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DeLeo could be further haunted by probation verdict

The jury’s verdict in the Probation Department corruption trial could further haunt House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo, who has forcefully denied taking part in corrupt hiring.

In convicting two probation officials of racketeering, the jury found that federal prosecutors had proven that in eight instances, former probation commissioner John O’Brien provided an illegal gratuity to lawmakers — jobs — for their support of DeLeo in his 2009 race for speaker.

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However, in doing so, the jury rejected the more serious allegation that O’Brien bribed the legislators for their vote.

In general, according to legal analysts, bribery entails an explicit agreement between two parties to commit an act in exchange for a benefit. But in a gratuity case, there only needs to be an intent to influence without an explicit expectation of a reward.

Prosecutors had argued that DeLeo joined O’Brien’s conspiracy by directing jobs to legislators whose vote he was seeking, but the speaker himself was never charged. DeLeo lashed out at US Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz, demanding she apologize and retract the allegations.

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Speaking to reporters after the verdict, Ortiz would not say why DeLeo was not charged and would not respond to the speaker’s criticism.

“We’re not trying this case in the media, and we’re not going to go into any analysis,” Ortiz said. “We made allegations based on the evidence, and the allegations that we made were in court in support of the indictment and in pursuit of obtaining the justice that we believe that we received today.”

DeLeo’s office issued a statement Thursday evening, saying the jury’s verdict confirms what he has claimed — that he did not engage in a quid pro quo arrangement with the Probation Department officials.

“With respect to the jury’s verdict, it must be noted that the jury confirmed that neither I nor any member of the Legislature had engaged in any inappropriate conduct,” the statement read. “While the defendants were convicted of many of the charges, the jury specifically rejected the government’s allegation of bribery.

“The jury’s verdict confirmed what I have been saying all along: that I never participated in a conspiracy with any of the defendants and that I never traded probation jobs for votes.”

According to one legal analyst, the verdict speaks to the responsibility of the three defendants and the system as a whole, but does not directly implicate DeLeo in a crime.

“I think it implicates a system that three people took advantage of,” said Gerard T. Leone Jr., a former state and federal prosecutor who is now a defense lawyer for the law firm Nixon Peabody. “Three people were convicted, and I think a patronage system was convicted, but I don’t think it attaches to Bob DeLeo personally, nor do I think it should.”

Milton J. Valencia can be reached at Claire McNeill can be reached at
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