It’s Over: Probation Department Convictions Have Been Overturned
Some good news for Bob DeLeo, and some bad news for Carmen Ortiz: an appeals court has overturned the convictions of three probation officials mired in scandal, cleared Beacon Hill lawmakers of wrongdoing, and delivered what appeared to be a stand against the federal prosecutor.
The three officials—John O’Brien, the former probation commissioner, as well as deputy commissioners Elizabeth Tavares and William Burke—had been accused of abusing their power, doling out jobs in exchange for political favors, and taking elaborate steps to cover it up. A jury convicted them in 2014. O’Brien had been sentenced to 18 months in prison, Tavares had been sentenced to three months in prison. Neither has served time. Burke had been sentenced to probation.
Appeals court judges ruled that their actions “may well be judged distasteful, and even contrary to Massachusetts’s personnel laws,” but that their felony convictions were not appropriate given the circumstances. It added: “not all unappealing conduct is criminal.”
“We find that the government overstepped its bounds in using federal criminal statutes to police the hiring practices of these Massachusetts state officials and did not provide sufficient evidence to establish a criminal violation of Massachusetts law under the government’s theory of the case,” the 37-page ruling reads.
DeLeo cheered that decision in a statement last night.
“The decision of the Court constitutes a complete exoneration for this institution and all of its members. These false and scurrilous allegations can now be given an appropriate burial,” DeLeo said in a statement to the State House News Service.
DeLeo, too, was cleared of wrongdoing in the ruling. He had not been charged, but had been named by Ortiz an “unindicted co-conspirator” in the case.
“I am particularly grateful that the Court has found that no member of the legislature had committed any impropriety in connection with the allegations in the indictment. It is unfortunate that for six and a half years other legislators and I have lived under the cloud of suspicion of having been involved in illegal activity,” DeLeo said in the statement. “Today, the Court of Appeals has affirmed what I have said for the entire period – that neither I, nor to my knowledge any other legislator had engaged in any wrongdoing.”
Ortiz, who has come under scrutiny in the past year amid accusations she is overreaching in her role as federal prosecutor, has also overseen investigations of alleged union impropriety at City Hall. It’s not yet clear how the result of this ruling—which comes after a Supreme Court ruling that pushed back against federal prosecutors intervening in state corruption cases—will impact that case.
A spokeswoman for her office, Christina Diorio-Sterling, tells the Globe she isn’t happy with the ruling, but maintains that Ortiz was pursuing government employees who, as the appeals court agrees, did not serve the public well.
“[T]he defendants abused the hiring process to ensure that favored candidates were promoted or appointed in exchange for favorable budget treatment from the state Legislature and increased control over the Probation Department,” Diorio-Sterling said in a statement, adding that the office “will continue to fulfill our responsibility to protect the public from corrupt officials by vigorously investigating and prosecuting public corruption in appropriate cases.”