By Andy Metzger
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
BOSTON -- Surging emotions and recriminations marked the final day of testimony Friday in U.S. District Court as federal prosecutors wrapped up their fraud and racketeering case, presented over 10 weeks, against three former state probation department officials.
After defense attorneys decided against presenting their own evidence, Judge William Young set Tuesday for closing arguments and said jury deliberations could begin as early as Tuesday afternoon.
Former Probation Commissioner John O'Brien and two of his former deputies, Elizabeth Tavares and William Burke III, are charged with operating a secretive patronage scheme veiled by a purportedly merit-based hiring system. Federal statute provides a sentence of up to 20 years for the crimes, though sentencing guidelines could limit prison time to no more than about a year and a half.
The testimony of former Worcester District Court Chief Probation Officer William Mattei Friday involved several themes that have run through the weeks-long trial: faded memories, accusations of lying and complicated analyses of what makes a job applicant most qualified for a position.
Mattei said that his judgment of whether Bernard Dow was best qualified for the job of acting chief probation officer was clouded by his belief that Dow was too "quick to issue violations" against probationers and appeared to spend work time on union matters.
"Looking back in retrospect, I think it's unfair of me to knock him down," said Mattei, who ranked Dow third among the applicants seeking the promotion, and said "I let my personal feelings enter into my scoring of him."
Mattei, who retired in 2010 after 10 years as chief, said O'Brien had called him while Mattiei was preparing a venison meal, and told him Dow would get the assistant chief job.
After Mattei said he felt Dow's work ethic was "somewhat lacking" but declined to characterize it as a "poor" work ethic, prosecutor Karin Bell confronted the witness with statements he made to a state grand jury and made to her.
"I felt quite frankly you were badgering me," responded Mattei, who said Bell appeared to want him to say Dow was not the most qualified.
"Do you understand Mr. Mattei that you can be charged with perjury?" Bell countered. She then accused Mattei of hanging up on an FBI agent who called him Thursday as a last-minute addition to the prosecution's case.
Mattei, who featured a bandaged pinky finger on his right hand, said he had been in a foul mood Thursday after an accident while using a log splitter to split wood, and denied that he hung up on Agent Kevin Constantine.
Taking nearly a minute while on the witness stand to compose himself, Mattei also relayed a conversation more than a decade ago with O'Brien when he "realized what kind of a man he is."
Mattei said O'Brien had initially supported someone else for the chief's job and that he had sued the chief justice of administration and management, who was then Barbara Dortch-Okara, winning the job and leading the probation department to establish a more formulaic interview approach - one that other witnesses have critiqued over the course of the trial.
"It was a long battle I had to get that job," Mattei said, his voice quavering as he said O'Brien insisted on meeting him in Worcester. He said, "He insisted he come in and see me, and he did," describing the talk as a "very nice" and "cordial" conversation. After completing the anecdote, Mattei wiped his eyes.
According to prosecutors, the probation department's interview process was a farce, as O'Brien made appointments based on the political clout of job applicants. Bell attempted to discredit Mattei and accused him of trying to assist O'Brien.
"And you're lying for him today, aren't you?" Bell asked.
"I am absolutely not lying for anyone today," Mattei said.
Mattei said that numbered rankings next to candidate's names on the scoring sheets assigned to both him and Worcester First Justice Paul LoConto appear to be his handwriting, but said he would not have scored the candidates for the judge. LoConto testified he had no memory of the interviews.
"That looks like my handwriting, but I would never do that," Mattei said.
"Like you would never lie under oath?" Bell asked.
O'Brien's attorney Stellio Sinnis attempted to turn Bell's tough questioning back on the prosecution, asking Mattei, "Is that the way Ms. Bell treated you when you met with her?" Mattei said Bell was "cordial" and "rather forceful" about her view of the case.
Mattei said he recalled the third participant in the hiring panel was probation official Dianne Fasano but documents presented by prosecutors indicate Burke was on the panel.
"I thought it was someone else," Mattei said.
Defense attorneys have attempted to steer the criminal trial into a discussion of the advanced degrees and other qualifications of the allegedly fraudulent hires, and cast top probation officials as better situated to identify the best candidate for a particular assignment.
Mattei said he had worked with Dow for 30 years as a probation officer, and agreed he was a "colorful" character around Worcester, and though he had misgivings he accepted O'Brien's decision to give Dow the post.
"You accepted it because he was more than eminently qualified for the job?" asked Sinnis in what proved to be the last question of the trial. Mattei agreed.