SJC Orders Dismissal Of Probation Commissioner

By Jess Bidgood and Sarah Birnbaum

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Nov. 18, 2010

BOSTON -- The Massachusetts Supreme Court is ordering a massive shakeup at the state’s probation department, which includes the immediate dismissal of the Probation Commissioner John O’Brien. The move comes after an independent review found the state's probation department to be systematically corrupt.

The review, undertaken by Paul F. Ware, released Thursday, concluded the hiring process in the probation department under the leadership of Commissioner John O'Brien was rigged to favor politically connected candidates, amounting to "pervasive fraud against the commonwealth" committed over many years.

The report paints a picture of a deeply embedded system of corruption, in which O'Brien and his employees allegedly placed the friends, relatives and financial backers of powerful state legislators into probation jobs. Hiring supervisors received names of the commissioner's preferred candidates and were instructed to move those candidates over to the next round of interviews, even if that meant passing over more qualified candidates.

According to the report, the department accepted hundreds of "sponsorship" calls -- most often from state legislators, but also from municipal leaders and members of the judicial and state executive branches. Candidates without political recommendations were unlikely to be hired. O'Brien retaliated against employees who refused to execute the fraud.

In exchange, lawmakers would see to it that the Probation budget would rise by a steady amount each year, even as other departments were slashed.

The report lists a number of lawmakers who were involved with patronage hiring, including Rep. Thomas Petrolate, a top deputy to speaker of the House Robert Deleo; former Senate President Robert Travaglini, former chair of the Senate committee on Ways and Means Steven Panagiotakis; Sen. Thomas McGee; Sen. Robert Creedon; and Rep. Stephen Tobin.

The report contains grounds for criminal charges to be brought against department employees including Commissioner O'Brien, Francis Wall, Patricia Walsh, William Burke, Elizabeth Tavares and Christpher Bulger.

The review was commissioned after an investigation by the Globe spotlight team earlier this year alleged widespread corruption in the department. The report says Commissioner O'Brien and some of his deputy commissioners did not cooperate in the investigation.

Report of Independent Counsel on Massachusetts Probation Department

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