Aide To Senate Leader Continues Testimony In Probation Case

An aide to Senate President Therese Murray told a jury Monday that she provided help to several people who contacted the Democratic leader's office about jobs in the state probation department, but also said under cross-examination that she also routinely assisted job seekers in other government agencies.

Francine Gannon, Murray's director of constituent services, testified in the federal trial of former state probation Commissioner John O'Brien and two deputies, Elizabeth Tavares and William Burke, who are accused of funneling jobs to politically connected applicants at the expense of more qualified candidates. They pleaded not guilty to charges including mail fraud and bribery.

Gannon testified she met O'Brien only once in person, describing a friendly meeting in 2008 during which she gave him a list of 11 people who were seeking positions as probation officers.

At one point in the meeting, Gannon said she recalled either O'Brien or Edward Ryan, the department's legislative liaison, asking about the agency's budget.

"I don't get involved in any budgetary matters," Gannon recalled telling the men, adding they would have to speak directly to Murray or other officials in the office about legislative issues.

Federal prosecutors have alleged that O'Brien and the other defendants used jobs to curry favor with lawmakers who set the agency's annual budget.

Gannon testified Monday about help she provided in landing jobs for several probation officers, including applicants who had been referred to Murray's office by other lawmakers, and one who had come recommended by Cape and Islands District Attorney Michael O'Keefe.

She testified that she kept detailed files on each job seeker and often kept Murray apprised of progress made by applicants whom the Senate leader had a personal interest in.

U.S. District Judge William Young had denied a motion by prosecutors to bar defense attorneys from questioning Gannon about her efforts on behalf of other job seekers, notably those looking for employment as court officers in the state's trial court.

The defense hopes to show the jury that patronage hiring extended well beyond the probation department.

Under cross-examination, Gannon testified that she responded to an inquiry from Norfolk County Sheriff Michael Bellotti, who was seeking Murray's help in getting a full-time court officer position for his sister, Patricia Bellotti. Gannon also said she helped the father of Murray's chief of staff, who was then working as a restaurant cook, pursue a job as an associate court officer.

Gannon, who was granted immunity from prosecution, was unapologetic, saying she learned of the importance of helping constituents in her first job decades ago under the late U.S. House Speaker Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neil, whom she called "the most wonderful person who ever served in public life."

"There is so much satisfaction when you see the results when you genuinely help people," she added.

This article was originally published on May 19, 2014.


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