Former Massachusetts Probation Commissioner John O’Brien was convicted today in federal court of racketeering, mail fraud, and conspiracy for his involvement in a scheme in which politically-connected job applicants were given preferential hiring treatment over other candidates. O’Brien was the probation commissioner from 1998 until his resignation in 2010. Federal prosecutors alleged that O’Brien and two of his top deputies received names of preferred candidates from state legislators. O’Brien would then pass along the names to the probation department representatives who were responsible for hiring new employees. The scheme resulted in less-qualified but politically-connected applicants getting hired instead of more-qualified applicants. In turn, the legislators would vote to increase the budget of the probation department.
The case addressed several interesting legal principles, including the point at which ordinary political patronage becomes a criminal act. The government’s theory of the case was that O’Brien didn’t just engage in patronage – he committed fraud by falsely asserting that the probation department was hiring applicants based on merit. A number of high-profile current and former members of the judicial system and the legislature testified during the lengthy trial about the relationship between the various departments and branches of government. During the trial, prosecutors alleged that House Speaker Robert DeLeo conspired with O’Brien to provide probation jobs to certain legislators who would then vote for DeLeo to become Speaker of the House. DeLeo was not indicted and angrily denied the accusations. U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz has not explained why no legislators, including DeLeo, were indicted.
Last year O’Brien was found not guilty of state charges where he was accused of conspiracy to commit bribery. In that case, he was accused of using his influence to round up probation department employees to appear at a fundraiser for then State Treasurer Timothy Cahill in exchange for his wife getting a job at the Lottery.
O’Brien faces sentencing on his federal convictions on November 18, 2014. Each charge carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison. Click here for the Boston Herald’s account of the verdict.