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Three former probation officials, including Hatfield resident William Burke III, indicted on mail fraud and other charges


BOSTON – The ongoing scandal involving hiring at the state’s probation department has resulted in the indictments of three former probation officials on charges that include mail fraud and racketeering.

Indictments were filed Thursday against former Springfield deputy probation commissioner William H. Burke III of Hatfield, former probation commissioner John J. O’Brien and former second deputy probation commissioner Elizabeth V Tavares, U.S. District Court documents show.

According to the documents, all three were arrested this morning.

The indictments, unsealed today, charge Burke with mail fraud and conspiracy.

Tavares, of Newton, and O’Brien, of Quincy, were indicted on conspiracy, racketeering and mail fraud, according to federal court records.

Burke, a 35-year veteran of the probation department in Western Massachusetts who retired in 2009 with an $83,000 pension, was enmeshed in the hiring at probation, according to a 307-page report issued in 2010 by Paul Ware, an independent counsel appointed by the state Supreme Judicial Court to investigate probation hiring. Here is a copy of the report from Ware.

U.S. Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz and FBI Assistant Special Agent in Charge James Burrell had scheduled a 10:30 a.m. press conference today to discuss the indictments.

According to the indictment, Burke, deputy commissioner for 10 years before retiring, O’Brien and Tavares are charged with taking part in a conspiracy between 2000 and 2010 including multiple acts of mail fraud.

They are charged with using a “sham hiring system” that favored candidates sponsored by legislators, judges and others including one hire, listed as only “K.P.,” in the indictment, an apparent reference to Kathleen Petrolati, wife of Rep. Thomas M. Petrolati of Ludlow. She was hired as a manager in the electronic monitoring program of probation. Rep. Petrolati has long been tangled up in the probation scandal.

“K.P.,” who was sponsored by former House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran, was hired as a manager in the electronic monitoring program in Springfield in 2001, though she was not the most qualified, according to the indictment.

No legislators or other elected officials have been charged with federal criminal offenses in connection with the probation scandal.

The indictment, however, said the Senate President in 2008 — who was Therese Murray, the current Senate president, — sponsored three candidates for probation officers who were hired in Plymouth courts even though they were not the most qualified.

Murray and other current and former legislators who sponsored candidates are not identified by name in the indictment but only by position or title in the Legislature. Murray, for example, is only mentioned as “the President of the Senate” in the indictment. Other sponsors are mentioned only as “a member of the state judiciary” or “a member of the House of Representatives,” for example.

Burke’s daughter, called “M.B.” was also hired as an assistant manager in the electronic monitoring department in 2001 in Springfield. She also was not the most qualified, and she was sponsored by her father, the indictment said.

The three former probation officials sought favor with legislators by creating a rigged hiring system that catered to requests by legislators and others to employ and promote candidates in probation, the indictment said.

They hired people sponsored by legislators but also maintained a facade of a merit-based hiring system that increased their ability to win favorable votes on the budget and other interests, the indictment said.

Instead of hiring the best qualified, the former probation officials promoted the most politically connected or sponsored candidates, the indictment said. This was done to increase the probation budget, gain control over the enterprise and build their power, the indictment said.

They kept “sponsor lists” to ensure that legislators’ candidates were hired, the indictment said.

The three created “a sham” hiring system, including interviews, job postings, scoring sheets, letters. O’Brien certified to the chief justice that people hired were in compliance with the trial court standards.

“This sham system was used to conceal that the hiring systems were pre-determined and not based on the merits but upon the nature and extent of the sponsorship,” the indictment said. “O’Brien would take names from sponsor lists and give them to Tavares, Burke and interview panels.”

They sought to ensure that preferred candidates reached the final round and also had the highest score at the final interview, it said. Scoring sheets were falsified and other methods skewed to reach this result, prosecutors charged, prosecutors said in the indictment.

The sham system created the aura of a legitimate-based hiring process.

The indictment includes only the initials of sponsored candidates for probation officer who were hired including the son of a member of the state judiciary and a friend of the Cape and Island district attorney, and a third person, all sponsored by the Senate President Therese Murray.

Neither was the most qualified candidate but all were hired in 2008.

Other sponsored hires, none the most qualified, included the daughter of a member of the judiciary sponsored by former House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi, now serving a prison term on federal corruption charges.

The mail fraud charges stem from the delivering of rejection letters to unsuccessful candidates and to receive and deliver other documents related to employment.

The official court hiring system stressed the importance of interviews based on objective standards and called for committees of court officials to hold interviews with applicants.

State law included appointment, performance, promotion, continuing education requirements for the Trial Court.

The state Legislature changed law in 2001 to vest hiring authority in O’Brien, the former probation commissioner. The chief justice for administration and management could still reject any appointment that didn’t comply with the trial court’s standards.

An earlier investigation ordered by the state Supreme Judicial Court found what appeared to be “an understanding” between O’Brien and certain lawmakers linking generous state funding for the department to O’Brien’s willingness to give jobs to applicants recommended by lawmakers.

O’Brien has pleaded not guilty to a state charge involving a promotion for an assistant probation officer following a request from former House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi.

Indictment of former probation officials

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