Colleagues defend DeLeo amid hiring trial accusations
At the federal courthouse in Boston, prosecutors have called Speaker Robert A. DeLeo a central figure in the scandal at the state Probation Department, a back-room operator who traded jobs for votes to win his powerful position. But at the State House a few miles away, House members say their leader did nothing wrong and argue he has been unfairly tarnished.
“Complete crap. It really is trash,” said Representative Patricia Haddad, DeLeo’s third-in-command. “I really don’t have a lot of patience with it, to the point where I’m barely reading it anymore. I just skim it and go, ‘Oh, God, another day of foolishness.’ ”
On Tuesday, as federal prosecutors delivered closing arguments that accused DeLeo of participating in a legislative bribery scheme, House members closed ranks around the speaker, saying they are furious the trial has targeted not only him but also the longstanding tradition of doling out jobs to constituents.
Prosecutors allege DeLeo and an aide helped award jobs in the Probation Department as part of an effort to help him win the speaker’s office in 2009. The prosecutors have said his actions were an attempt to bribe legislators for votes, but they have not charged him with any crime.
Haddad said the argument that helping constituents find jobs could be considered criminal has made her reluctant to help residents in her district, even if they are qualified and begging for assistance.
“It’s very hard to tell your constituents that you hear their pain, ‘But, sorry, I can’t help you,’ ” she said. “It makes me angry that the people are trying to make the things we do for our constituents suddenly a bad thing.”
DeLeo has released three statements denouncing the allegations against him as “inaccurate and scurrilous.” Late Tuesday, he went even further and suggested it should be a crime for federal prosecutors to impugn “the characters of accomplished and honorable public officials” without sufficient evidence.
He has otherwise ignored the trial and tried to put the focus on his legislative priorities, which include a recent flurry of bills toughening gun laws and campaign finance rules.
House members have tried to follow his lead, insisting publicly that they are not paying attention to the testimony of their colleagues and former colleagues at the courthouse.
“I just keep my head down and do my job and continue my work, and I think that goes for most of the Legislature,” said Representative Carlo Basile, an East Boston Democrat. “Not one single constituent has asked me about it. Not one.”
Despite the support for DeLeo, no one has held a press conference, written a letter to the editor, or delivered a floor speech in his defense.
After the three previous speakers were ensnared in legal trouble, some House members are clearly reluctant to wade into DeLeo’s predicament.
“The court system has been going through the due process,” said Representative Bruce J. Ayers, a Quincy Democrat who voted for DeLeo’s rival, Representative John H. Rogers, for speaker in 2009, and is not a member of DeLeo’s leadership team. “I think I’ll let that process play out.”
The issue is sensitive for House members who have seen three previous speakers convicted of federal offenses: Charles F. Flaherty pleaded guilty to tax evasion in 1996; Thomas M. Finneran pleaded guilty in 2007 to obstruction of justice for giving false testimony in a redistricting trial; and Salvatore F. DiMasi was convicted in 2011 on corruption charges and is serving eight years in prison.
When DiMasi was facing questions about his role in rigging a state contract, House members strongly defended him, even reelecting him speaker in January 2009. Later that month, DiMasi abruptly resigned, while continuing to insist he had done nothing wrong. Six months later, he was indicted on charges that he reaped thousands of dollars for wiring a software contract.
Some representatives argue DeLeo, who is DiMasi’s successor, is being besmirched by federal prosecutors who wanted to, but could not, bring down a fourth consecutive speaker.
“I have all the faith in the world in Bobby DeLeo,” said Representative John Binienda, a Worcester Democrat who has served under five speakers since he was first elected to the House. “He is, definitely, of all the speakers I have served under, the most honest and forthright.”
Representative John Scibak, a South Hadley Democrat, said he voted for DeLeo for speaker in 2009 because he was “the best candidate” for the job, and he has not heard of any vote bribing used to win that race.
“If the speaker had done something, why weren’t charges brought against the speaker?” Scibak said Tuesday. “I’m kind of puzzled by it.”
Representative Bradley H. Jones Jr., the House Republican leader, said the trial’s depiction of insiders trading jobs for votes has been “a huge demonstration of the shortcomings of one-party government.”
Yet he refrained from attacking his Democratic rival personally, pointing out that prosecutors have not charged DeLeo with any crime. “The old saying is, ‘Where do you go to get your reputation back?’ ” Jones said.