The state’s highest court, armed with a special counsel’s report that details widespread “abuse and systemic corruption” in the state’s Probation Department, said today the senior court officials will move to fire Probation Commissioner John J. O’Brien, suspend several of his top deputies and forward the report to prosecutors for potential criminal investigation.
The Supreme Judicial Court’s stunning announcement came as the court unsealed a devastating report from an independent counsel that concluded that O’Brien and other probation leaders “committed pervasive fraud against the Commonwealth” for years, creating a phony hiring process to hide the systematic funneling of hundreds of jobs to politically-connected candidates….
Ware said that literally dozens of probation employees actively participated in “rigging” the interview process to create the appearance of a fair system when, in fact, O’Brien pre-selected candidates for practically every job opening in the 2,000-employee agency down to entry level clerical workers.
I love this example.
At one point, Ware wrote, O’Brien became furious at a probation supervisor because she refused to go along with a plan to hire a former state senator’s son who was both a felon and a former heroin addict. O’Brien hired Douglas MacLean anyway. The supervisor was banished to do audits far from her home.
Awesome. Just the way probation should operate.
The state legislature gets hit as well, though exactly how that side of things will proceed remains unclear.
Ware, in his investigation, also pursued the Spotlight finding that probation was beset with a “pay to play mentality” in which scores of job seekers made contributions to legislators in apparent hopes of favored treatment. Ware said he could not prove that individual politicians got jobs for people directly in exchange for campaign contributions, which could violate state and federal bribe statutes. But he said statistical evidence shows that legislators tried much harder to get jobs for people who gave them campaign contributions. Ware said his job was to investigate problems in probation, leaving it to others to probe whether legislators broke the law, too….
The special counsel makes it clear that O’Brien, a protege of former House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran, was supporting legislators’ job candidates in exchange for a bigger probation budget. O’Brien’s political aides methodically kept track of legislators’ favored candidates for jobs, showing that legislative leaders received by far the most patronage hires, Ware found. O’Brien had a separate spreadsheet to keep track of former House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi’s candidates, the special counsel reported.
“Generous appropriations for the Probation Department were linked to O’Brien’s willingness to systematize fraudulent hiring and promotion on a pervasive scale,” wrote Ware, noting that the state Legislature gave probation $25.4 million more than the state Trial Court requested between 2006 and 2009….
Ware found that O’Brien’s patronage machine was so extensive that some legislators rated their people on a scale of one to four, often giving the highest rating to people who were also campaign contributors. On one “Sponsor List” compiled for O’Brien, Ware found that 62 percent of the legislator-backed candidates got probation jobs — if they also gave money. But only 25 percent of sponsored candidates who did not give money got probation jobs.
Ware’s report, ultimately, focuses on the Probation Department, leaving many unanswered questions about which legislators were most responsible for boosting probation’s budget and whether they were explicitly trading state money for jobs.
So, there ya go.