State House News Service

Feds Drop 2 Fraud Charges In Probation Case

BOSTON — Federal prosecutors are dropping mail fraud charges related to two probation hires in their ongoing trial against three former probation officials.

After a sick juror led to the trial’s postponement until Wednesday, prosecutor Fred Wyshak told Judge William Young he would not be pursuing two of the mail fraud counts.

Former Probation Commissioner John O’Brien and two of his former deputies, Elizabeth Tavares and William Burke III, face 10 counts of mail fraud and one count each of conspiracy and racketeering. The three are accused of covering up a patronage hiring scheme, where jobs were doled out to politically connected applicants, maintaining a facade of a merit-based hiring system.

The prosecution’s decision does not mean the charges are dismissed, though it will allow the prosecution to more swiftly move into the broad allegation of racketeering. Prosecutors will no longer attempt to prove that fraud was committed when Anthony Mataragas was appointed from Middlesex Juvenile Court to Peabody District Court.

Mataragas was allegedly sponsored by Senate President Therese Murray and former Senate Majority Leader Fred Berry. Prosecutors are also dropping their mail fraud charge related to Lisa Martin obtaining a job at Worcester County Probate and Family Court. Martin was sponsored by a state representative, according to the indictment.

Young has required prosecutors to prove the mail fraud charges before moving on to prove the broader charge that the three operated as a criminal enterprise, committing crimes of mail fraud and bribery to keep the enterprise in business. Young said he would tell the jury about the dropped charges when he gives them his “final charge” before deliberations.

The jury will have to sort out the facts of a sprawling case that involves hiring over the past decade, involving state lawmakers and members of the judiciary. Defense attorneys are attempting to prove the patronage scheme was widespread and well known, and therefore no fraud was committed.

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