Two people who obtained their probation jobs with help from state Senate President Therese Murray took the witness stand in a federal corruption trial Wednesday as prosecutors sought to show that they were hired only because they were politically connected.
Melissa Melia, the daughter of a State Police detective lieutenant assigned to the Cape and Islands district attorney’s office, asked Murray to help her get a job, according to prosecutors. And Patricia Mosca was a worker in the Department of Transitional Assistance who lobbied one of Murray’s aides for the senator’s support in getting a job, said prosecutors, who added that Mosca was looking to boost her pension.
Both witnesses agreed in their testimony Wednesday that they contacted Murray’s office for help, though they believed they were qualified.
“I hated my [state welfare] job,” said Mosca, who was 56 when she first applied for the probation post in 2007. “I loved probation, so I took a pay cut.”
She left the probation job a year later with, prosecutors argued, a better pension.
Melia had applied for the probation job three times over more than five years before she was hired. Prosecutors sought to show that she was ultimately hired because of the help of Francine Gannon, one of Murray’s top aides, who had testified she had recommended Mosca and Melia for the jobs.
“It’s my understanding they could guide me and help me in the process,” Melia said of her contacts with Gannon.
Defense attorneys sought to show that Melia was qualified for the job: She had a bachelor’s degree in psychology and was studying for a master’s degree in criminal justice. She had worked for social service groups involving child visitation for noncustodial parents, for a program providing therapy for teenagers, and as a child-protection worker with Department of Children and Families.
Mosca is slated to resume testifying today. Defense attorneys have also argued that nothing their clients did was illegal, even if it was political patronage, saying it was widespread on Beacon Hill. Gannon had testified earlier that she helped people get jobs across state government.
John J. O’Brien, the former probation commissioner, and his top aides Elizabeth Tavares and William Burke III face up to 20 years if convicted of charges including racketeering and mail fraud. Prosecutors contend they ran the department as if it were a criminal enterprise, saying they directed jobs to the family members and friends of state legislators over more qualified candidates. In exchange, prosecutors said, the legislators routinely boosted the Probation Department’s budget, helping O’Brien build his political clout. The jobs were called “political currency.”
Prosecutors say they committed fraud by violating hiring policies and creating a scheme to cover it up.
Earlier Wednesday, retired state Judge Thomas Brownell testified that his top choice for a job, Kathryn Anzalone, an experienced associate probation officer, did not get a job. Prosecutors sought to show that Anzalone was passed over for Melia and Mosca.
But Brownell, who also served as a state legislator, acknowledged under cross-examination he had routinely recommended people for jobs, agreeing it was part of the political process. Brownell also acknowledged patronage was ingrained in other departments, telling the FBI in a past interview “if you wanted to become a court officer, you needed to have someone recommend you.”
Defense lawyers have argued that the same judge who oversaw probation hiring, former chief justice Robert A. Mulligan, oversaw the hiring of court officers, as well.