By Bob Salsberg, Associated Press

BOSTON (CBS/AP) — Three former state probation department officials were named in a federal grand jury indictment charging them with setting up a “rigged hiring system” that favored job applicants sponsored by powerful state lawmakers over more qualified candidates.

Former commissioner John O’Brien, former deputy commissioner William Burke and Elizabeth Tavares, a former first deputy commissioner, were charged with racketeering conspiracy and mail fraud, according to the 12-count indictment unsealed on Friday.

O’Brien and Tavares also face a racketeering charge.

WBZ NewsRadio 1030’s Kim Tunnicliffe reports

Prosecutors said the defendants engaged in a criminal enterprise by seeking to curry favor with members of the Massachusetts Legislature, which controlled the department’s budget, “by instituting a rigged hiring system that catered to requests from state legislators and other to employ and promote candidates for employment with the enterprise.”

The defendants, according to the indictment, obtained from lawmakers, staff members of lawmakers and other influential people the names of favored candidates, and maintained “sponsor lists” to ensure that the sponsored candidates were hired.

The indictment lists several people, identified only by their initials, who were hired for positions between 2001 and 2008 within the probation department after being sponsored by lawmakers, including former House Speakers Salvatore DiMasi and Thomas Finneran, and current Senate President Therese Murray.

No lawmakers were named in the indictment, the first stemming from a federal probe of the hiring and promotion practices in the department.

At a news conference, U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts Carmen Ortiz declined to comment on whether charges could be filed against some of the key legislative and judicial figures who sponsored job candidates and whom she named by position.

“I don’t want to lend more to greater speculation … our job, you must understand, as federal prosecutors, is to carefully and thoroughly review the evidence, follow the leads and make the cases where they are, and that’s what our intent is,” she said.

The probation scandal had cast a dark cloud over Beacon Hill in recent months, as lawmakers waited for the federal probe to run its course.

An earlier investigation ordered by the state Supreme Judicial Court and conducted by independent counsel Paul Ware found what appeared to be “an understanding” between O’Brien and certain lawmakers linking generous state funding for the department to O’Brien’s willingness to give jobs to applicants recommended by the lawmakers.

Independent Counsel Paul Ware calls this a minimalist indictment. He issued his extensive report 18 months ago, and tells WBZ-TV:

“What the United States Attorney has done in bringing this indictment is really the bare minimum based on the probation report that was issued to the SJC in November 2010. There is nothing unexpected with the indictment except that it confines itself to three of the most obvious targets. My guess is that the United States Attorney has not finished the job. ”

O’Brien pleaded not guilty to indictments returned by a state grand jury earlier this year. One of the charges involved a promotion given in 2005 to an assistant probation officer following a request from DiMasi’s office.

DiMasi is serving an eight-year federal prison sentence after being convicted in an unrelated corruption case last year involving a scheme to steer two state contracts to a software firm in exchange for payments.

The federal indictment charges that O’Brien, Burke and Tavares maintained a “sham hiring system” that made it appear they were following regulations issued by the state trial court for hiring, but was instead used to “conceal the fact that the hiring decisions were pre-determined and not based upon merit, but based upon the nature and extent of the sponsorship.”

The mail fraud charges stem largely from the mailing of rejection letters to applicants who prosecutors said were passed over in favor of politically-connected candidates.

Attorneys for the three defendants did not immediately comment.

Burke, who was deputy commissioner from 1999 to 2009, allegedly sponsored his own daughter for a job in the department’s Electronic Monitoring Program in 2001, and she was hired though she was not the most qualified candidate, the indictment also alleges.

The probe of the department’s hiring practices prompted passage of a state law last year overhauling the hiring process for all court and probation officers.

WBZ-TV’s Karen Anderson contributed to this report

(TM and © Copyright 2011 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

Comments (14)
  1. Rob Cleary says:

    Let’s hope this is only the beginning. I hope it goes all the way to Devals office, Filling federal prisons with Democrats is one way to help save this once great nation.

    1. donny says:

      How about filling prisons with idiots who actually think one political party is better than the other?…

      Wait, we don’t have enough prisons.

      1. tsal&kv says:

        good comment, donny!

      2. sullyinma says:

        Great response donny.

        Once again Rob has maid a fool of himself on these message boards.


      3. fred says:

        Not to say that there are no corrupt republicans but in this state it’s mostly democrats who hold office by a huge majority. There are about 32 republicans out of 160 in the house and 4 republicans out of 40 in the senate. This is what we get with one party rule. If you want to get an idea of who may be next – lets see who has taken early retirement.

  2. ginny2 says:

    With these being Federal charges we may actually see jail time in the future. Otiz seems to make sure her team has their t’s crossed and their i’d dotted before bringing charges. Wonder how O’Brien feel toward his buddy Sal, who probably squeeled like a stuck pig last month. Ah, how quickly they fall.

  3. yamstar1 says:

    And once again Martha Coakley the “chief law enforcement officer” of MA is nowhere to be found. Shameful.

    1. fred says:

      Martha only goes after small fish like Brian Wallace.She is crucifying him because he didn’t have the proper receipts for spending 6 grand from his campaign account. Since he is no longer in the legislature he’s an easy mark for her to make some head lines. Of course she will not go after Cheryl Jauques who – even though she is not running for anything is somehow able to donate thousands of dollars from her campaign fund to her lover, or rather girlfriend – but of course she is of a protected class.

  4. jimbo says:

    bulger,finneran,deleo,murray…all scumbags….taxpayers continued to get screwed…nothing has changed

  5. Bill says:

    It looks like everyone’s pal, Sal….might be extending his taxpayers’ paid vacation suite.
    We should probably vote Everyone out of office and start from scratch, At this point we would be better off with people with no experience than with people who have experience and work the systems or know the loopholes.

  6. Rob Cleary says:

    There are 20 identified Pols in the indictment. !9 are Democrats.

  7. Rob Cleary says:

    Nineteen are Democrats.

  8. jaygee says:

    You have to love their attorneys. They call their clients “good family men & women, good citizens and the salt of the earth:. They will proclaim complete innocence until they see the handwriting on the wall and then will accept a plea deal and admit guilt. Same old, same old. As Clint once said, “Hang em High”!

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