Jury: Probation defendants guilty of racketeering conspiracy


By Andy Metzger and Michael Norton


BOSTON — A jury on Thursday convicted former Probation Commissioner John O’Brien and former deputies Elizabeth Tavares and William Burke III on charges of conspiracy to commit racketeering following a weeks-long trial focused on job-rigging allegations.

O’Brien and Tavares were additionally convicted of racketeering as well as several mail fraud charges.

Attorneys in the office of U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz, who in 2011 led the successful corruption prosecution of former House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi in a contract-rigging case, had argued probation officials fixed the hiring system at the department to ensure that jobs went to politically connected individuals while making it appear that the agency had a thorough screening and hiring process.

The jury found that probation hires at an electronic monitoring facility had been proven as an illegal gratuity, but not bribery.

Sentencing was set for Tuesday, Nov. 18.

Outside the courthouse, attorneys for the defendants said they planned to appeal.

It was an emotional scene in the Moakley Courthouse Thursday where many individuals were crying and an ambulance had arrived, delivering a stretcher to the courtroom.

While none were charged, numerous lawmakers were called to the witness stand in the case and pressed by prosecutors in connection with allegations that probation jobs were doled out by the agency to Rep. Robert DeLeo’s office. DeLeo, who succeeded DiMasi as speaker, denied that jobs were used to help him secure the top post in the House or for any other favorable treatment of probation by the Legislature.

The verdicts were announced after a week of deliberations and with the state Senate in session debating housing authority legislation. The House met Thursday but adjourned for the weekend in the morning, before the verdict was announced.

Before the verdicts were announced, Gov. Deval Patrick was asked about the case during his appearance on WGBH and it’s “Ask the Governor” segment.

“There’s some serious allegation in the case. They’re worrisome to me,” Patrick said. “The judge has gone out of his way to instruct the jury that patronage is not unlawful, and patronage even as distasteful as what is described in this case may not be unlawful. The question is was it tantamount to a bribe.”

Patrick added, “People have a lot of unease about the notion, and I do, about the notion that you can get a job, and by the way the jobs in probation are really important jobs, without having the qualifications to do it and that’s exactly the kind of thing that undermines confidence in government.”

House Minority Leader Brad Jones called the verdict “further testament to the utter failure and negative consequences one-party government represents to the taxpayers of the Commonwealth.”

“The jury’s verdict should serve as a loud and clear message that the way the Democratic-led state government operates desperately needs to change,” Jones said in a statement.

DeLeo was not immediately available for comment.

Matt Murphy contributed reporting.