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Former Probation Official Says He Was Given O’Brien’s Job Picks Before Interviewing

BOSTON — A longtime deputy to former Massachusetts Probation Commissioner John O’Brien testified Wednesday that out of loyalty to O’Brien, he cheated, altered test scores and embellished evaluations of candidates for jobs at the Probation Department.

And the witness, Francis Wall, says he lied under oath at hearings for candidates who complained they had been passed over.

Wall’s testimony brought the drama that had been expected in the previously slow-moving trial of O’Brien and two co-defendants on charges of racketeering and mail fraud. And you could measure the damage inflicted by the way O’Brien’s attorney began cross examination.

“To be fair,” defense attorney William Fick said to Wall, “we can agree you’re a liar, correct?”

“I lied when I testified at arbitration,” the balding 63-year-old conceded reluctantly. But Fick struck back, “A liar is someone who tells lies, correct?”

“I told lies,” Wall conceded further.

“So you are a serial liar,” Fick snapped.

It soon became clear why Wall, who worked for the Probation Department for 27 years and rose to deputy commissioner, received immunity from prosecution in return for his testimony.

“The commissioner told me who was to be number one,” Wall said in explaining the interview process for candidates for probation jobs and promotions.

The government has elicited testimony that there was a list of candidates recommended by the likes of former House Speakers Thomas Finneran and Sal DiMasi, and Senate President Therese Murray. And hiring those candidates, to please the politically powerful, Wall testified, was the objective of Commissioner O’Brien.

On the hiring of the son of the administrative assistant of current House Speaker Robert DeLeo, Wall said he was told, “It was very important [he] be number one. Mr. DeLeo is a great supporter of the probation budget.”

Speaking in complete sentences, deliberately, in lawyerly fashion without hesitation as if well rehearsed, Wall said he was told who the commissioner’s choice was before the interviews ever began.

And what did Wall do, asked the prosecutor. “Anything and everything that assured he was the highest scoring candidate,” Wall said.

For candidate after candidate, name after name, interview after interview that he helped conduct, Wall said, he “inflated scores and increased information to make him the number one candidate … We would change scores, we would embellish to make sure we did everything we could to make sure they were the number one candidate.”

And when arbitration hearings were called upon the complaints of job applicants who thought they had been unfairly treated, Wall said he and probation official Patricia Walsh lied “under oath about the process being a fair process, and how we judged the people.”

Without ever looking at O’Brien, who showed no emotion, Wall said O’Brien told him to stick to the plan even as Wall worried about being charged with perjury.

After delivering verbal body blows to all three defendants, Wall faced cross examination that, brief though it was, evoked only the first in a series of calls of liar, liar, liar.

Wall returns Thursday for what promises to be a long day.

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