State Representative Thomas Petrolati was once the No. 3 leader in the Massachusetts House, until he was caught in the epicenter of the Probation Department patronage scandal that engulfed Beacon Hill. Now he’s back, gaining some new footing after years of political exile.
House Speaker Robert DeLeo, who survived the scandal himself — albeit with heavy legal bills — has named Petrolati vice chairman of the House Committee on Steering, Policy, and Scheduling, a committee not known for heavy lifting, but one that does pay its vice-chairs an extra $15,000 over their $62,500 base legislative pay.
This marks a small but significant comeback for the Ludlow Democrat who was first elected in 1986, rose to be a major player in House Democratic circles, but then fell far from grace. He hung in for years and now has finally won a small niche back in the House hierarchy.
Petrolati first made enemies in the House when he testified against Speaker Thomas Finneran as he was facing federal obstruction of justice charges in a legislative redistricting case. Finneran pleaded guilty and received a $25,000 fine, 18 months of probation, and disbarment.
A few years later, Petrolati was named in court documents as the main point person that Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi’s accountant used to lobby for legislation benefiting ticket brokers. DiMasi was convicted on other charges, and no action was taken against Petrolati.
But Petrolati’s big problems came in late 2010, after a special report for the Supreme Judicial Court portrayed him as a major player in the patronage scandal. DeLeo, who himself had to pay $675,000 in legal fees to ward off the federal investigation, nudged Petrolati out as speaker pro tempore of the House. No charges were ever brought against him.
Prosecutors, following up on a Boston Globe Spotlight story, later brought indictments against ex-probation commissioner John O’Brien and two of his deputies, claiming they ran a rigged hiring system that favored politically sponsored job candidates and in turn received legislative benefits for the Probation Department. A court of appeals overturned their guilty verdicts in December.
Petrolati made 74 recommendations to the probation department, which had also hired his wife, Kathleen, for a $93,000-a-year program manager’s position.
Frank Phillips can be reached at email@example.com.