BOSTON — A federal grand jury indicted three former Massachusetts probation officials on Friday. They are accused of favoring politically connected candidates for probation jobs over those who were more qualified.

Former Probation Commissioner John O’Brien and two top deputies — William Burke and Elizabeth Tavarez — were charged with racketeering and mail fraud.

U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz said they set up a phony hiring process involving multiple rounds of interviews and scoring sheets … even though they had selected ahead of time the people who would get the jobs based on their ties to Beacon Hill.
“It was a part of the conspiracy that in order to conceal the true nature of the hiring decisions, the defendants created a sham hiring system which included, among other things, the posting of employment and promotion opportunities on the internet on the probation department website and over the telephone, inviting prospective candidates to apply," said Ortiz.

The jobs went to people sponsored by state lawmakers, including  Senate President Therese Murray, former House Speaker Tom Finneran and former House Speaker Sal DiMasi.

Other state legislators and members of the judiciary are referenced in the indictment, but not by name.  

The prosecutor said that just because state lawmakers got jobs for unqualified people, doesn’t mean they broke the law.

"There's a lot of patronage that's clearly going on. But patronage in and of itself is not illegal, and so people may come to certain assumptions. it may be very unseemly, it may be unethical and it may be criminal under certain circumstances, but in and of itself, it's not," Ortiz said.

Gov. Patrick weighed in, saying "The public deserves a probation department they can have confidence in. And anyone who has done anything of a criminal nature, that takes away from that public confidence, deserves to be held accountable."

So far no lawmakers have had charges brought against them. But Ortiz said the investigation is ongoing. O'Brien, Tavares and Burke have all pleaded not guilty and were released on bail.