State probation department patronage scandal trial set to begin

John Joseph Moakley United States Courthouse. Credit: Getty Images
Jury selection begins Monday at the John Joseph Moakley United States Courthouse.
Credit: Getty Images

A parade of current and former state lawmakers, lawyers and judges could soon head into the federal courthouse in South Boston as the corruption trial of the state’s former probation department commissioner gets underway Monday.

Jury selection will take place at the Moakley courthouse for the trial of John J. O’Brien and his two deputies, who were indicted in 2012 on various charges including racketeering, conspiracy and mail fraud.

The prosecution’s recently filed witness list includes the names of more than a dozen current and former state legislators who may be called on to provide testimony on the workings of the state government and hiring system.

O’Brien and his deputies, Elizabeth Tavares and William Burke, are accused of instituting a rigged hiring system that employed those who were sponsored by state elected officials over other candidates who were more qualified for the job. Prosecutors allege the O’Brien did so in order to increase the department’s budget and its power. All three have pleaded not guilty.

The trial has spread across Beacon Hill as some of the state’s most powerful lawmakers have been named in the details of the indictment and have had to turn over documents. A superseding indictment filed last year identified House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Therese Murray by title in explaining how O’Brien allegedly worked the system to hire their recommended candidates.

On Monday, a pool of potential jurors will fill out a questionnaire for lawyers and the judge to determine their ability to decide the case. The form that potential jurors will have to complete asks whether they’ve met, known or formed an opinion of potential witnesses and individuals involved in the case, including DeLeo and Murray.

O’Brien led the department until 2010, when he resigned amid questions relating to the patronage scandal.

Last year, O’Brien was acquitted of conspiracy charges that alleged he held a fundraiser with probation department employees for then state Treasurer Tim Cahill in return for a job for his wife.

If convicted, O’Brien, Tavares and Burke face up to 20 years in jail.

Follow Michael Naughton on Twitter @metrobosmike.


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