mail fraud charges in the indictment.

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Wyshak said prosecutors were only looking to streamline and quicken the trial. He said the charges would not be dismissed, but that prosecutors would not look to prove them.

John J. O’Brien, the former probation commissioner, and his top deputies Elizabeth Tavares and William Burke III still face charges of racketeering, conspiracy, and the eight other mail fraud counts, which carry a punishment of up to 20 years in prison.

Prosecutors say the defendants ran their department like a criminal enterprise, hiring the friends and family members of state legislators over more qualified candidates. In exchange, the legislators routinely boosted the department budget, helping O’Brien to build his political clout while using jobs as “political currency,” prosecutors said.

The defendants say they did nothing wrong, even if it was political patronage. But prosecutors allege they committed fraud by violating the department’s written policy and then creating a scheme to cover up the bogus hires from the judges who oversaw appointments.

Before the trial began, US District Court Judge William G. Young severed several charges, including bribery, from the case, saying they related to a separate alleged scheme. He said he was simplifying the case for jurors.

The trial, which began with opening statements May 8, was initially estimated to last eight weeks.

Witnesses have already testified at length about two of the allegedly corrupt hires: the hiring of Patrick Lawton, the son of a judge, and Kelly Manchester, then the girlfriend of a state legislator.

The trial is to resume Wednesday. Testimony was cancelled Monday after a juror called in sick.

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