Ex-Probation Chief Sentenced To 18 Months In Prison

Former state probation commissioner John O'Brien, who was convicted of rigging the agency's hiring process to favor politically connected candidates, was sentenced Thursday to 18 months in federal prison.

U.S. District Court Judge William Young, in handing down the sentence to O'Brien, said "every judge in Massachusetts" must stand "appalled" by the extent of corruption revealed by the two-month trial. Prosecutors had asked for nearly six years in prison for O'Brien.

The judge also sentenced one of O'Brien's former deputies, Elizabeth Tavares, to three months in prison, and another deputy, William Burke, to a year of probation.

O'Brien and Tavares were convicted by a jury of racketeering and mail fraud this summer. Burke was convicted of the lesser charge of racketeering conspiracy. The three had denied the charges against them.

Prosecutors alleged the defendants, led by O'Brien, created a "sham" process designed to circumvent the agency's merit-based hiring policies to ensure that coveted probation officer jobs went to candidates backed by state lawmakers or other officials, many times at the expense of more qualified applicants.

No current or former lawmakers were charged. House Speaker Robert DeLeo, who was among the prominent politicians named during the trial, has vehemently denied any wrongdoing.

O'Brien's lawyer contended that no laws were broken and that O'Brien never knowingly gave a job to an unqualified applicant. The defense also argued that hiring people with political connections was not a practice limited to the probation department and was fairly common in the trial court, which had jurisdiction over probation hiring before a change in state law more than a decade ago.

This article was originally published on November 13, 2014.


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