By Andy Metzger
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
BOSTON — A former high-ranking state probation department official testified Wednesday that he manipulated the scores in every department hiring round he participated in and committed perjury during arbitration proceedings out of “loyalty” to the former commissioner and with the intention of currying favor in the Legislature.
“The commissioner needed to have a good rapport with the Legislature,” said the official, Francis Wall, who resigned as a deputy commissioner in 2011. Wall said the goal of having a “good rapport” was a “beneficial budget” – the Legislature annually makes appropriations to fund the probation department.
In the federal trial of former Commissioner John O’Brien and two of his former deputies, Elizabeth Tavares and William Burke III, Wall, testifying with immunity, is perhaps the most damning witness to date for the prosecution, testifying to the motives and high-level operations of the alleged rigged hiring and the cover-up.
“We did lie under oath about the process being a fair process and how we judged the people, etcetera,” Wall said about the appearances he and former probation official Pat Walsh would make at arbitration panels after someone passed over for a promotion complained. Saying he was concerned about possibly being prosecuted for perjury, Wall said O’Brien told him to keep with the plan and said, “With my loyalty to him, I agreed to do it.”
After roughly three and a half hours of direct examination by prosecutor Fred Wyshak, where Wall discussed his participation in the subterfuge, O’Brien’s attorney William Fick opened the cross examination with a blunt accusation.
“We can agree that you’re a liar, correct?” Fick asked, his voice raised. Wall conceded he had lied multiple times. Fick went on to assert that Wall is a “serial liar” and asked if it was true that around the probation department Wall’s nickname was “The Riddler,” which he denied.
Fick confronted Wall with variations on the account he had given to independent counsel Paul Ware, the FBI, the grand jury and the ongoing trial at the Moakley Courthouse about his involvement in discussions to change the law, shifting the authority to appoint probation officers from the sitting judge to the commissioner.
The defense attorney also recounted an earlier exchange where Wyshak allegedly asked Wall to “embellish” his account.
“Mr. Wyshak asked you to embellish your answer. That’s the word he used,” Fick said.
“I object. What does that mean?” Wyshak said, before Fick read a transcript that said Wyshak asked, “Can you embellish that a little bit for us?”
“Embellish” was a word Wall used to describe how he manipulated the scores to make sure that candidates in a final interview were always ranked according to the commissioner’s direction, regardless of how they performed.
“We would change scores. We would embellish,” said Wall, who said he believes he received names from O’Brien or another probation official “100 percent” of the time. He said, “In every interview I conducted, as in this case, I embellished, changed, increased…”
Wall testified he would make notations in pencil indicating the required order of the candidates and then share that information with the other person on the final interview panel with him. Those pencil notations remained on the scoring sheets that are part of the evidence the jury can review.
“These were names received by the Legislature,” Wall said. He said, “We were the beneficiary of better budgets as a result of that.”
Unlike other witnesses who have testified about playing a discrete role in the alleged scheme and generally professed ignorance about the motives behind it, Wall claimed to have firsthand knowledge of the reasons for boosting favored applicants’ scores and the way the intended job recipients would be ranked at the very top of the final interview, which was designed to be “grievance-proof.”
When Joe Dooley had applied for the first assistant chief probation officer job at Bristol Superior Court, Wall said he made sure he scored highest, testifying that O’Brien told him, “[Taunton Sen. Marc] Pacheco is a good friend of Mr. Dooley and he’s a supporter of the probation department.”
Doug MacLean, the son of former Fairhaven Sen. William “Biff” MacLean, ran into trouble in an interview for a probation position at Brockton District Court, Wall said. He said, O’Brien told Wall, “Don’t worry about it. He will be taken care of someplace else.”
“In the interview he admitted to his criminal history and his drug addiction,” Wall testified about MacLean’s botched attempt at the Brockton job. When MacLean later applied for a job at the Bristol Probate and Family Court, he was given the highest score at an Oct. 18, 2005 interview, as Wall said he did “anything and everything that was necessary to ensure that was the highest scored candidate.”
Wall recalled overhearing phone conversations O’Brien had in his office with Robert DeLeo, Salvatore DiMasi and Tom Finneran – the last three House speakers – saying O’Brien told him about a “close relationship” he had with Finneran, and a “very close relationship” with Ludlow Rep. Tom Petrolati.
Wall said that O’Brien told him at various times that DeLeo, Petrolati, Sens. Mark Montigny and Pacheco were all supporters of the probation department’s budget, and said they also discussed Senate President Therese Murray’s “importance” regarding appointments.
“Priority of appointments would go to depending on the hierarchy,” Wall said, noting that the speaker and senate president were the most important in that calculus. He said, “The representatives themselves would have the least input with the commissioner.”
Wall also testified about his manipulation of the scoring with several specific hires that are part of the additional racketeering charge that Tavares and O’Brien allegedly committed, some of whom had not been previously disclosed to the jury.
Those include John Chisholm, whom former South Boston Sen. Jack Hart previously testified he had recommended. After Chisholm’s interview, Wall said his partner on the final panels, Patricia Walsh, was called in by Chief Justice of Administration and Management Robert Mulligan and was “very distraught when she came back.”
Wall said O’Brien and Mulligan, who signed off on any probation appointment, were “fighting” over hiring decisions. At one point, Mulligan demanded that a fifth question be added to the final interview round, so applicants would be able to talk about their qualifications, Wall said.
During Chisholm’s interview June 2006, Moira Toomey, the niece of Ellen Slaney, a former probation official who previously said she resisted efforts to advance favored candidates, was ranked in sixth place, according to the scoring sheet.
Wall said he had been told to favor Frank Glenowicz for a posting as assistant chief probation officer at Franklin County Superior Court, and Burke also told Wall to give Glenowicz the position. He ranked him accordingly, he said.
For a Worcester District Court assistant chief probation officer position, Wall said he scored Bernard Dow the highest even though he believed another candidate was the most qualified.
Brian Mirasolo, whom Wall said was the son of Speaker Robert DeLeo’s administrative assistant Leonard Mirasolo, received the highest score at his Nov. 21, 2005 interview for a Suffolk Superior Court position after Wall said he embellished his answers and inflated his score.
Chris Hoffman was also recommended by Burke, who said he was “very important to be the number one candidate” for a position at Hampshire Superior Court.
“He was very influential… instrumental in a lot of the positions that were being allocated through his association with the commissioner,” Wall said, of Burke, whom he said also had a “very strong relationship” with Petrolati.
In the spring of 2010, as scrutiny fell on the probation department’s hiring process, Wall said he agreed with Patricia Walsh, who conducted the final round interviews with him, that they would stick to the same game-plan they had during arbitration proceedings when subpoenaed by Ware.
Wall also talked to Tavares, who initially cooperated with Ware, according to the report of the independent counsel, but later invoked her right against self-incrimination.
“She was going to testify,” Wall recalled Wednesday. He said he told her, “If you testify, you’re setting myself and Pat Walsh up.”
Wyshak was frequently tripped up by objections that he was leading the witness, and Young warned him in a sometimes raised voice that he would order him to “move on” from an area of testimony if he continued to lead the witness. At other times, Young stepped in and did the questioning for Wyshak after objections were raised. Young did not follow through on his threat to order the prosecutor to “move on.”
At one point, defense attorney John Amabile objected that Young himself was leading the witness, which the judge conceded he was.
U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz visited the courtroom for about 45 minutes during Wall’s testimony Wednesday.