Before the jury spoke, Beacon Hill did.
The verdict: Not guilty, by reason of institutional priority — finding work for friends, relatives, and godsons.
That sums up lawmakers’ response to the federal case against three former Probation Department officials who were charged with developing an intricate employment scheme that used jobs as political currency. Former Probation Commissioner John O’Brien and two deputies awarded jobs to friends and constituents of Beacon Hill lawmakers and other political insiders, prosecutors alleged, even though job seekers lacked requisite qualifications. Those jobs handed out to favored applicants, in turn, helped Robert A. DeLeo strengthen his quest to become speaker of the House, prosecutors alleged.
DeLeo, who was never charged with any crime, was labeled a co-conspirator in the final days of the trial, which included 35 days of testimony. In response, the speaker lashed out at prosecutors, calling their characterization of his actions “unconscionable and unfair.”
If prosecutors believed from the start that DeLeo was part of a conspiracy, why he wasn’t charged remains an open question for US Attorney Carmen Ortiz. Meanwhile, it’s now up to jurors to decide whether the three probation officials who were charged committed any crime.
If they don’t convict, it will only affirm the prevailing thinking on Beacon Hill: An employment system, rigged for the connected, is no big deal. That’s just the way the jobs cookie crumbles. And until the Globe exposed it, a fraudulent applicant ranking system that was cooked up to bolster that rigged system was no big deal either.
The powerful took full advantage of it. According to the Globe’s reporting, DeLeo’s office recommended at least 12 job candidates to O’Brien between 2004 and 2007. They included seven campaign contributors and his godson, the state’s youngest chief probation officer. DeLeo caught the anti-patronage reform bug only after he and others were caught working the rigged system.
“We make recommendations for people for jobs,” he said back when he was first asked about recommending Brian Mirasolo, his godson and the son of an aide. “It’s just that: It’s a recommendation. What happens thereafter, whether they get the job or they don’t get the job, depends upon the folks making the decision. I can tell you I do not put any undue influence on anyone relative to the hiring or not hiring of a person.”
Mr. Speaker, you don’t have to exert undue influence. Your name attached to a candidate’s job application is unduly influential on its own. DeLeo knows that, and so does every other legislator who goes to bat for a friend who happens to be a constituent. They just don’t admit it.
After independent counsel Paul F. Ware Jr. issued a devastating report accusing O’Brien and his top deputies of “pervasive fraud,” and criminal inquiries were launched, the political landscape changed — and so did DeLeo’s attitude. He went from dismissing Ware’s findings to filing reform legislation that was ultimately passed.
Dragged back into the fray as the prosecution made its final arguments in the probation department trial, DeLeo went back to defending the practice of recommending job applicants, who, in his retelling of history, are always qualified. His colleagues jumped to his defense. “Complete crap. It really is trash,” Representative Patricia Haddad, DeLeo’s third in command, told the Globe’s Michael Levenson when asked about DeLeo’s connection to the Probation Department scandal.
The circling of wagons around another embattled speaker is also business as usual on Beacon Hill. From Charlie Flaherty, who pleaded guilty to tax evasion; to Tom Finneran, who pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice; and finally, to Sal DiMasi, who was convicted on corruption charges, the first instinct of House members is outrage at any suggestion of wrongdoing.
The second instinct is usually to deny it is connected in any way to the culture they represent on Beacon Hill. After DiMasi was convicted of conspiracy, fraud, and extortion, DeLeo said, “This was definitely not business as usual.”
But this time, the argument for why there’s nothing wrong with what he or any lawmaker did in connection with the probation department hiring scandal is different: Recommending people they know is business as usual.
For those in the loop, it’s a nice business — for everyone else, not so nice.