Ex Probation Chief, 2 Aides Indicted in Hiring Scandal

BOSTON (WHDH)—Three former state employees face serious charges in the wake of a probation scandal.

Federal grand jury indictments allege the former state probation officials set up a “rigged hiring system” that favored job applicants sponsored by powerful state lawmakers over more qualified candidates.

The indictments describe the lengths at which the probation department officials allegedly went in order to gain control of their department, their budget and the legislators who fund it.

Former commissioner John O’Brien along with former top deputies William Burke and Elizabeth Tavares are charged with 10 counts of mail fraud, one count of racketeering conspiracy and one count of racketeering.

All three defendants were arraigned on Friday afternoon in federal court and pleaded not guilty to the charges against them.

"In order to conceal the true nature of the hiring decisions the defendants created a sham hiring system which included, among other things, the posting of employment and promotion opportunities over the Internet on the probation department’s website as well as over a telephone hotline," said Carmen Ortiz, U.S. attorney. "It is alleged that the defendants routinely selected names of preferred candidates for each position from the sponsor list and provided those names to members involved in the interview panels insuring that the preferred candidate reached the final round and was awarded the high score."

The trio is being charged with mail fraud stemming from the rejection letters sent to candidates who didn’t make the cut. O’Brien and the others are accused of giving jobs to people in order to gain power and control over the lawmakers who determine the Probation Department’s budget.

"The three people indicted today are good, good people. They are hardworking people, they are family people. They are the salt of the earth. They don’t deserve what’s happening to them,” said Paul Flavin, defense attorney.

The indictments site 26 people who allegedly got jobs that didn’t deserve them and weren’t qualified for them. Several of them sent to them by the Senate President Therese Murray and former House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi. Lawyers for Tavares say the government is going to have a difficult time proving it.

"Obviously they are going to have to connect the dots to have these charges proven in court," said Brad Bailey, defense attorney.

The government will not say whether any of the lawmakers who sent applicants to the department will also be charged; merely that it is still an ongoing investigation.

"We have just indicted three former state public officials who were supposed to be working on behalf of this commonwealth and who were engaged in criminal activity," said Ortiz.

All three defendants have been told to stay away from each other, and not to have anything to do with anyone at the probation department.