Boston Mayor Defends Convicted Ex-Probation Boss

Mayor Martin Walsh came to the defense of former state probation commissioner John O'Brien, who was convicted last week of federal charges that he rigged the department's hiring process to favor politically connected applicants.

In an interview Tuesday on WGBH, Walsh said he didn't think O'Brien's actions were criminal.

"I think he went to work every day to do his job," Walsh said. "I think somehow the system got the better of him."

The mayor added that he did not know all the facts of the case and had not read the trial testimony.

O'Brien steered jobs to candidates backed by powerful state legislators, often at the expense of more qualified applicants, federal prosecutors said.

O'Brien was convicted of racketeering and mail fraud. One of O'Brien's deputies, Elizabeth Tavares, was also convicted on those charges and a third former probation official, William Burke, was convicted of conspiracy to commit racketeering.

The three face sentencing in November and plan to appeal the convictions.

Walsh, who was a state legislator before being elected mayor of Boston in November, called the verdict a "sad day" for the Legislature, the judiciary and Massachusetts as a whole.

In a statement issued to The Boston Globe by the mayor's office after the radio interview, Walsh said elected officials have a responsibility to help constituents.

"I was not a member of this jury, and I do respect their judgment and decision," the mayor said. "However, I feel as though elected officials have an obligation to be helpful to their constituents, including - when appropriate - assistance with employment opportunities, writing letters of recommendation for schools, and so on."

No legislators were charged in the case.

This article was originally published on July 30, 2014.


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