House ties remain focus as probation trial caps eighth week

Photo: Thinkstock
Photo: Thinkstock

BOSTON, JUNE 27, 2014…..The witness who prosecutors claim will say probation jobs were given to Rep. Robert DeLeo to help him with his campaign for speaker started his testimony late Friday before the eight-week-old trial recessed for the weekend, and attorneys discussed also calling to the stand the wife of Rep. Thomas Petrolati, a key figure in the trial.

In his brief appearance, Ed Ryan, a high school graduate and laborer who became a legislative liaison for the probation department where he still works, did not get into the allegation of 10 jobs granted to the Winthrop Democrat. Asked about the jobs-for-votes charge earlier this week, DeLeo told reporters “that never happened.”

Ryan did talk about the circumstances of his hiring. Ryan said around 2000 he ran into John O’Brien, then the probation commissioner, at an Elks Lodge, and asked about getting work. At a follow-up meeting O’Brien said there weren’t any positions posted and asked whether Ryan knew any state lawmakers. Ryan, a Hanover resident who said he spent years putting up spackle and worked part-time with offenders for the Norfolk County sheriff, said he listed former Rep. Stephen Tobin and received a job.

O’Brien and two of his former deputies, Elizabeth Tavares and William Burke III, are charged with rigging the hiring system to benefit politically connected applicants and trading jobs for favorable consideration from the Legislature.

Jurors on Friday heard about the turn-of-the-century hiring of Kathleen Petrolati, a 1976 graduate of Cathedral High School who was selected to run an electronic monitoring office in Springfield. Paul Lucci, the probation official who helped build the program, thought she had “less qualifications than most” heading into her November 2000 interview.

Burke’s daughter, Mindy Burke, was initially hired as the only staffer under Kathleen Petrolati’s supervision, though additional workers were hired later and the programs in Boston and Springfield were eventually consolidated into a newly constructed facility in Clinton, Lucci testified.

Rep. Thomas Petrolati, a Ludlow Democrat, rose to the position of speaker pro tempore under Speaker Salvatore DiMasi, before reports of his role in patronage hiring within the probation department led to his leaving the post in 2010. Petrolati remains a member of the House.

Defense attorneys argued that Kathleen Petrolati will assert her marital privilege, allowing her to refuse to testify about private communication with her husband. In a brief, the defense said invoking the privilege would prevent them from being able to cross-examine her about how she learned former Speaker Thomas Finneran was her legislative “sponsor” for the job.

The state representative’s wife had worked from 1977 to 1985 as a collections manager for the Springfield Institute for Savings, was a community relations manager for The Rehabilitation Hospital of Western New England from 1993 to 1996 and was a paraprofessional for the town of Ludlow when she applied to be program manager for the fledgling electronic monitoring office, according to her resume.

The man hired at that same time as program manager for the Boston office had worked on a similar electronic monitoring program for the Department of Correction, Lucci said, and a probation officer who had also worked on electronic monitoring for the DOC lost out to Kathleen Petrolati for the Springfield job.

When budget shortfalls in 2002 required the department to tighten its budget, the Boston program manager, Joseph Gagnon, was laid off, according to Lucci and a filing by the defense, which tried to preclude questions on that topic. Under cross examination by defense attorney William Fick, Lucci agreed that Gagnon was “a fairly abrasive personality.”

In his filing with the court, Fick said prosecutors “apparently believe” the layoff was a pretext, and he was let go because of a “conflict” with Ryan.

Electronic monitoring, or ELMO, has undergone changes since Lucci helped establish it within the probation department in 2000. Originally the program used only radio transmitters and ELMO workers could only tell if an offender was near their house or not, Lucci said. In 2006, the Legislature passed a law requiring the more accurate and more electricity-intensive GPS monitoring for sex offenders. Lucci said initially ELMO workers were the only people qualified to change batteries on the monitoring “bracelets” and the batteries lost power in about 20 hours. He said, every morning homeless sex offenders would line up outside Suffolk Superior Court to have the batteries changed. Eventually, probation officers were trained to install and service the monitoring devices, and the ELMO facility was consolidated in Clinton.

Around 2006, Lucci was removed from making personnel decisions, concentrating instead on public speaking and other management responsibilities, he said. In 2007 and 2008, DeLeo offered state representatives the opportunity to recommend candidates for temporary positions at the Clinton facility, according to prior testimony. Those jobs are still largely filled by the people hired on a temporary basis without interviews. Ryan testified he is currently a regional program manager in the ELMO department.

Prosecutor Fred Wyshak used Lucci’s testimony about the evolution of the ELMO program to suggest that the Springfield office was not necessary.

Under questioning by Burke’s attorney John Amabile, Lucci said Mindy Burke had “met the qualifications” for the job, with experience in the Office of Community Corrections and as an associate probation officer.

Though defense attorneys used transcripts of prior testimony that suggested otherwise, Lucci said he became uncomfortable with probation officials’ practice of dictating what candidates should be scored well in job interviews, and noted Kathleen Petrolati’s lack of qualifications on his way to interviews for the Springfield.

“Make sure she makes the list,” was the reply from probation official Fran Wall, according to Lucci, who said Wall was driving down with him.

Wyshak also took the opportunity to ask about the out-of-state companies that provided the ELMO equipment, which he said is an example of interstate commerce, a necessary component for activities to meet the federal racketeering statute.

Meanwhile, Fick drew out testimony about Lucci recently going out for coffee and to dinner with John Cremens, a prior witness. Lucci said federal authorities only recently told him about an order that witnesses not speak to each other about the case.

“We may have spoke a little bit about the case in general,” Lucci said. Cremens was the first deputy commissioner before retiring in 2008, and claimed to know very little about the practice of passing names from the commissioner’s office to people on hiring panels.

Lucci discussed one instance where a preferred candidate interviewing for a job in the Malden District Court made “snide remarks” about other probation employees’ supposed lack of literacy, and was “basically being a wiseass,” as defense attorney Brad Bailey phrased it.

Lucci said he did not advance that candidate even though he had received the name from the commissioner’s office. Lucci told one or more people at the office about his decision not to move the candidate forward and there were “no repercussions.”

“Why did you have to call?” Wyshak asked.

“I wanted to let them know,” said Lucci, who said he felt compelled to tell the commissioner’s office that “the person was unfit.”

The trial will resume Monday.

Copyright 2014 State House News Service

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