DeLeo denied patronage links
House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo, in sworn testimony before the independent counsel investigating the state Probation Department, made a series of statements in 2010 that were later contradicted by lawmakers and other state officials during the trial of former probation chief John J. O’Brien, according to a transcript obtained by the Globe.
Though he had previously served as head of the budget-writing Ways and Means Committee for four years, DeLeo said he had “no clue” how much the probation budget was and said the Legislature gave no special attention to the funding requests of the agency, according to his Nov. 1, 2010, testimony.
DeLeo has repeatedly said that he did nothing wrong and accused federal prosecutors during O’Brien’s trial of making “inaccurate and scurrilous” statements about him. When asked about the 2010 statement this week, a DeLeo spokesman declined to comment further.
DeLeo provided the testimony, under oath, to Paul Ware, an independent counsel hired by the Supreme Judicial Court to investigate the Probation Department after a Globe Spotlight team detailed rampant patronage at the agency in May 2010. The details of his testimony had not been previously revealed.
In his answers, DeLeo appeared to be unaware of a patronage system that a succession of witnesses, including lawmakers and probation officials, would later describe in detail during the 2014 trial of O’Brien and two top aides, who were convicted of racketeering for their part in the department’s rigged hiring and promotional policies.
DeLeo said he didn’t even know that many probation employees had legislative sponsors.
“Did you become aware at any time during which you were chairman of Ways & Means or prior to that, that many hires within the Probation Department had been recommended by individual legislators?” asked Ware.
“No, I wouldn’t be,” answered DeLeo, explaining: “Any — I would imagine that legislators would recommend in terms of what the actual count was of people being hired. No, I would not — whether they came from legislators or not, I wouldn’t have knowledge of that.”
Several witnesses, including politicians and probation officials, testified in 2014 that it was common knowledge probation applicants needed a legislative sponsor in order to get a job.
DeLeo was asked whether he remembered ever “speaking directly” to O’Brien about any proposed hire. “I can’t — directly, I can’t remember,” DeLeo said. “But I wouldn’t be surprised if I — I might have done so.”
The speaker said the Legislature gave no special consideration to the Probation Department budget, even though the Legislature at least once offered more money to the agency than even the trial court, which oversees probation, requested. “Are you saying that in your view, there was no extra cushion consciously or unconsciously, to your knowledge, in the budget process to accommodate what the Legislature basically knew was an outpost for legislative hires?” Ware asked.
“No, not at all,” said DeLeo.
Former Ways and Means chairman Charles Murphy, who succeeded DeLeo in the job and had a falling out with him before he testified at O’Brien’s trial, told jurors he was explicitly told to spare probation from any budget cuts, a statement DeLeo disputed at the time. DeLeo told reporters that he had “no memory” of warning Murphy not to cut probation spending.
Prosecutors alleged that probation officials offered jobs in a new electronic monitoring program to candidates sponsored by several state representatives to assure their support for DeLeo, who was running against Representative John Rogers in a race to succeed Salvatore DiMasi as speaker.
Ed Ryan, a legislative liaison for O’Brien, testified that O’Brien told him to run all hires for the electronic monitoring program through Leonard Mirasolo, a top DeLeo aide. O’Brien, Ryan said, told him they wanted to help DeLeo.
But, in his testimony before Ware, DeLeo insisted that O’Brien played no role in his election as speaker. “No, not at all,” said DeLeo. “I will tell you that the only one who can support you as speaker is yourself. The only one who can get you elected speaker is yourself.”
Representative James O’Day testified that in 2007 he got a call from DeLeo asking if he knew anyone who might be interested in working in the electronic monitoring facility in Clinton. Under questioning by O’Brien’s lawyer, O’Day said he had been planning originally to support another candidate for speaker, who ultimately withdrew. He ended up voting for DeLeo.
Former state representative Robert Rice testified that DeLeo himself called him to ask if he had a candidate for a probation job. Several others testified that they, too, received unsolicited offers for probation jobs but said they would have voted for DeLeo anyway.
Ware asked DeLeo whether after reading the Globe stories describing probation’s rigged hiring and promotional practices he investigated to determine whether the allegations were true.
“What did you do to determine whether or not that was the fact, since you were speaker of the House?” asked Ware.
“Nothing,” said DeLeo.
Asked why, DeLeo responded: “That’s not on my role as speaker of the House to take any further action.”
Ware asked whether he took steps to make sure lawmakers were “acting responsibly from an ethical standpoint.”
“I didn’t look at it so much as an ethical issue,” DeLeo said.
DeLeo defended the practice of recommending constituents for jobs, though he did say “there has to be maybe some qualification.”
“If you’re asking me whether people — if unqualified people should be getting positions, yes, I would say that that is blatantly unfair.”
Ware asked whether DeLeo ever investigated to make sure people who got probation jobs were qualified.
“I don’t have that ability nor the staff to make those types of recommendations or review, I should say,” answered DeLeo.
When the US Attorney’s office indicted O’Brien and two top aides in March 2012, it did not seek indictments against legislators. But it eventually named numerous politicians, including DeLeo, as “unindicted co-conspirators” in the scandal. They said that O’Brien used the lure of probation jobs to help DeLeo win election as speaker in 2009. DeLeo has denied any wrongdoing.
O’Brien, who was sentenced to 18 months in prison last November, has recently been forced to appear multiple times before a grand jury that is continuing to hear evidence in the case. Several people briefed on O’Brien’s appearances have said prosecutors appear to be focused on legislative leaders who benefited from the Probation Department’s patronage practices but said they do not know who the specific targets are.
This week, DeLeo, who spent $500,000 in campaign funds on legal bills in 2013 and 2014, told reporters he has “absolutely no concerns at all” that he might be ensnared in the ongoing probe.
Each person who testified before Ware was given a series of warnings, including the following: “Testifying falsely under oath regarding a material issue or question, or providing a false or contradictory statement in this proceeding may subject you to criminal prosecution for perjury, obstruction of justice or other crimes under state and/or federal law.”
Even so, several lawyers who practice in federal court said they believe it is unlikely DeLeo would be charged with perjury if he made any false statements because Ware was not a federal agent.
O’Brien, a top aide, Elizabeth Tavares, and a deputy, William Burke III, were convicted of racketeering in July 2014 and have appealed. Their lawyers argued they did nothing criminal but were part of a system of political horse-trading that had been ingrained in Beacon Hill culture.