By Andy Metzger
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
BOSTON -- A probation official testified Monday that he begged out of the hiring process at the department to focus on a web project after he began to notice that individuals whose names were passed on by superiors were increasingly receiving jobs after he made sure they advanced past the initial interview stage.
"Early on in this process the names I was given weren't getting jobs," said Richard O'Neil, a regional administrator who oversees probation officers in family courts throughout the state. He said he first believed the names were for courtesy interviews and said, "I would have scored them liberally in order for them to get into the top eight."
The jury also heard how a candidate in the western part of the state heard about his promotion while bartending at a popular Northampton restaurant, and was later told to thank a legislator for it.
O'Neil said he was surprised to see Doug MacLean as the preferred choice for a job at the Bristol Probate and Family Court in 2005 because O'Neil had attended a Bristol County district attorney's office briefing where MacLean discussed his drug use and his time in jail.
"I scored him extremely liberally," said O'Neil, who said he believes MacLean was "absolutely not" the most qualified for a post at the New Bedford family court. He said MacLean and another applicant Emilio Cruz were hired, and in 2006 he asked to stop participating in the hiring panels.
Federal prosecutors claim MacLean is one example of a fraudulent hiring system that operated within the public safety agency intended to shuttle jobs to politically connected applicants, regardless of their qualifications. Former Probation Commissioner John O'Brien and two of his former deputies, Elizabeth Tavares and William Burke III, are fighting the charges in a trial that is in its seventh week, arguing that recommendations from respected officials contributed to the merit-based hiring and contending that agencies throughout state government had similar policies.
The indictment indicates Sen. Mark Montigny, a New Bedford Democrat, supported the candidacy of MacLean, son of former Fairhaven Sen. William "Biff" MacLean. The indictment states that "State Senator 1" supported the candidacy of MacLean, and Kelly Manchester, who was Montigny's young girlfriend.
Testifying for the prosecution, O'Neil said that during a 2006 Suffolk family court hiring round he "liberally" scored John Chisholm, who former Sen. Jack Hart previously testified he had recommended.
Defense attorneys have tried to demonstrate the qualifications of the allegedly fraudulent hires, and show that recommendations and influence were not limited to the probation department.
O'Brien's attorney Stellio Sinnis suggested O'Neil had actually agreed with Bristol Probate Judge Elizabeth LaStaiti on how to rank all the top finalists in the interview round that included MacLean.
"You and Judge LaStaiti came out 100 percent the same for the first nine people," Sinnis said. The prosecution's theory is that probation officials would manipulate scores, effectively sidelining judges who participated in the intermediary interviews.
Much of the testimony Monday focused on Frank Glenowicz, who was promoted to assistant chief probation officer at Franklin County Superior Court.
Glenowicz, who testified with an immunity order, said around January 2006 he was tending bar at Joe's Café in Northampton, a second job he had held since shortly after his daughter was born. His father came into the bar, talked to Burke and then handed Glenowicz a badge, which signified he had received the promotion.
Glenowicz, who had been working as a juvenile probation officer in Springfield at the time, said he was anxious to learn about the results of an interview, but too nervous to approach Burke at the bar when his father delivered the news. About a month or so later, Glenowicz said Burke approached him at the restaurant on a busy night and brought him over to Rep. Tom Petrolati, a Ludlow Democrat, who was allegedly influential in determining who received probation jobs.
"In the back, Tom Petrolati was there and (Burke) just said, 'Say thank you,' and Tom laughed and said, 'No, thank him,'" Glenowicz recalled. He said, "I said thanks and walked away."
That April, Glenowicz made his first political contribution to Petrolati, and said he asked probation officer Michael Gralenski and Chief Probation Officer Frank Siano if they wanted to attend a fundraiser.
Glenowicz's father had worked on a potato or onion farm with Burke's brother, he said.
Gralenski had competed with Glenowicz for the assistant chief position, received letters of recommendation from Sens. Stan Rosenberg and Stephen Brewer, who are influential democrats from Amherst and Barre, and received high marks from Siano, and the judge who sat on the interview panel. Burke's attorney John Amabile suggested that Siano didn't know all about the probation officer's professional practices, and that Burke was better situated to know all the candidates applying for the job.
Amabile asked whether he knew that Gralenski would conduct home visits with a firearm in an ankle holster against probation policy, would bring his German shepherd to probationer's houses, wear camouflage, seized a substance from a probationer's house, and would peer in the probationer's windows after he left a home.
"He never wore any camouflage when he was with me," said Siano, who said he was unaware of the other behavior Amabile suggested. Under questioning by prosecutor Robert Fisher, Siano said Burke had never disciplined him for seizing drugs from a home.
Siano, who was first hired in 1976 and retired in 2009, said John Olver, a retired congressman who was a state senator in the 1970s and 1980s, had been instrumental in allowing him to rise to the position of chief probation officer in 1986. Siano said Olver had pushed a change in law that separated the Hampden and Franklin County courts, requiring the new chief position.
"That's the part that he played," Siano said.
Future testimony in the trial could include a return to the stand for James Casey, the former chief probation officer for the New Bedford family court.