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Former probation officials seek separate trials

All three former state Probation Department officials facing federal corruption charges are now asking to be tried separately.

A motion filed Friday by former deputy probation commissioner Elizabeth V. Tavares follows similar moves by her co-defendants, William H. Burke III, also a former deputy commissioner, and former commissioner John J. O’Brien. The three want separate trials because they say at least one of the other defendants has made statements that implicate them.

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The former probation officials are charged in an indictment alleging they conducted a sham hiring process at the agency by taking on legislators’ preferred candidates in exchange for favorable budget appropriations.

In Friday’s motion, Tavares’s attorneys wrote that Burke implicated her when he testified before an independent counsel named by the Supreme Judicial Court to investigate the Probation Department. The SJC order came after a Globe Spotlight series reported rampant patronage at the agency.

Burke’s motion for a separate trial cited Tavares’s statements to the independent counsel, while O’Brien’s motion cited the testimony of both former deputies.

“Under leading and badgering questioning from independent counsel, Burke stated that Tavares participated with O’Brien in a hiring system in which recommendations from legislators, judges, and other prominent individuals were considered as part of the process,” Tavares’s lawyers wrote in their filing.

In addition, Burke implied during his testimony that a quid pro quo existed between O’Brien and lawmakers, according to a transcript that Tavares’s lawyers included as part of their motion.

Asked whether “Mr. O’Brien would get his funding, and the Legislature would get some jobs,” Burke testified, “Yeah, I would say so, yeah,” according to the transcript, adding that the majority of the preferred job candidates were “probably the most qualified.”

He also discussed O’Brien’s efforts to get funding for the department from lawmakers.

“He grew up with [former House speaker] Tommy Finneran,” Burke testified. “Finneran introduced him to a lot of people. I mean, it’s politics. It’s who you know.”

Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com.
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