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OCT. 27. 2011

Probation official placed on leave amid hiring probe

By Globe Staff 

The acting chief probation officer at Hampshire Superior Court in Northampton was placed on administrative leave yesterday amid questions of whether he would be indicted by a federal grand jury investigating the patronage hiring scandal in the state Probation Department.

Christopher Hoffman, who rose quickly through the ranks in probation to become acting chief in less than a decade, was placed on administrative leave with pay, according to Probation Department spokeswoman Coria Holland, who would provide no other information about Hoffman’s leave.

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Hoffman, 39, did not return calls to his Hatfield home. He makes $73,170 a year.

The rapid ascent of Hoffman, who grew up with the children of a former top probation deputy, became controversial when he was promoted ahead of another probation officer with more experience and who had served with the National Guard in Somalia. The passed-over employee unsuccessfully appealed the promotion, saying that Hoffman had benefitted from his family ties to Deputy Probation Commissioner William Burke.

A federal grand jury has been hearing evidence on the alleged rigged hiring process in the Probation Department for months, with many observers expecting indictments soon. So far, the only indictments have come from a state grand jury which recently charged former Commissioner John J. O’Brien with trading campaign contributions in exchange for a job for his wife at the Massachusetts Lottery.