BOSTON (SHNS) – Former Probation Commissioner John O’Brien told his legislative liaison in 2007 that Rep. John Rogers would be seeking the speakership and all referrals for jobs at a new electronic monitoring facility should be channeled through the office of Rep. Robert DeLeo, who was then the chairman of Ways and Means, according to a prosecution witness in O’Brien’s ongoing trial.
Ed Ryan, who was the probation department’s legislative liaison from about 2005 to 2008 and currently oversees Boston’s electronic monitoring operations, said O’Brien told him DeLeo and Rogers were competing for speaker.
“He believed that they were getting close to the numbers they need to achieve for Mr. DeLeo to become the speaker of the House,” Ryan said.
Prosecutors have previously said Ryan would say jobs were given to DeLeo to “assist” him with that race, and while he discussed funneling recommendations through DeLeo’s office around that time and described O’Brien’s awareness of the competition, Ryan never made that explicit connection on the stand Monday. DeLeo has told reporters there was “never” a jobs-for-votes arrangement.
O’Brien and two of his former deputies, Elizabeth Tavares and William Burke III, are charged with rigging the hiring process to shuttle jobs to lawmakers with political backing to secure “political currency,” but not cash.
“From here on in, anybody that calls regarding any position, I want you to refer them to [DeLeo aide] Lenny Mirasolo,” Ryan said, describing O’Brien’s directive.
Facing a time limit to wrap up their case, prosecutors have said they “must” be able to call Rogers, who they said will describe his unsuccessful runs for speaker against DeLeo and his predecessor as speaker, former Rep. Salvatore DiMasi.
Whether the prosecutors are granted the additional time they say they need to call a range of witnesses will depend on Judge William Young, who set time limits in connection with his forecast for the trial’s end date to July 18.
“The government respectfully requests that the Court reconsider this ruling and allow the government to present the evidence it has determined is needed to carry its heavy burden of proving the case to the jury beyond a reasonable doubt,” prosecutor Robert Fisher wrote in a motion last week.
Young said Monday that parties in the case should continue operating under the restrictions designed to help complete the trial by July 18, but said he would hold a hearing Wednesday on Fisher’s motion to reconsider those restrictions.
Ryan said he “didn’t have a lot of dealing with the leadership in the House” but said O’Brien, a former legislative liaison for the trial court, had a relationship with high-ranking House members who would reach out to him directly.
The defense, which has previously couched lawmakers’ job recommendations as an ordinary part of any merit-based hiring practice, on Monday described them as coercion from the pols who held the department’s purse strings.
“Legislators had a gun to his head and he had to take into account their patronage hires,” O’Brien’s attorney Stellio Sinnis argued, though the judge sustained an objection, and Ryan was not given a chance to respond to that assertion.
Ryan did say O’Brien felt pressure to go along with lawmakers’ recommendations, and described him as a caring boss who wanted to keep enough budget funding to avoid layoffs.
Ryan, who is scheduled to return to the witness stand on Tuesday, said lawmakers “controlled” the hiring process in the probation department, foisting candidates on the commissioner and in the case of Sen. Marc Pacheco, a Taunton Democrat, imposing geographic restrictions.
“Senator Pacheco was very territorial about the courts,” Ryan testified. He said Pacheco “didn’t want anyone in his court who didn’t share the same zip code as him.”
Ryan, who said he mostly took job requests from members of the Senate and freshman members of the House, laid out the pecking order for probation hiring, listing former Speaker DiMasi, former House Ways and Means Chairman DeLeo, former Judiciary co-chairmen Rep. Eugene O’Flaherty and Sen. Robert Creedon, Senate President Therese Murray and former Sen. Steven Baddour.
“The elected officials would seek out anyone they could find to get their candidate a leg-up on someone else,” Ryan said. He said if the Senate president had a preferred candidate for a particular post he would alert any senators seeking to recommend someone to that job that “the senate president has a horse in the race.”
Ryan said O’Brien became curious about Rogers when the Norwood Democrat recommended someone for a job in Gloucester, another part of the state. Ryan agreed with Sinnis that he knew Rogers “had a lot of influence over court officer hiring,” which was then done by former Chief Justice of Administration and Management Robert Mulligan. Defense attorneys have attempted to cast the hiring of court officers as nearly identical to the probation hiring process.
Under cross examination from Sinnis, Ryan said Attorney General Martha Coakley would call with probation job recommendations, as would people from Gov. Deval Patrick’s office.
Ryan also said beyond merely the electronic monitoring positions that prosecutors have highlighted, around 2007 O’Brien ordered him to steer all probation hires through DeLeo’s aide Lenny Mirasolo, the father of DeLeo’s godson.
“You sent wheelbarrows full of calls to Lenny Mirasolo,” Sinnis said, expressing skepticism when Ryan said Mirasolo never complained about a deluge of calls. Mirasolo retired in March 2012, according to Open Checkbook.
Ryan himself was a laborer who had also worked part-time at the Norfolk County Sheriff’s Department when he met the probation commissioner, a Quincy resident, at an Elks Lodge, and later won a job in the electronic monitoring, or ELMO program. Ryan said he reached out to former Congressman Bill Delahunt, having done plastering work for the pol’s mother, in seeking the probation job about 14 years ago.
With no interview, Ryan was promoted to acting program manager in ELMO, he said. After a medical crisis that he said was brought on by the stress of the job and nearly killed him, Ryan said O’Brien moved him into the lower-stress legislative liaison role, which he said consisted nearly entirely of fielding job recommendations when the department was hiring.
Around 2008, O’Brien encouraged him to apply for regional program manager for Boston and then appointed him to that post, where he continues to work, Ryan said.
Questioned by prosecutor Karin Bell about a number of specific individuals, Ryan said he reached out to the office of former Lt. Gov. Tim Murray and others in an attempt to find more minority candidates for the ELMO jobs. Murray’s office recommended a Brandon McLaughlin, who was hired, Ryan said.
At Bell’s prompting, Ryan ticked through a number of other ELMO hires, including several not specifically identified in the indictment, who he said were friends with O’Brien and in one instance the husband of one of O’Brien’s daughters.