Lawmakers On The Hot Seat After Probation Report

By Sarah Birnbaum

Nov. 19, 2010

BOSTON — A scathing report released Thursday about the probation department is renewing concerns about corruption on Beacon Hill. 

The Independent review details years of rampant fraud and abuse in the department, alleging Probation Commissioner John O’Brien rigged its hiring and promotion system to favor candidates with connections to powerful lawmakers. 

Further, the report alleges lawmakers were in on it, saying some legilators doled out generous appropriations to the probation department, and in return, the probation commissioner hired their friends. Analysis of campaign finance records suggests that lawmakers offered probation jobs in exchange for campaign contributions (although no direct evidence of this was put forth in the report).

Gov. Deval Patrick said he was deeply concerned about the allegations.“I think that what is in this report and what is going on at probation is deeply disturbing and needs to be fixed and if there are violations of law, they need to be enforced," Patrick said.

But he added that the impropriety at Probation is a stand-alone case -- and that there isn't a larger culture of corruption on Beacon Hill.

“I know there is a temptation to paint with a broad brush but I’m not going to paint with a broad brush," Patrick said. "There lots of people in state government who run to work, who give everything, bring their very best to the job everyday.”

Still, nearly every member of the legislative leadership was mentioned in the report -- including former Speaker of the House Sal DiMasi, former  Speaker Tom Finneran, Senate Ways and Means Chair Steven Panagiotakos, the current speaker of the House Robert DeLeo and one of his top deputies, Thomas Petrolati. 
Deleo hasn’t returned calls for comment but last night he issued a brief statement, saying, “The independent Counsel’s report appears to make some very disturbing allegations.  I will be closely reviewing its findings to determine if any legislative action is appropriate.” 
Commissioner O'Brien was immediately dismissed upon the release of the report, and a number of his staffers were placed on leave. But the consequences of years of apparent nepotism at the Probation Departemtn are only just beginning.  The report has been forwarded to the Attorney General Martha Coakley.  And she says that her office has already started looking into the connection between the legislature and the probation department.  The next step could be criminal charges. 

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